Friday 9 December 2016

Dr Bob stare helps Harrington focus

William S Callahan

Published 04/03/2010 | 05:00

STACKSTOWN helped make a three-time Major champion out of Padraig Harrington, but growing up on the scenic Co Dublin course also contributed to the Dubliner's most damaging obsession.

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Harrington would happily hit golf balls 24-7 to satisfy his lust for perfection, admitting he finds it desperately difficult to stop tinkering with his swing. This irresistible urge scuppered the first six months of his season last year and Harrington had to endure a withering stare from his mind coach Dr Bob Rotella earlier this week as he told him of his latest, innermost swing thoughts.

"I could see him looking at me like I was a bold schoolboy," said Harrington, revealing he had hit golf balls on every one of the 10 days of his break at home after the Accenture Match Play Championship.

"I was sitting there telling him what I was thinking and he was going, 'this sounds very familiar. You're getting back into your old bad habits'. I like practising and trying to get better, but it can be the worst part of me at times. I just have to be more disciplined about it.

"When Bob Rotella is around, I am more disciplined, but I can't always have the schoolteacher looking over my shoulder."

Harrington insists he's a lot happier with the changes he made to his game this winter and certainly does not expect to endure a nightmare run like last year, when he missed nine cuts in his first 16 events.

He's played precious little golf since last December's Chevron Challenge. In fact, Harrington has played just six rounds of stroke play and 17 holes of match play since last month's return from an eight-week winter break, in which bad weather prevented him from playing even one round of golf.

"It's kind of hard to shut my brain down at the moment," he admitted. "The more competitive rounds of golf I play, the quieter my mind gets. It always takes me a little bit of time to get more into playing and less into practice. Last year it took six months. I couldn't stop. But this year I don't intend going down that road."

After adding this week's Honda Classic to his schedule, Harrington is also likely to follow up next week's CA World Championship at Doral with another outing at The Transitions Championship in Fort Lauderdale as he tries to get into top gear for next month's US Masters.

He'll then skip Bay Hill, beginning his final countdown to Augusta at the following week's Shell Houston Open, admitting: "Obviously, I felt I wasn't as competitive as I needed to be in my first three events (Northern Trust MC, Pebble Beach T16 and Accenture, where he lost to Jeev Milkha Singh in Round 1).

That might not augur well for his prospects this week, until one recalls Harrington's victory at the 2005 Honda Classic and the fact that his focus is always sharpest on courses as tough as The Champions at PGA National.

"If you don't like this golf course, your game's not good enough," enthused the Irishman.

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He plays today with Vijay Singh, whom he beat in sudden death for his maiden US PGA Tour title at Palm Beach five years ago, while Graeme McDowell doubtless will enjoy Lee Westwood's company for the first 36 holes.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy can be fancied to improve on last year's tie for 13th now that he's recovered from back strain and his mind is fresh after Monday's first session with Dr Rotella.

As for Stackstown's part in Harrington's compulsion for practice, the Dubliner explained: "I was brought up on a golf course where you could never have perfection in the long game. It was a tricky course, so you really had to have an unbelievable short game.

"It didn't have a practice ground that was 130 yards long so, as I kid, I never had the chance to work on my swing," he added. "From the minute I got exposed to practice grounds and driving ranges at age 16, I've always had a fascination for trying to get better and better and better in terms of my technique."

Clearly, a terrible beauty was born!

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