Sport Golf

Sunday 17 December 2017

Harrington must find his ruthless streak


DON'T be fooled by Padraig Harrington. His perennial grin and an affable nature kid many into thinking Ireland's three-time Major champion could easily be the nice guy who lives next door.

Behind that disarming smile, however, is a sportsman as competitive, ambitious and ruthless as any other predator prowling the world's fairways.

Some players may stumble across one Major title, but goofy nice guys don't win two, three or more. Harrington is as tough as they come in golf and, as he proved last weekend in Killarney, he'll allow nothing and nobody to block his path back to the top.

The decision to drop coach Bob Torrance from his back-room team is as clear an indicator of Harrington's hunger, desire, even desperation, as those 'scary eyes' as he dispensed with Sergio Garcia at the climax to the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills.

It was difficult for relative strangers not to feel sorry for Torrance, an avuncular 79-year-old held in high affection on the European Tour, at Killarney on Saturday as he absorbed the body blow of his dismissal by a man he regards almost as a son. So imagine how tough it must have been for Harrington to wield the stiletto and, inevitably, wound the coach who has stood behind him in sun and rain, hail and snow for 14 years and with whom he has formed such a powerful bond.

Anyone who ever doubted the Dubliner's determination to claw his way back into the game's upper echelons need only think of Saturday morning and the anguish Harrington surely felt as he looked the proud old Scotsman in the eye.

Harrington's own suggestion shortly after Friday's missed cut at the Irish Open that "changes unfortunately might be made for change's sake" if he was to find the spark to reignite his failing fortunes immediately led to speculation that heads were about to roll.

The shockwave which followed his parting with Torrance then made it look as if nobody on the back-room team was entirely safe as Harrington sought to extricate himself from the deep hole he had dug.

Incidentally, his white knuckle ride down the world ladder continued yesterday, as he dropped two more places to No 66 in the rankings. Yet, despite a suggestion on Sunday that more blood might be spilt, the entire house of cards is not in imminent danger of collapse.

Harrington's colleagues understand the reasoning behind his decision, especially Graeme McDowell, who in 2006 responded to a lengthy downturn in form and fortune to change his coach, switch management company and came back from England to live in Portrush.

"From my own personal point of view," he explained, "when things are going tough for a long period of time, the golf course is a place where you can do a lot of thinking. You're out there for five, five and a half hours; it is a lonely place, and everything goes through your mind.

"You question everything. You question your approach to the game physically, mentally, coaches, manager, caddies. I think that's part of human nature. You soul-search, we've all been there and have done that.

"I've gone through periods of my career where I've completely stripped out my team and replaced them. It's normally been met with pretty positive results.

"I look at a guy like, say, Padraig who's very analytical. He's a perfectionist and inevitably would start to question everything he's doing. Should I be working this hard or less so? Am I working with the right things? Am I working with the right people?

"Sometimes you need to change things when it's not working and freshen it up and have someone else's take on what you're up to."


Yet Harrington has spent so long putting the right Major-winning template in place, he's highly unlikely to tear it all asunder.

For example, caddie Ronan Flood will be on the bag at the Bridgestone World Championship of Golf this week and the US PGA next week -- their on-course relationship is expected to continue into the immediate future.

What about mind guru Dr Bob Rotella? Do the good doctor's words sound as fresh to Harrington as they plainly did to Darren Clarke at the British Open in Sandwich?

If Clarke's Claret Jug offers gleaming evidence of the enduring potency of Rotella's message, might Harrington have become immune over the years they've worked together, each man knowing off pat what the other will say and what he expects to hear in return?

Should Harrington decide to explore new avenues, might he go outside the sport as Luke Donald did last summer when he first consulted with rugby kicking coach and personal motivator David Alred?

Donald, a player who clearly had a problem crossing the line on Sunday at golf tournaments, responded superbly to Alred's urgings to acquire the mentality of a silent assassin, soaring to No 1 in the world this year with victories at the Accenture Match Play, the BMW PGA and the Scottish Open.

However, the last thing Harrington needs is motivation. If anything, his mind is already far too active, especially on the course. Like Clarke, Harrington needs to trust his instincts more. Rotella's amusing suggestion that the Ulsterman was at his best on the golf course when he was "unconscious" might equally apply to the Dubliner.

A hypnotist might be a good idea. Perhaps Paul McKenna's expertise in the art of new linguistic programming would appeal to the Dubliner. Whatever Harrington does, you suspect Rotella's book 'Golf is Not a Game of Perfect' is likely to remain his bible.

Harrington's faith in himself is challenged. His confidence has been shot to pieces during three years of underachievement brought about by a series of ill-advised swing changes by golf's infamous Tinker Man.

As Torrance said on Sunday: "Padraig's game is in bad shape because of his mind, not because of his golf."

They fell out ostensibly because the coach and the player did not agree with the positioning of Harrington's right elbow in the swing. In the words of Torrance, even when he hit decent shots on the range, Harrington knew his coach so well, he could almost hear him thinking 'what a crap swing', leading to unbearable friction and frustration.

It's that simple. Torrance believes Harrington is in danger of "going so far down the wrong road he might never get back".

Whether or not he finds a new swing coach to his liking, Harrington's first priority is to rediscover trust and faith in himself.

Irish Independent

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