Harrington sets sights on putting woes behind him
HIS new glasses don't have to be rose-tinted for Padraig Harrington to take an optimistic view of the year ahead ... though work he did over the winter with eye specialists in Northern Ireland has helped brighten the Dubliner's outlook.
On the eve of his first appearance at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Harrington (41) revealed the full extent of his nightmarish difficulties on the world's tours in 2012 after losing all faith in his ability to read greens.
"I was really bad last year. I was just so bad," he said of a season in which a player, universally regarded as one of golf's most formidable putters, slumped to 107th in the PGA Tour's overall putting charts.
"Essentially, I lost confidence in reading the greens, so it was pretty easy to figure out that it was my eyesight," said the Irishman, explaining why he sought help from SV:EYE, who specialise in sports optometry and count 2011 British Open-winner Darren Clarke among their customers.
The glasses Harrington wore in practice and during his press conference at TPC Scottsdale this week are unlikely to make it onto the golf course. "I wore this pair for about two hours at the Volvo Champions in Durban before they got the sack," he laughed.
"I've another pair which managed to survive all the way through my practice round and up until I started hitting wedges on the range ... to be honest, I could've sown potatoes in the divots I was taking. I don't know if those glasses will make it either."
Insisting he has 20-20 vision, Harrington revealed his problem reading greens had little to do with his eyesight.
"The glasses improve my vision and, obviously, reduce a little bit of fatigue," he explained.
"They haven't changed anything else and don't make me read the green any different."
Instead, the marked improvement in Harrington's performance with the putter in Durban and again in Abu Dhabi was based firmly on the regime and exercises the eye doctors have prescribed to help boost his confidence in interpreting what he sees.
It's a process similar to that which helped South African eye specialist Dr Sherylle Caldre transform Ernie Els from a twitchy shadow of his former self (even with that belly putter) back into a Major champion at Lytham last July.
Explaining how his problems manifested themselves last year, Harrington said: "I second-guessed a lot of reads and, as a result, hit a lot of tentative putts. I spent a good bit of the year working on my putting stroke in an effort to fix the tentative putts, but they were coming from a lack of commitment and doubt, not my technique."
Throughout his career, Harrington had compensated for a stigmatism. "I grew up with a bias reading putts right to left. As a kid, if I'd an eight-foot putt that was dead straight, I'd see it as right half," he said.
In time, he learned to adjust. However, the passing years (and, one assumes, four sessions under the laser) had their effect. "Now I have a little bit of a left-to-right bias," Harrington revealed. "Your eyes just change over time and so I am working hard to get them back to where they were.
"If you see me ask Ronan (Flood, his caddie) to read a putt, that's not a good sign," he went on. "As Bob Rotella would say, it's far more important to be committed to your line than to be right."
Harrington will revel in the special atmosphere at the Phoenix Open, which draws by far the biggest crowds in golf to this corner of the Arizona desert.
He's especially excited about the prospect of emerging from the tunnel which leads to the 16th tee and, for the first time, feeling the noise generated by the thousands cramming the stands which completely surround this unique par three.
The desert air was far more peaceful at the Emirates Club early this morning as Shane Lowry led a strong Irish contingent into action at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
After a productive week's work with coach Neil Manchip, Clara man Lowry was ready to resume his battle for a place in the world's top-50 and, ultimately, his first invite to the Masters.
Currently 62nd in the rankings, he needs to finish in the top-20 on Sunday to be sure of holding onto his place in the 64-man field at next month's Accenture Match Play WGC.
Dubai Desert Classic
Live, Sky Sports 1/2, 6.0/10.30