Smyth salutes Harrington
IRELAND is in the grip of a Major epidemic. With golfers from this island winning six Major titles in four years, including three in 13 months by players from the North, leading mind guru Bob Rotella suggests: "You have a contagion over there."
Des Smyth, who would fancy his prospects of catching the bug at this week's British Senior Open had Walton Heath not been playing so long and soft, agreed with Rotella's diagnosis.
"We always had the players, but I think we can all thank Padraig Harrington for what's happening now," said the Bettystown ace, who at 58 is still winning tournaments on the European Seniors circuit.
"When Padraig took that big leap across the line all the other guys were scratching their heads and thinking: 'I'm as good as him, so I should be winning these as well.'
"Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy followed up and now Darren Clarke as well, so it is contagious, though it's a European contagion too."
Smyth believes Irish players have long had the ability to win Majors. "It always was there, but, for whatever reason, my age-grouping just didn't get over the line.
"Christy O'Connor Jnr should have won The Open at St George's; I'd my chance in Troon; Eamonn Darcy should have won in Birkdale and Christy Snr had two or three chances. Yet we simply never did it.
"In a sense, I think today's players are better equipped mentally," he added.
"The Ryder Cup has had a lot to do with it, too. Being on a European team that beats the Americans has given them greater confidence. During our period, we were nearly always on the losing team.
"It's also significant that Europe has the world No 1 and 2 players," explained Smyth, who credits the Golfing Union of Ireland and PGA coaches with giving today's young golfers good basic technique.
"Yet," he insisted, "having the building blocks there is a help, but that doesn't make you a success or a star. You have to do that yourself.
"While it's absolutely fantastic what all the Irish boys have done, I'm particularly pleased for Darren. We go back a long way, we're good mates.
"Like everyone else on the European Tour, I always knew he was a world-class player, but felt that he got in his own way with the temperament.
"But a lot of things have happened to him in recent years. He's 42 now and a much more mature person and you could see how comfortable he was in the lead at Royal St George's. It was there in his body-language."
Smyth was so convinced by Clarke's game and composure as the Ulsterman claimed a share of the lead through 36 holes, he backed him to win at 12/1 last Saturday morning. "When I looked at the way he was playing and the weather forecast, I couldn't see anyone up there beating him."