Sport Golf

Monday 1 September 2014

Harrington's hope burns bright in drive for Portrush

Karl MacGinty at Fota Island

Published 18/06/2014 | 02:30

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Padraig Harrington in action at Fota Island yesterday

FOR Padraig Harrington, tomorrow's never just another day.

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It's always an opportunity to rediscover golf's Holy Grail.

In the immediate future, he relishes the prospect of teeing it up with Rory McIlroy and Stephen Gallacher in front of thousands of his fellow Irishmen and women in the first two rounds of the Irish Open at Fota Island.

Looking five or more years down the fairway, he expects to participate in "one of the greatest (British) Opens ever" when the most venerable of golf's Major championships is played at Royal Portrush. That he will be 47 when the British Open returns to this island appears to be of no special significance to the Dubliner.

TWILIGHT

While Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley spoke candidly at Fota of being in "the twilight" of his career as a tournament professional at 47, Harrington felt unable even to speculate where he or his game might be at that age.

"Five years' time? I don't know," he shrugged. "At the moment I'm fitter and stronger than I've ever been ... you'll have to wait and seen when it comes. Maybe I'll be gearing up for the Seniors Tour at 47, I don't know.

"We'll have to see how I play the next couple of years. I feel fit and strong, but who knows what will happen. Certainly players, they burn out. It's not a physical thing, for sure.

"I've maintained everything I need to maintain to compete, but it will all be based on whether you're burnt out or not. So, I can't give you an answer for sure. If I began thinking it's going to be when I'm 47, then probably it'd come a little quicker, so I'll try to delay that thought."

Harrington arguably is Ireland's most decorated sportsman with three Major titles prominent among 28 professional wins, but he's endured 70 months of drought on the world's principal Tours since his victory at the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills.

It's a measure of his dreadnought spirit that he'll tee it up at his 19th Irish Open tomorrow as optimistic about his prospects as when he won this title at Adare Manor in 2007, a victory which Harrington regards as a vital precursor to his Major championship breakthrough at the British Open that July.

Asked how "burnout" might manifest itself, Harrington retorted: "I'm trying not to think about it or put myself in it. It's one of those traps, the more you analyse and think about it, the more you're going to be there.

"So, I just play golf and get on with it," he insisted. "I like playing golf, really, really like it. If I wasn't playing a tournament here this week, I'd be out playing golf. So, it's not as if I'm doing something I don't enjoy.

"All I do is keep playing away. I believe the performances are there and I can do the job going forward. It's up to you guys, I suppose, to weigh each side of the story, but I'm going to stay confident and believe it's going to turn round with more big wins again.

"That's where I've got to be. Even if it means I've got to tell myself a lie, I'll go on with it. I'm not going to go down the other road," added Harrington, for whom the art of positive thinking is as critical as recent positive rounds.

After an impressive opening 54 holes at the Byron Nelson, Harrington stalled at Wentworth, certainly not one of his favourite stomping grounds, following a relatively bright first-round 69 in the BMW PGA.

Then he forced his way into contention over the first 36 holes in Memphis before a third-round 79, in which he hit five balls into the water at TPC Southwind, appeared to put the Irishman behind the eight ball yet again.

So, where is his game right now? "I've had a few decent rounds there, good rounds, but I'm not finishing out tournaments," he said. "So, I'm trying to figure out how to sustain it, why I haven't played as well coming down the end road.

"I'd rather be in a position of trying to figure out why I did or didn't play well than trying to find my game. I'm comfortable and I have ideas for that. I'm actually in a good place in that sense. It's a lot better when you're trying to sustain something than find it in the first place."

Might recent difficulties he and others in their 40s, like Phil Mickelson, have with their putting be the inevitable result of so many years of attrition in the professional arena? "Okay, I honestly believe the answer is no," he replied emphatically. "And if the answer was yes, I'd still tell you no!"

BRIGHT

The future is bright because he chooses to see it that way. Making that process easier is the prospect of performing in front of a fervent, sports-mad Munster crowd at Fota, where Harrington won the 1995 Irish Amateur Stroke Play and finished second to Colin Montgomerie at the Irish Open in 2001 and sixth behind Soren Hansen the following year.

As for this week's announcement that the British Open will return to Portrush, probably in 2019, he enthused: "I'm sure when it does come it'll be one of the greatest Opens ever. The people will turn out and the atmosphere will be second to none.

"Only St Andrews, maybe, could surpass it because it's the home of golf. I think the raw excitement which will surround The Open Championship at Portrush will be unbelievable, just phenomenal."

Like Harrington's unquenchable hope.

Irish Independent

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