Sport Golf

Saturday 10 December 2016

Harrington opts to take European route to Augusta

Published 25/10/2016 | 02:30

Padraig Harrington may be 45 but his determination to succeed remains as string as ever. Photo: Jose Manuel Ribeiro/AFP/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington may be 45 but his determination to succeed remains as string as ever. Photo: Jose Manuel Ribeiro/AFP/Getty Images

Padraig Harrington's mind, body and spirit plan to fight Old Father Time gelled perfectly to produce a welcome glory day in the Portugal Masters last Sunday.

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Harrington's enduring popularity with Irish golf fans and fellow professionals was reflected in the online and personal messages of congratulations that flooded in since he made that nerve-testing par putt on the 72nd hole at the Victoria Clube de Golfe in Vilamoura.

The timing was perfect.

His 23-under-par winning score to defeat holder Andy Sullivan by a shot opened up new opportunities, not least the potential route to a place in The Masters next April.

Welcome choices abounded: play in the Final Series in the Race to Dubai, or go to America and compete in the last three Fall Series on the PGA Tour?

The decision was made overnight, and yesterday he announced his strategy aimed at taking advantage of his first victory on the European Tour in eight years.

Europe

"I'm going to play in Europe," he said. "If I had a good run in the three tournaments and didn't win I could still get into the top 15 which would get me into the Masters.

"If I win one of those - I think there's more world ranking points available in Europe - that would get me into the world top 50.

"There's quite a few ways of doing it, but the three European events give me a much greater chance to qualify for the Masters.

"Playing in the States would help me with the Fed-Ex Cup, which has been a problem for me over the years. Starting in February, it's hard to play catch-up for the whole year, but I'm going to take that chance."

The Final Series events - Turkish Airlines Open (November 3-6), Nedbank Golf Challenge (November 10-13) and DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (November 17-20) are open only to the top 60 in the Race To Dubai rankings.

Harrington shot up to 43rd place with his victory in Portugal and now he's firmly focused on consolidating his status from there.

What a difference compared with last year, when he closed down his season early due to a meniscus problem in his knee which required surgery.

He recovered quickly from the operation and that is no coincidence - the Harrington obsession, as he describes it, with going to any lengths to improve all aspects of his game has paid off in keeping him competitive up to the age of 45.

"It's nothing new, by the way. I started my battle against age at least 18 years ago, so I'm ahead of the game when it comes to a lot of people who would be 45 and still competing," he explained.

"I've managed to keep my ball speed up, which is so important. Age is a factor - there's no doubt about it - but I'm fighting the good fight when it comes to that."

Psychology, once he was opened up to that area by reading Bob Rotella's first book Golf Is Not A Game of Perfect almost 20 years ago, has been a regular part of Harrington's process.

Pictures of the physical body he inhabited when winning the World Cup with Paul McGinley in 1997 show a relatively heavy build for a 25-year-old.

But since he began working with Dr Liam Hennessy a year later, every facet of Harrington's physical well-being has changed, and is thoroughly researched, analysed and documented.

Most recently, they discovered a marginal but significant deficit in his ability to squat-jump with 60 to 90kg bar-bells.

Don't try this at home, folks. Many couch potato 45-year-olds would be stressed working their thumb on the TV remote, but Harrington revealed he can jump 34cm with a 90kg weight on his shoulders.

Harrington's twitter feed shows him doing one of these squat-jumps, and it's all part of helping maintain his power, and in turn, his club-head and ball speed.

"I am obsessed about clubhead speed. It's a significant part of the game," he said. "If as a junior you're not working on your speed, you really haven't got an intention of being the best golfer you could be.

"In fact, as a golfer, if you're not working on your speed at 60 years of age, you should be.

"It's the reality of the game. It gets a lot easier the further you hit the ball."

The three-time Major champion wants to play the power game for as long as he can. That said, he appreciates the value of his short game.

The win in Portugal owed much to his wedge play on a course that suited his ability to get up and down when he missed greens, as was evident in his chip from a bad lie in rough close to the 18th green in round four.

That putt to win was the kind renowned commentator Peter Alliss describes as "one of those. . ." and every golfer knows what he means.

"I've seen easier three-and-a-half-foot putts because it was heavily downhill, and it was outside the hole from three and a half foot," said Harrington.

"I aimed a ball outside the hole, and I hit a lovely putt. Once it started breaking, it broke quite a bit, and once it broke to the middle of the hole from a foot to go, I knew it was job done."

The aspect of spirit and ease with himself also showed through from day one in Portugal. He has credited the book written by performance coach Dave Alred as being the gel that brought everything together.

"It reminded me, because I work with Dave, about my language, what I say to myself when I'm out and about on the golf course. I was the most relaxed I've ever been at a winning golf tournament," said Harrington.

RACE TO DUBAI

REMAINING EVENTS

November 3-6: Turkish Airlines Open, Antalya.

November 10-13: Nedbank Golf Challenge, Sun City, South Africa.

November 17-20: DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.

CURRENT STANDINGS

1 D Willett (Eng) 3,543,175; 2 H Stenson (Swe) 3,130,447; 3 R McIlroy (NIrl) 2,487,204; 4 A Noren (Swe) 2,197,231; 5 T Hatton (Eng) 2,170,373; 6 R Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 1,884,871; 7 L Oosthuizen (RSA) 1,707,906; 8 B Grace (RSA) 1,684,680; 9 C Wood (Eng) 1,683,719; 10 L Westwood (Eng) 1,587,381, 11 M Kaymer (Ger) 1,404,023; 12 B Wiesberger (Aut) 1,364,783, 13 A Sullivan (Eng) 1,328,783, 14 J Luiten 1,297,466, 15 S Garcia 1,122,072.

Other Irish: 24 S Lowry 1,009,701, 43 P Harrington 605,671

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