Padraig desperate to find missing link
RESPECT ... Padraig Harrington is universally acknowledged by his peers as the man who sparked the recent European uprising in world golf.
Luke Donald credits the Dubliner's Major championship victories for giving him the confidence to get to World No 1.
US PGA champion Martin Kaymer says Harrington's world-beating feats motivated him to push himself to the limit to fulfil his true potential.
And Graeme McDowell, defending champion at this week's US Open, said at Congressional Country Club yesterday: "There's no doubt Padraig has given European golfers a belief that we can win Major championships."
All of which makes Harrington's current lack of confidence in himself so painfully ironic.
Ireland's greatest sportsman looked ready to rule the world as he crushed Sergio Garcia at the US PGA Championship in August 2008 and claimed his third Major title in 13 magnificent months.
Yet the glory trail stopped right there as Harrington changed from European golf's evangelist into an enigma. He has missed the cut five times in nine Majors since Oakland Hills, including four out of the last five and the last three in succession.
Harrington's failure to make the weekend at four of his last seven events on the US and European Tour has helped send him tumbling out of the world's elite top-50 for the first time since March 2000.
And the 39-year-old who turned up at Congressional this week after a week spent digging in hard-baked dirt of Memphis for his 'A' game looked too sun-broiled and exhausted to inspire confidence in his ability to claim his fourth Major title on Sunday.
If all that hard work and play yielded a disappointing share of 52nd place at the FedEx St Jude, Harrington is happy to report that the nuts and bolts of his golf swing are tight and in place, while the recent injury to his right knee has completely cleared. Yet, with the notable exception of the first six months of 2009 when he completely lost his way in an effort to implement a swing change, Harrington's problems rarely are sourced in the mechanics of his game.
Right now, for example, he's seeking a new "keyword" with which to trigger his golf swing. As Harrington explained at length this current quandary at the very heart of his game, odds of 70/1 against him winning this week began to look far from generous.
Explaining that he'd spent three hours thrashing out this matter with mind guru Dr Bob Rotella here on Monday morning and revisited the subject with Dr Greg Rose and Dave Phillips of the Titleist Performance Institute when they walked with him for nine holes that afternoon.
Harrington had Dr Rotella in close attendance at the practice range yesterday morning as he prepared for to play yesterday 18-hole practice round at Congressional.
"There's no doubt, a constant theme when I'm working with Bob Rotella is that I'm just trying a little too hard," Harrington explained. "It's very tough to get a balance on that. I just have to let it happen (on the golf course).
"I'm happier with my golf game now than ever. I'm just trying a little bit too hard, putting myself under a little too much pressure and not letting it happen.
"At the end of the day, it's always difficult to match those two up. Which comes first? Do you let the results happen and get the confidence from that or do you have the confidence first and the results follow. I know it's more about self-confidence than anything."
Harrington has long differentiated between confidence and self-confidence. The latter, he'd argue, comes from within and is rooted in good technique, a sound routine and solid performance. The former comes from results, which often are out of the golfer's control and therefore leaves him at the mercy of happenstance on the course.
Right now he's having difficulty with his pre-shot routine, a deeply-daunting problem for someone like Harrington, who engages in such deep and potentially crippling analysis of golf's minutiae.
"I've modified my routine over the last couple of weeks again and we just need to put the finishing touches (to it)," he went on. "That's the one area of the game where there's a little too much tension from me trying too hard.
"I'm just trying to strike a nice balance off the golf course, on the golf course and basically what I'm thinking about as I'm swinging the golf club ... just looking for a nice keyword to keep myself nice and smooth and not put too much effort into it. Not try too hard."
Ever the meddler, Harrington last January took great delight in informing the world of the 20 changes he'd made to his swing, set-up and routine, including the trigger which gets it all started. Now he admits "my key isn't working."
The thought of a supremely talented athlete like Harrington being stymied for the want of a suitable word will strike the average social golfer as absurd.
Yet this area is of intense significance to most professionals. For example, McDowell explained yesterday that he has "a nice swing thought on the takeaway, another nice thought on the transition and a through-the-ball swing thought as well.
"The takeaway swing thought, that's my trigger," he added. "Everyone has a little thing, a little knee bump or a foot tap or a little thing they do to kind of get the club away. I'm trying to get outside and wide away from the ball -- slow and wide is my thought."
Saying he's "never had and never will" have a swing thought, Harrington insists he just needs a new, more-relaxed pre-shot routine, similar to that he applies when putting or hitting chip shots. And he needs a "softer" key word to help trigger it, as the one he's been using no longer works.
Having found golf's holy grail, Harrington lost it through tinkering. Now painfully short of confidence and inspiration, one fears for the father of Europe's golf revolution as he tries to feel his way out of the labyrinth.