Horror round for Harrington as putter trial goes belly up
IN the general scheme of things, Padraig Harrington's decision to take up with the belly putter in the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow is trivial.
To the golf enthusiast, however, it's like learning that Mother Teresa tried pole dancing or the Ayatollah was partial to the occasional plate of crubeens.
In keeping with his position as the first 'Working for Golf' ambassador to the sport's world ruling body, the R&A, Harrington's been one of the most outspoken advocates of the upcoming ban on belly and broomhandle putters.
To be precise, the R&A and their North American counterparts, the USGA, plan to outlaw the dubious practice of 'anchoring' the long putter in the belly or to the chest or chin by January 1, 2016.
Quite rightly, the game's legislators believe it's not a legitimate golf stroke and, after using it yesterday for the first time in competition, the ever paradoxical Harrington heartily agreed "it's bad for the game of golf".
"I'm 100pc on this – I don't support the belly putter," he insisted. "Yet the R&A support the rules of golf and it's well within the rules. If something's going to help me for the next two and a half years, then I'm going to use it.
"It hurt me deeply having the box grooves banned, but I knew it was for the good of the game. This is the same," added Harrington. "Anchoring doesn't look good and it shouldn't be there, but I have no problem using something within the rules of the game."
Harrington best expressed his distaste for anchoring 12 months ago at Augusta National when he said: "I don't like the idea of attaching something to myself. It just doesn't sit well with me."
Still, he never said never – instead, Ireland's three-time Major champion probably hoped this day would never come.
One can only imagine the depths of despair he must have plumbed in recent months, even years, to make this week's remarkable about-face possible.
Harrington made the decision to use the belly putter sound almost banal. "I was bored last Monday week (working on his 'putting lab' computer at home). I was like, 'oh, I wonder what this looks like' and I was surprised to see everything was better.
"In terms of the mechanics, it was a far better stroke," he added. "So, I brought it here with me, putted nicely with it in the Pro-Am and so was happy to try it out."
Yet Harrington played almost like a man hexed as he finished the day in last place in the Wells Fargo after a calamitous 80, his worst round since posting the same score on the Friday at the 2007 US Open in Oak Hill.
While he performed poorly with his new putter, missing three efforts of four feet or less as he racked-up 32 strokes (albeit on suspect putting surfaces), Harrington's nightmare was not confined to the greens.
The Dubliner was so wild off the tee, AP golf writer Doug Ferguson tweeted: "Strange to see R&A ambassador using a belly putter. He should be driving with it."
When he eventually found a fairway at the long seventh, Harrington hit his approach into the water on the way to one of the nine bogeys on his card. He went through the turn in six-over after hitting one of the first nine greens in regulation and a paltry six in all.
The only putts of note he sank all day were a five-footer for par at three, a three-footer for his solitary birdie at 15 and an 11-footer for a nice sand-save at 18.
Harrington also shot 80 at Quail Hollow on Sunday in 2005, but one suspects kismet worked against Harrington yesterday.
The long putter has offered refuge to many other desperate souls. Harrington was so bedevilled by what he described as "the heebiejeebies" early last year, wife Caroline persuaded him to talk to one of its most famous proponents, Bernhard Langer.
Harrington's never actually used the word 'yips' to describe the horrors he's endured in recent seasons.
Since last autumn, for example, he's consulted a sports vision specialist from Northern Ireland to solve ongoing problems reading greens, all the time insisting a plethora tentative, missed putts from five feet and less were caused by a lack of trust in the line, not his stroke.
By opting for the belly putter, which takes twitchy wrists and hands out of the equation, Harrington has acknowledged the true source of his problems. He has the yips!
Having reached rock bottom, now the only way is up. He knows his time with the belly putter will be limited, but plans to use this crutch as long as it remains legal.
Darren Clarke and Phil Mickelson sought sanctuary, albeit briefly, in anchoring; Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen have dallied longer, while it has resurrected the career of recent Masters winner Adam Scott and reigning Open Champion Ernie Els.
Yet the sight of golf's high priest of PC using a belly putter will take some getting used to.
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