WHAT next for Padraig Harrington, Honorary Taoiseach?
Harrington yesterday was unveiled as the R&A's first 'Working for Golf Ambassador.' The Dubliner (39), who already represents Irish tourism on the world's professional fairways and has been adopted as a global figurehead by the Special Olympics movement, now has as many honorary ambassadorships as Major titles -- three.
Insisting he has no problem shouldering the added responsibilities and fulfilling the off-course commitments these roles inevitably bring, Harrington explains he's a lot more laid-back during tournament weeks than before. Yet he remains as obsessive as ever in his pursuit of excellence in his golf game, judging by the sweeping changes he's made to his swing and putting routine during his six-week mid-winter break.
After what he describes as "the most frustrating year of my career," Harrington has put in place a raft of measures which he believes not only will improve his accuracy, especially with the driver, but also help solve his greatest conundrum in 2010 -- how to bring hot form in practice with him on to the golf course.
By far the greatest change, Harrington reveals, has been made to his 'swing trigger' -- that crucial sequence of events which precedes every swing and sets it in motion, which is the very core of the golfer's game "The trigger is massive," says Harrington.
"It is much more to do with how I improve my routine and my mental game, whereas the other stuff I've changed has more to do with how I improve my physical game."
So, what's he done? Well, Harrington will no longer waggle his club over the ball because "big waggles meant I looked up quite a lot with my body, so I lost my alignment and got distracted by the alignment of the clubface".
After years of using a specific ("reminder") grip on each club, he now uses ordinary round grips, changing an automatic process into one which requires focus and discipline each time he prepares to strike a shot.
He has weakened his grip, lowered his hands at address and pushed them forward, adjustments which Harrington describes as "small changes." Of vastly more importance is what happens next. Instead of initiating each swing with a hip movement and a deep squat, Harrington now starts the takeaway with his arms. These changes were enabled by British biomechanics professor Dr Paul Hurrion and the boffins at the Titleist Performance Institute and overseen by Harrington's coach Bob Torrance.
After six weeks working on them in practice, Harrington is looking forward to bedding them in at tournaments, starting at next week's Abu Dhabi Championship -- a process he hopes will be complete by the Cadillac World Championship at Doral, a month before the US Masters.
"The goal would be purely for accuracy," Harrington says. "I'm hoping the distance stays the same, but I'm definitely looking for accuracy with the driver."
As for his new role with the R&A, which was unveiled yesterday at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club, where Harrington is a member, the world body's chief executive Peter Dawson explained the Dubliner had offered his services and they'd been delighted to accept.
"People coming into the game need hope, aspirations and they need heroes and they certainly will have one in Padraig, who cares passionately about the game and is determined to put something back into his sport," he said.
Meanwhile, a superb second-round 64 sent Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin soaring into a share of 11th place on nine-under at the Joburg Open, just four shots off the lead held jointly by England's Jamie Elson and South African duo Garth Mulry and defending champion Charl Schwartzel.
Glasson's Colm Moriarty was tied 36th on five-under after his 71 in a storm-tossed second round, which will be concluded this morning. A neat 68 left Darren Clarke in a posse sharing 54th place on four-under.
Dubliner Niall Kearney was forced to withdraw from the Gujarat Kensville Challenge without hitting a ball in the second round after contracting food poisoning. Kearney (22) was expected to rejoin his parents on a family holiday in Thailand.
The Sony Open finally got under way yesterday after play on Thursday was washed out by torrential rain. US Tour officials said they hope to play the second round today and 36 holes tomorrow to complete the tournament.
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