Monday 26 September 2016

They're not laughing any more at Paddy

Harrington believes he can win the Masters and no sane person would doubt him, writes Declan Lynch

Published 05/04/2015 | 02:30

Paddy can win the Masters next week. Padraig Harrington - he is known to Tiger Woods simply as "Paddy" - has done so many strange things in his wonderful career, he can probably even do this.

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And according to Paddy, Tiger Woods himself can do it too. He put forward this theory during an interview last week in which he recalled that his own victory at the Honda Classic had perhaps been inspired by the sight of Retief Goosen, a player of his generation who was thought to be in decline, getting himself into contention at a recent PGA tour event.

He then asked us to consider the possibility that Tiger had seen "Paddy" somehow re-emerging from the golfing void, and that he might take heart from this.

That a man with a mind already as well-stocked as Paddy's would be putting himself into the mind of another player, with the Masters coming, does not seem peculiar to us any more.

There was a time when the originality of Paddy's thinking was seen in a different light, when American commentators in particular would talk about his latest swing-thought or his new practice regime in tones that are usually heard in tales of famous eccentrics, or those who are on the far side of eccentricity, where you can hear the strange music.

And then Paddy only went and won the Honda, and now he's back in the Masters, and they're listening respectfully as he explains not just his own mental attitude, but that of Tiger Woods.

They're not laughing now, when they stick their microphone in front of him expecting, indeed hoping, for the routine 30 seconds of perfunctory babble, and 15 minutes later he's still talking, just warming to his theme. They're not laughing now when he calls himself a contender, when he says that the Majors actually suit him better than the regular tournaments, a point he was still making when he was heading towards 385th in the world rankings.

They do not know him as we do, they see him as Paddy by name and Paddy by nature, not much different in essence to so many other likeable if slightly unhinged Irishmen.

Ah, but this Paddy is different, he is so different in one absolutely crucial respect - all that introspection of his, that seemingly insatiable urge to make life more complicated than it is already, that obsessive pursuit of some form of higher truth, all of that has been going on with no drink inside him, no alcohol in any meaningful sense.

He may have inadvertently sipped a few drops of champagne when they were handing around the Ryder Cup, but that doesn't count. He doesn't like the taste of it, he says, and apparently he never needed it to enjoy himself, not when he could be hitting balls on the range till midnight. Nor does he need it for all the other things he does, all those existential journeys which so few Irishmen have even contemplated without the companionship of one John Barleycorn.

All those qualities which have lured Paddy in general towards self-destruction, have in Paddy Harrington tended only towards self-improvement.

"I was dogged for it," a man once told me, explaining his determination to drink, the fierce commitment that would have him waiting for the pub to open. Dogged for it. It is a mercy that Paddy Harrington never had that particular doggedness in him, given the doggedness which he displays in every other aspect of his character.

Yes, he could keep them talking for a long time about what he thinks, about what Tiger Woods thinks, and about what he thinks about the thinking of Tiger Woods, but if we ever get down to the foundation stone of Paddy's greatness, "not liking the taste of drink" is perhaps what we will find there.

In the case of Rory McIlroy it will be something even more mysterious. Now the favourite for the Masters, a position held by Tiger Woods for so long it had become a tradition of the game, Rory seems to be at peace with his genius.

He can play quite badly at times, even missing the cut, something that Woods, in his urge to dominate all around him, would almost never allow himself to do.

Eventually Woods was so utterly fixated on being the greatest player who ever lived, perhaps he simply didn't have the time to enjoy "life", certainly not to develop normal relationships with women. He just tried to fit them in as best he could, between engagements, as it were.

Rory seems to give himself more latitude all round - he didn't get too down on himself even on the day that he handed over about €22m to his former management, for services rendered that he didn't want them to render any more.

Still he wants desperately to win at Augusta, but he will look at his idol Woods and know that you can't always get what you want. That life can get impossible even for a genius, that in the end you can be undone by something as ordinary as a bad back. Tiger is about 50/1 for this, which a few years ago would have seemed like a reasonable assessment of his chances to win the tournament blindfolded. And Paddy...well, Paddy is available at 80/1.

It's almost as if they're not listening to him at all.

Sunday Independent

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