Sport Golf

Sunday 18 February 2018

Parting of the ways: Harrington gambles on break from Torrance

After a winless three years on European Tour,Harrington gambles on break from Torrance

Karl MacGinty

DESPERATE times call for desperate measures.

Padraig Harrington's decision to part with his venerable coach Bob Torrance, a 79-year-old Scotsman who regards him as a son, gives true measure to the depth of the crisis into which the Dubliner has plunged.

After nearly 15 years in which Torrance played a crucial role in Harrington's transformation from a raw 25-year-old with an insatiable thirst for perfection into a true world-beater, their relationship has been rent apart.

Both men attribute this split to frustration, borne out of their abject disagreement over a change Harrington is currently making to his swing.

Torrance, who described himself as "disappointed" though "not hurt" by Saturday's shock development, believes Harrington, 40 later this month, is "going down the wrong road", warning: "If he goes down that road too far, he won't come back.

"You cannot make changes at 40 in golf. You can make them in your 20s, but once you get to 40 it's too late," the coach insisted.

"I think it's crazy. Padraig's been as high as he can go in golf. He's won two Opens in a row and then he won the PGA. He's won tournaments all over the world," added Torrance.

"However, I don't mind a man going for perfection. Once you stop striving for perfection you'd better put the clubs away," he went on. "Padraig's not a strange man. He has just got his own ideas. Nothing will shift him.

"There are no in-betweens. I have nothing to say against him. I've had 15 of the happiest years of my life teaching him ... he's like a son to me."

Yet the disputed swing change, which, ironically enough, centres on the positioning of Harrington's right elbow, is just one element in a frightening series of events which forced him to make the most difficult decision of his career.

After reaching a career high of world No 3 on the back of his third Major championship victory in 13 months in August 2008, Harrington has plummeted to No 64 and desperate measures clearly needed to be taken if he's to pull out of this stunning crash-dive.

As he said on Friday after his sixth missed cut of the season at The Irish Open: "Changes are required, absolutely. Unfortunately, change is required for the sake of it rather than anything else."

Indeed, more blood may be spilt as Harrington tries to find a "spark" to reignite his flagging fortunes.

So comfortable is the Irishman's relationship on and off the course with caddie Ronan Flood, married to his wife Caroline's sister Suzie and a close personal friend, it's difficult to see him asking anyone else to carry his bag.

Yet Harrington once said he'd continue working with Torrance, arguably the world's most vaunted coach, "even if he was on a zimmer frame".

In severing his partnership with the Scot on Saturday morning, albeit temporarily, Harrington showed he'll stop at nothing to save his career.

Might another close friend and long-term mentor, Dr Bob Rotella, who played such a significant part in Darren Clarke's recent first Major championship victory in Sandwich, also be set aside?

"There's no new story out here," Harrington said on Friday. "It's about believing the story. Darren believed it in Sandwich -- it's just finding a way to make that story enthralling for yourself."

Asked on Saturday about his decision to press ahead (for the moment) without Torrance, the Dubliner explained: "I think it comes down to the fact that I want to spend more time working on my mental game and my short game than necessarily beating balls."

This suggests the imbalance which has long existed in the Harrington camp between the ravenous appetite for practice he and Torrance have long shared and the more cerebral approach recommended by Dr Rotella has been resolved in the mind guru's favour.

But that will only be the case if Harrington himself believes he can once again find Dr Rotella's message as inspiring or fresh as Clarke clearly did at The Open.

Harrington unquestionably has been the architect of his own downfall since winning his third Major title in 13 months at the 2008 US PGA in Oakland Hills.

His problems started the following winter as he embarked on a series of ill-fated swing changes which, effectively, required an intensive six-hour remedial session to repair when he and Torrance eventually linked up on Monday at the 2009 Open in Turnberry.

The same bloody-minded determination which made him a three-time Major champion has been applied by Harrington to his relentless pursuit of perfection, with the scientists at the Titleist Performance Institute in Carlsbad, California, and Dr Paul Hurrion, a specialist in bio-mechanics, assisting him in this search.

However, Harrington is very much the boss where his golf game is concerned and Torrance graphically illustrated how their differences over his swing had undermined their working relationship.

Asked if he'd sensed anything untoward in recent times, the coach replied: "I knew he was unhappy. One of the big things he said, and I believe this, was when I was standing behind him, he knew I was thinking 'that's a terrible swing'.

"Padraig said he couldn't concentrate when I was standing there and couldn't concentrate when I wasn't. So where could you go from there," Torrance added. "He still says he works on exactly what I told him, except this one thing. He knows it's wrong but he is determined to do it. There you go."

Harrington insisted on Saturday their break was temporary and Torrance, who celebrates his 80th birthday in November, hopes to be reunited with his star pupil in weeks rather than months.

"Of course I hope we get back together," he joked. "The sooner the better or I'll be skint. If it goes on too long, I'll be on the brew ... that's what we call the labour exchange."

Torrance spoke with fondess, not rancour, for a player he said is "like a son to me. I've been over and stayed in his house and he stayed in my house for 10 years every other week. We changed everything in his swing, spending nine hours on the practice ground every day he was over in the rain, the snow, the hail.

"Padraig says to me one day 'you won't see many golfers practising out here today', and I replied 'you won't see many coaches out here either'."

Like many others in golf, Torrance believes Harrington's "game is in bad shape because of his mind, not because of his golf. I've told him that and he agrees. That's why he wants away."

Irish Independent

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