Saturday 3 December 2016

Karl MacGinty: Harrington must find belief in his old magic

Karl MacGinty

Published 06/09/2011 | 05:00

PADRAIG Harrington's FedEx Cup hopes were finally snuffed out in Boston yesterday. The Dubliner's marathon effort to make the penultimate stage of the US PGA Tour's annual showpiece came to a miserable conclusion at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

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A final round of four-over-par 75 left Harrington in 73rd place and some 20 places shy of the 70-man field for The BMW at Cog Hill the week after next.

Exhaustion inevitably took its toll on Harrington at TPC Boston, where he played his sixth Tour event in a row and eighth in nine weeks, an incredibly intensive run which included two Majors -- the British Open at Royal St George's and US PGA in Atlanta.

Harrington can look forward to a hard-earned, three-week break and maybe an opportunity to do a little trouble-shooting with new swing coach Pete Cowen before resuming European Tour hostilities at the Dunhill Links Championship.

Yet as his season in the States drew to a frustrating conclusion, it's tempting to draw comparison between Harrington's effort to keep his FedEx Cup campaign alive and the Republic of Ireland's desperate bid to qualify for the European Championships.

For sure, Harrington's status as a three-time Major champion places him at an entirely different level in his sport. His on-course achievements would, in soccer terms, elevate him to the status of Germany or Argentina alongside Giovanni Trapattoni's earnest sloggers.

The Dubliner, 40 last week, sparked the revolution in European and Irish golf which has seen Luke Donald soar to the top of the world rankings and Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke claim Major titles.

Not that prodigious US Open champion McIlroy needed inspiring but Kaymer, McDowell, Clarke and Donald readily concede that seeing Harrington win three Majors in 13 months helped make believers of them all.

After six decades in which no Irish player was able to join 1947 British Open winner Fred Daly in the distinguished company of golf's Major champions, this tiny island has now produced four in the past four years.

One only has to look at Ireland's performance in other sports to understand the astonishing level of achievement Harrington and our elite golfers have reached.

Just how difficult it is to excel on the world stage was underlined by the performance of the 17-strong Irish team at the World Track and Field Championships as they posted just one top-six finish, by Deirdre Ryan in the High Jump, in South Korea.

Our national rugby team is one of the most talented in the history of the sport on this island yet is given no realistic chance of reaching the semi-finals at the upcoming World Cup in New Zealand, never mind pluck the trophy out of southern hemisphere hands.

This country traditionally excels in equine sports and Ireland's boxers, professional and amateur, have long been able to fight their way out of any corner, red or blue.

Meanwhile, the nation has witnessed phenomenal individual achievement by the likes of Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly, Eamonn Coghlan, Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O'Sullivan.

Yet by winning three Major titles in 13 months up to August 2008, Harrington established himself as this island's greatest-ever ambassador in the global sporting arena.

Having found the holy grail, the Dubliner promptly misplaced it. Unable to resist temptation to make 'improvements' to his swing, he lost the winning edge, while his efforts to recover it certainly were not helped by the banning of box-grooves on club faces from the beginning of 2010.

"The groove change has made a massive difference to my game," he recently conceded. With just one victory (last October's Johor Open on the Asian Tour) in the past 37 months, Harrington has plummeted out of world golf's top-50.

The bloody-minded determination which drove him into the PGA Tour's play-off series in the first place and helped him make the 100-man field in the Deutsche Bank demands admiration and respect.

However, having to scrap so hard just to make it this far in the FedEx Cup took its toll as the exhausted Irishman's play became increasingly ragged at the weekend.

Over the opening 54 holes, for example, Harrington played the three par-fives at TPC Boston in an aggregate three-over par (third-round leader Bubba Watson was 10-under for the same holes after three rounds).

Harrington's hopes of making a final-day charge were sorely dented at the outset yesterday when he posted another ugly bogey six at the second.

For the third time in four rounds, Harrington strayed left off the tee at two yesterday. After advancing his ball just three yards in the thick rough he then laid-up short of the hazard, hit 115-yards wedge to 24 feet and two-putted for his dispiriting six.

All week he'd pick up just one birdie at the par-fives, on 18 last Friday as a first-round 69 propelled Harrington up to 66th in the FedEx projections... yet it would be all downhill from there as the tired Irishman played inconsistently from tee to green and imprecisely with his wedges.

Harrington hit just four of 14 fairways yesterday, found only 10 greens in regulation and gave himself precious few birdie chances, needing to use his putter 32 times.

Once again, he was assailed too often in Boston by self-doubt... and it is in this regard that Harrington and the Republic of Ireland soccer team have much in common.

Trust

As was blatantly obvious during last Friday's mind-numbing draw with Slovakia at Lansdowne Road, coach Trapattoni clearly doesn't trust his players enough to depart from the game plan, even at home.

At the heart of it all, midfielders Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews showed precious little faith in their own ability to slip out of this mental straitjacket and try the occasional incisive, innovative ball.

In the grand panoply of world football, they are journeyman midfielders. However, the greatest shortcoming Whelan and Andrews must overcome is a depressing lack of trust in themselves, though one suspects it may not be as obvious in Moscow tonight.

Of course, the biggest difference between Harrington and the Irish soccer team is the nagging suspicion that Trapattoni's mistrust might be well placed. Should the golfer find succour in the swing remedies suggested by Cowen, he may rediscover the Midas touch.

Irish Independent

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