Tuesday 21 October 2014

Ease up on yourself Padraig, your place in history 
is assured

Harrington admits 'I'm getting in my own way' - but he put Ireland on Major map

Karl McGinty

Published 19/08/2014 | 02:30

Padraig Harrington is struggling now, but he paved the way for Ireland’s golden age. Photo: REUTERS/John Sommers II
Padraig Harrington is struggling now, but he paved the way for Ireland’s golden age. Photo: REUTERS/John Sommers II

As Rory McIlroy rides an express elevator to the penthouse suite, the only other players to win back-to-back at the Open and US PGA this century, Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods, seem trapped in a service lift heading for the basement.

Harrington's fall from the heady heights of August 2008, when he won his third Major in 13 months, has been especially harrowing, with the loss of his PGA Tour card in the US the latest blow to the Dubliner's morale.

Though usually blessed with an uncanny ability to see the bright side of a black hole, there was a sad ring to Harrington's words after stumbling to his 11th missed cut in 21 events this year at the Wyndham, the final event of the regular Tour season in the US.

"I just can't seem to get out of my own way," he said. "I'm finding it tough to bring my good form onto the golf course."

Harrington, 43 at the end of this month, now comes home to Europe. Down to No 276 in the world rankings, his quest for redemption resumes at the Italian Open next Thursday week.

As he grapples for confidence and, in particular, trust in his putting, it's difficult to foresee an end to Harrington's six-year win drought on the US and European Tours.

Exemption

At 188 in the FedEx Cup standings, he was 63 rungs short of the lucrative play-offs and a full PGA Tour card for next season. However, Harrington's standing as a three-time Major champion should ensure enough sponsor invites in the United States to allow him to save for a later date a one-season exemption available to him as a member of the Tour's top-50 career money-winners.

Even if his recent efforts appear puny alongside the stellar feats of McIlroy, the word 'failure' never could nor ever should be applied to Padraig Harrington.

The enormity of his achievement at Carnoustie in 2007 in bridging Ireland's 60-year credibility gap at the Majors is almost forgotten. Sure, another eight have been won by Irishmen since, including two more by the man himself. Sure, winning Majors is easy: Jack Nicklaus thinks Rory can win 20!

Except that Harrington, driven by an incredible work ethic and an insatiable desire for perfection, had to shatter a yoke of self-doubt imposed on Irish golfers by decades of hard luck stories at the Majors.

Wringing every last drop out of his talent, he did it again at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and, even with his 'B' game, broke Sergio Garcia's heart for a second time in the US PGA at Oakland Hills.

There probably should have been more. No question, Harrington's prospects of building upon that momentum at the 2009 Masters, US Open and Open Championship at Turnberry were undermined when, infatuated that spring by new 3-D computer imaging, he embarked on a few ill-fated adjustments to his own swing.

His late, great coach Bob Torrance managed to get him back on track during a six-hour remedial session on Monday at the 2009 Open in Turnberry and, weeks later, Harrington went close to winning a first World Golf Championship at Firestone and strongly threatened to hang onto his US PGA title at Hazeltine.

Aside from this short hiatus in the first half of 2009, swing changes have played no part in Harrington's demise.

Instead, that was brought on by the banning of box grooves in 2010, which sapped his brilliance with wedges, and, subsequently, a lengthy battle with the yips, brought on by his lack of trust in his ability to read greens.

As for swing changes, professional golfers are forever tinkering. Tiger completely revamped his swing with Butch Harmon in the wake of his breakthrough victory at the Masters in 1997, then at the end of 2002 began tearing up the most successful template ever in golf.

Woods then took up with Hank Haney for six years before turning to current coach Sean Foley. All the time, the explosive nature of his swing blew out Tiger's left knee and, more recently, his lower back, leading to yet another lost season.

This is where McIlroy enjoys huge advantage over many of his peers. With the help of coach since boyhood, Michael Bannon, he appears as close as any elite golfer can get to possessing a 'swing-for-life'. Naturally it evolves or requires the occasional tweak but his current success is founded on unimpeachable trust in his technique.

For sure, changes in his personal life, his clubs or to his practice regime caused hiccups during McIlroy's career:

a) When he embarked on his first full season as a globe-trotting professional on the European Tour in 2008.

b) When he didn't play enough golf in the run-up to the 2012 Masters after reaching world No 1 that March, then struggled in the summer.

c) When, understandably, he took precious time out with then-girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki over the winter following an 
astoundingly successful concluding four months to 2012. McIlroy's failure to properly bed in his new Nike clubs left him scrabbling for a driver and confidence for the first half of 2013.

Totally devoted to golf since ending his engagement to Wozniacki in May, McIlroy's victories at the BMW PGA at Wentworth, the Open in Hoylake and the US PGA at Valhalla are the first of many in the new 'Rory Era' in golf.

As McIlroy starts this week's first FedEx Cup play-off, The Barclays, as red-hot favourite to win the US Tour's season-long series and the $10m bonus that goes with it, Harrington's sights are set lower.

Yet as he returns limp to Europe, the pioneering spirit which established him as an Irish legend at the Majors still drives Harrington.

It heaps on expectation at a time he should be able to relax and enjoy the pursuit of perfection in the sure knowledge that his place in history already is safe.

 

Massive Irish posse hot on McIlroy's heels

Rory McIlroy is one in a million but the stream of talented young Irish golfers is growing into a torrent.

In recent days, a sparkling Triple Crown success at the men's Home Internationals was followed by Hermitage prospect Rowan Lester's proud march to Sunday's final of the Boys Amateur Championship in Prestwick.

Given the national team's silver medal at the European Amateurs, there's no doubting the validity of 
Neil Manchip's assertion that Ireland's pool of talent is deeper now than at 
any time during his nine years as national coach to the GUI.

As Paul Dunne of Greystones, West Waterford's Gary Hurley and The Island's Gavin Moynihan were last night named in the Ireland team for next month's Eisenhower Trophy in Japan, Junior British Open champion Kevin LeBlanc and Royal Co Down starlet Olivia Mehaffey were preparing for action at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Meadow (22) - third on her professional debut at June's US Women's Open - plays this week's LPGA Canadian Pacific Women's Open in Ontario, on a sponsor's invite.

Irish Independent

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