Thursday 21 November 2019

The most unlikely of Tour wins so richly deserved

Harrington has shown incredible mental resilience to emerge from the darkest of days

Padraig Harrington lifts his Honda Classic trophy aloft after his first PGA Tour win in seven years
Padraig Harrington lifts his Honda Classic trophy aloft after his first PGA Tour win in seven years

Joe Molloy

It's Saturday evening, June 30 2012, at the Irish Open in Portrush and I'm in a huddle beside the 18th green, listening to Padraig Harrington talk about his third round 72.

He has played well and is in contention. I'd followed him that day and his ball-striking was unerringly accurate. Tee-to-green was a very uneventful ordeal, generally hurdled in regulation. Really he should have come in with a better score than 72.

But there was something wrong.

At times he was hitting noticeably awful putts. Before he headed off for the evening, I piped up, "Padraig, just one last question, on your putting stroke…"

Harrington interrupted me. The man has never refused a question in his life, but he put his hand on my shoulder. "I don't think we'll talk about my putting stroke just now," he said and off he went. What was that about? we asked. Nobody was sure. Nobody suggested he might have the yips. It seemed too unlikely. Remember, 2012 wasn't so long after 2008 and everybody has bad days on the greens.

He subsequently revealed of course that he spent 2012 and beyond battling with the putting yips. I remember reading Paul Kimmage's interview with him and thinking back to that evening in Portrush and the horrors he must have been in.

I spoke to him not long afterwards and he described the putter as an "electric eel" in his hands. A lot of the time on the greens he literally had no idea where he was aiming. But this is a man who actively works on being positive in the same way he repeatedly digs his game out of the dirt. He kept going and kept being positive but dark days followed.

At his charity night in the Gaiety Theatre recently he revealed that up until late last year he was still struggling with the yips. This was contrary to what he had been saying publicly.

I'm not sure if it was a slip of the tongue or not, but he clearly said October last year. That's a long time to battle with the yips. It must take a tremendous toll. You would forgive anyone, especially a three-time Major winner, for taking a break from the game, but Harrington kept coming back. At times he must have felt embarrassed.

I, like a lot of people, was fairly certain his days of winning a big PGA Tour title were over.

He feared on Sunday night the yips had returned. "I hit a few very, very iffy putts," he admitted. "But I practiced my putting last night until about 7.0pm in the dark and I got something going again. Today I stood over the putts and I wasn't confident, but, you know, I wasn't getting in my way. I was just trying so hard to tell myself that it (the yips) wasn't back last night"

Over the last seven years, nobody has worked so hard for so little return. Monday was a good day.

Irish Independent

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