Mind's eye the key to reading greens – Harrington
NEVER mind the new glasses he's been wearing on tour this season, Padraig Harrington and several of the hottest contenders at the Masters reckon they could almost putt with their eyes shut at Augusta National this week.
Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson are among those who share Harrington's view that experience is more valuable than eyesight as an aid to performance on golf's most intimidating putting surfaces.
Couples, the 1992 champion and a regular contender at the Masters into his 50s, said: "I can putt the greens at Augusta in my sleep. That all goes back to knowing them as well as I do. They're the hardest greens to putt on tour but I always have my best putting week here because I understand them."
Harrington admitted he was having nightmares on the greens before going to last April's Masters but scotched any suggestion of approaching Augusta in trepidation.
"I was in the horrors with reading the line of my putts last year. Yet Augusta's greens are much more about feel than they are about reading it," said the Dubliner, whose tied eighth place here last year was his best finish in four years.
"There's much more experience required on those greens than anything else. It's one of the best courses of the year to go to." Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson is just as adamant about the importance of know-how at his favourite golf course.
"I don't think you're able to read the greens (effectively) at Augusta because you can look at a putt and see such wildly different lines," he said.
"I think the best way is to just experience it in competition and try to use memory as opposed to seeing it."
Harrington's new glasses have corrected a natural bias in his eyesight and he's more trusting on the greens this season, helping him achieve his fourth top-10 finish in 11 outings this season last Sunday at the Valero Texas Open.
"Experience gives you such an advantage here for a lot of shots and putts," Harrington added. "I think that's got to be one of the toughest things to do in golf – to win at Augusta without previous experience of playing there in Masters week.
"That helps explain why, apart from the first two winners, Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 was the only Masters first-timer to win here," said Harrington, who tees it up for the 14th time in the season's first Major. His best finish was a share of fifth in 2002 and 2008.
As ever, there's a down side. "You always pick up excess baggage along the way at Augusta," Harrington said. "You gain experience but everyone also carries a few scars as well. They all remember difficulty on a hole that's cost them."
Like Mickelson, Harrington has drawn from experience to banish his demons on the sometimes perplexing 15th hole.
Explaining his four straight birdies there last year, Harrington said: "I started laying up in a different place on the right. I'd probably prefer to be on the flat, down at the bottom and hitting up."
Summing up his preparations, Harrington said he focused more on perfecting chip shots from tight lies than putting.
"It's not the pace of the greens that's scary," he said. "While they're fast, they can't get them ridiculously quick because they're so heavily sloped.
"For me, practising off the tightest lies is key. The problem with the chip shots here is you have to make good contact to get precisely the right amount of spin. Mis-hit any chip and you're going to find yourself in trouble."
When asked which hole he found most daunting, Harrington said: "There's no easy hole on this course, unless they put in an easy pin but they rarely give you something that doesn't have a down side."
Still, he saluted Augusta National for the changes they made in this millennium.
"When I first played here, I used to hit a flick into the first; a little wedge into five; half a lob wedge into seven; pitching wedge on nine; little dunt forward with an eight-iron on 11; while 18 was a little flick of a lob wedge. But the changes got the course back to the one I used see on TV as a young lad. Perfect!"