Dizzying schedule sure to keep Harrington buzzing
THE HUNGER. It keeps Padraig Harrington young, sharp and, above all, sane.
At an age when most professional sportspeople have long swopped their boots for carpet slippers, Harrington (41) is playing more, flying further and working harder than ever before in the run-up to the Masters.
Harrington expects to play 10 tournaments in 13 weeks before the season's first Major. It's by far the most intense build-up he's undertaken for Augusta and underscores his unfailing quest for perfection and success.
His dizzying schedule opened in South Africa early last month; brought him through the Arabian and Arizona deserts to the Pacific Ocean shore last week and now to Los Angeles, where the Dubliner tees it up today in the first round of the Northern Trust Open.
Harrington then heads for the Accenture Match Play in Tucson next week; followed by six days at home and then, if he hangs on to his place in the world's elite top 50 (the Irishman currently is 48th), yet another trans-Atlantic flight to Miami for the Cadillac WGC at Doral.
After that, he faces a round-the-world dash to the Thai and Malaysian Opens; a few more days at home and, phew, the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, the week before Augusta.
There's no time for brooding on this whirling treadmill.
Which is probably just as well after last Saturday's missed cut at Pebble Beach, where, for the first time he can recall, Harrington took 36 putts in one round, though he said he was more disappointed with his poor chipping and wedge play.
For a guy once said to be blessed with "the Picasso touch" around and on the green, his performance over 54 holes at Pebble and the previous Sunday in Phoenix surely left him reeling.
Yet the Dubliner simply packed his bags and headed for Riviera, where he worked on his short game with his coach Pete Cowen and, despite 54 months since his last win on the US and European Tour, bubbled over with his usual heady mix of optimism and energy.
Harrington gives no quarter to self-doubt or the passing years. "At the moment, I'm much fitter and stronger than when I first came out on Tour at age 24," he said.
"If you take a snapshot of this moment in time, I'm way ahead of where I've been at any other stage. I hit the ball further and, as I said, I'm more capable in the gym. There are a lot of positives.
"How long do I think I can go on? My ego says forever," Harrington laughed.
"That's what I believe. I see my best years ahead of me. I don't look back or feel I'm on the downward track in any way shape or form. I am moving up.
"There are lots of young guys out here on Tour and, definitely, the rookies keep you young (because) you've got to compete with them. I'm happy I can do that. I'll take them on, whatever task you want. I'm ready for it," he added. "It's a state of mind."
Harrington confessed: "A few years into my career, I'd look at the young guys and wonder how I'd compete. They're bigger and more athletic.
"They all crunch the golf ball and swing so well, it's so easy to get drawn into that.
"But you get through that phase," he added.
"You start thinking, wow, there's another good young kid and the Tour's just going to eat him up. As good as he is, after a while he's going to have the same fears as the rest of us.
"Whereas every week he turned up in college, he nearly won the tournament, now he's missing the cut every second week.
"He could play good golf and still miss the cut – he's going to have to deal with that.
"It's tough out here. Most weeks there's 156 guys all fighting it out. You can be as good as anything, but all that matters are the scores at the end of the week. It's so easy for a young player to get lost."
"With experience, you realise life on Tour is far, far, far more than ability to hit a golf ball. It's so much more about managing your time and keeping perspective on the game."
Experience, an astute eye and an open mind have given shrewd Major champions like Harrington and Graeme McDowell, returning refreshed today after the longest winter break of his career, the belief that they can challenge any given Sunday on Tour.
That wealth of knowledge makes it possible for Harrington to remain an optimist.
The Dubliner will play alongside Stephen Ames and Angel Cabrera for the opening two rounds, while McDowell tees it up with Luke Donald and Adam Scott.
Phil Mickelson, Bill Haas and Keegan Bradley, who fought out a play-off – won by Haas – for the title here, last year, have been drawn together.
Northern Trust Open, Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0