Tuesday 25 October 2016

Harrington and guru Rotella looking for the ideal blend between mental and physical

Published 12/07/2016 | 02:30

Padraig Harrington in thoughtful mood during the practice day at Royal Troon yesterday. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Padraig Harrington in thoughtful mood during the practice day at Royal Troon yesterday. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Pádraig Harrington plays in the Open Championship for the 20th time in his career at Royal Troon this week.

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A Tour veteran, just a month or so away from his 45th birthday, Harrington has the soul of a golfer, the heart of a champion, and the body of a man ten years younger.

He also has desire to rage against the dying of the light, difficult as it is on a Tour dominated by a plethora of ferociously competitive and successful twenty-somethings headed by Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.

And now that Dustin Johnson, 32, has, like Rip Van Winkle, woken from the mysterious slumber that seemed to afflict him when he got in contention to win a Major, the road to success has just got even tougher.

Harrington would just love to defy all the predictions and the odds against the elder statesmen triumphing in Majors, particularly the Open.

To do so, he would need many factors, some external, and the others internal, to gel together.

Of the physical factors, daunting Scottish weather conditions could work in his favour.


A good blast of wind, and possibly some rain followed by sunshine and fast-running fairways and pacey greens would weed out the guys whose comfort zone only extends to sunshine on their backs, fairways with a bit of 'give' and soft, welcoming putting surfaces.

Then comes the mind factor for the confidence in his swing, and with the putter.

A deep thinker about the game, particularly his own golf, Harrington appreciates the need to get the mind and attitude right.

That's the reason he keeps world-renowned sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella close to him this week as he has done at the Open for years.

Their relationship has been an important factor in Harrington winning the Open at Carnoustie in 2007 and Royal Birkdale in 2008, the latter followed a few weeks later by the US PGA title in August of '08.

Yesterday, prior to playing a few holes in the afternoon with Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne at Troon, Harrington reflected on his performance in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart where he shot 71 in the final round for a tied-21 finish.

"I ended up playing each and every round in the worst of the day, which is a good sign, if it's all meant to balance out.

"Clearly I was tentative on the greens at the weekend. I did not putt as well. The only bogeys I made on the weekend were three-putts, but I hit the ball well. Again, I could be mentally stronger," was his assessment.

When it comes to the mind aspect, Harrington is adamant about its importance.

"It really is all about the mental game. I'm very happy with my physical game, but mental is always 99 per cent of it. It's more about getting my head in the right place than anything else," he said.

As always, the three-time Major winner has a room reserved for Rotella in the house where he is based for Open week.

Dr Bob, one of the foremost sports psychologists in the USA, first came to Harrington's attention with his best-selling book 'Golf is not a game of Perfect' in 1997. "You can't imagine the buzz I got out of 'Golf is not a game of Perfect' when I read it for the first time. I never hit the golf ball as well after reading his book.

"I got so excited about it. I then went and worked with him in Virginia where he lives," he said.

Rotella has helped many golfers win Major championships in the men's and women's game, including Darren Clarke in 2011, but Harrington and he have a special relationship.

The Doc stays with Pádraig for each Open, and next week, they will both appear at Roganstown Golf & Country Club in North Dublin for a presentation on 'Tour Life'.

Rotella will give insights from his vast experience on Monday, July 19, and Harrington takes the stage on Tuesday, July 20. "A lot of people over the years have been asking about him, and saying, 'Oh, I'd love to talk to Bob' and meet him, and this that and the other.

"He's coming over to stay with me for a few days in Ireland after Troon, so the fact he was coming over, I said to him, 'Look, why don't you come and do a talk?' because it would fit in nicely with him coming over to stay with me.

"It's obviously a much more relaxed thing than I would have done in the Gaiety. There's no formality. It's much more intimate.

"It's not me and Bob talking to the audience, it's us talking with the audience. Bob is going to be talking about life on Tour, and the next night I'll be giving my opinions about what happens out on Tour and insights into my life as a professional golfer," said Harrington.

After nearly 20 years working with Rotella, you'd wonder what could the Doc possibly say to Harrington that the golfer has not heard before? But that's the key to their relationship.

"I would pretty much know all the answers, but it's not as easy to do it as maybe ten years ago, when it was not new, but maybe I was a little more innocent about it.

"Experience also brings scar tissue. From my side it's trying to find a new way of reinventing the wheel, but that's what Bob does, trying to make it fresh, keep it new, bring it out in a different way, but it's pretty much the same answer all the time," said Harrington.

Straight in, then, I had to ask - so what is the answer?

"The answer is if you could just focus on the target and nothing else, you'd be just fine. In the simplest form, if you think about where you want to the ball to go, and you never had a second thought about it, you'd be the greatest golfer in the world.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't matter what your golf swing is like, a guy with a terrible golf swing, whose head is in the right place, will hit the best shot he can at that moment in time.

"A guy with a great golf swing whose head is not in the right place will hit a bad shot. That's the simple answer," said Harrington.

The top mental gurus such as Rotella earn their corn by finding that key to freeing up a golfer's mindset so he - or she - can let their skills come to the fore.

It does not always work out, but looking ahead to Troon, Harrington hopes to get the mix right, mentally and physically.

He gave St Andrews a good run last year, and was joint leader of the Open as he stood on the sixth tee in the final round on the Old Course.

Then came his errant drive into a bush which put a chink in Harrington's armour, but he's far from done yet.

"Last year was pretty good, but what's important to note as well, is that I've won twice in the last 18-20 months.

"If I can find the key I can win, and obviously I'm on home turf now (links), so that helps.

"It takes some players out and it gives me an advantage, but I do need to be stronger mentally," he added.

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