| 11.4°C Dublin

Partners in the sublime

Close

'Back in the days when I was working in the bank,' says Ronan Flood, 'my concern was that I mightn't be among the spectators when he started winning major championships'

'Back in the days when I was working in the bank,' says Ronan Flood, 'my concern was that I mightn't be among the spectators when he started winning major championships'

'Back in the days when I was working in the bank,' says Ronan Flood, 'my concern was that I mightn't be among the spectators when he started winning major championships'

Golfers will be familiar with the old chestnut about the irate player who complains: "You've got to be the worst caddie in the world." Prompting the acid reply: "Impossible sir. That would be too much of a coincidence."

Or the PG Wodehouse line: "There were three things in the world that he held in the smallest esteem: slugs, poets and caddies with hiccups."

Caddie stories are almost as plentiful as golfers. But none of the hackneyed stereotypes can be applied to a partnership which is becoming one of the most celebrated in the game. The fact is that Pádraig Harrington and Ronan Flood are different; close friends who became remarkable working partners.

There is an obvious empathy, even in the way they talk about each other. And as the husbands of sisters, Caroline and Suzie Gregan, their mutual understanding is further strengthened by shared socialising away from golf events.

A downside of this closeness, of course, is that Flood will feel more acutely the pain of Harrington's setbacks. But at the other end, there is a corresponding heightening of joy at an outstanding success. Like in a second successive Open Championship triumph at Royal Birkdale last Sunday.

After Harrington had extracted a rich dividend from a course, the fairness of which reminded him of Portmarnock, player and caddie walked together down the 18th fairway for the last time. They turned to each other, smiling. "Well done," said Flood. "You can enjoy it now." "Well done," said Harrington to his friend.

Then they simply embraced every glorious element of a marvellous occasion. "We exchanged a few words about how great a walk it was, but for the most part we just took in the scene," said Flood. "Huge crowds lining the fairway. The grandstand. Sustained cheering and clapping. People shouting Pádraig's name. The best walk in golf.

"Can you think of any other tournament in the world where you are going to experience such an atmosphere? And to know that your player is about to win the Open . . . I simply concentrated on enjoying every second of it. The merging of sounds. The spectacle of a great, great occasion."

In May 2004, Flood was sitting behind a desk as an assistant bank manager in the corporate section of AIB's headquarters in Ballsbridge. A month later he was treading the world's fairways as Harrington's caddie having taking leave of absence from his job. Two years further on, he informed the bank there was no point in their holding his position any longer. He wouldn't be coming back.

He and Harrington had been friends from their days as juniors at Stackstown GC, where Flood acquired a decidedly useful game which would ultimately give him a two handicap. And it was there that he met Suzie, whose father Dermot brought his daughters there as members.

Sport Newsletter

Get the best analysis and comment from our award-winning team of writers and columnists with our free newsletter.

This field is required

As we talked of Birkdale, one could imagine his immense value to Harrington. His calm assurance. How they seemed to be of one mind in everything the player did with club in hand. And his refusal to sacrifice honesty by investing a working situation with convenient drama and significance for the benefit of listeners.

Like the 13th hole of the final round, when the sinking of a 15-foot birdie putt seemed to spark Harrington's victory surge. "There was no trigger, no spark," insisted Flood. "There was no thought like 'Oh my God. This is it. He can win from here'. You're looking for something special but for me, Pádraig simply played the 13th very well, just as he had played the hole before, and the one before that.

"There was nothing special about it. He hit a nice tee shot at 13 followed by a lovely five iron, and a good putt which happened to drop in. But it didn't have me thinking 'Right. That's it'. For Pádraig and myself, it meant we just kept doing what we had been doing since the round began."

He then said pointedly: "If you want to know when I thought we'd retain the Open, it was when we were heading to the first tee on Sunday afternoon. From the outset, I figured that Pádraig was one of only a small number of players capable of winning. So I wasn't surprised we were in the last group. And before his first tee shot; before that great up and down for an opening par, I was convinced he was playing well enough to win. To be perfectly honest, as far back as on the plane going over the previous Sunday, I thought he could win. Though you obviously need certain things to happen, the guy is good enough to win any tournament in which he tees it up."

Still, almost as an indulgence, he took me through the closing holes, recounting a very good tee shot at the short 14th for what proved to be a comfortable par. A solid tee-shot at the long 15th allowed him to go for the green in two, as he had done on the Saturday. And he proceeded to make birdie there for a third successive day.

"I had been watching the leaderboards so I knew exactly where he stood, the whole way round," Flood went on. "Pádraig doesn't look at them. I remember thinking it was nice having Greg Norman and his caddie Linn (Strickler) with us. In that situation, however, in the final round of a major championship, there wasn't a huge amount of chat. While Norman got on and did his own thing, he made sure to compliment Pádraig on the good things he did, but it wasn't as if the two of them were shooting the breeze. They were engaged in serious business.

"After Pádraig had found a good position from his five-wood tee shot (306 yards) on the 17th, he said to me: 'I must be three ahead, am I?' He'd assumed Norman was second, but I knew Ian Poulter had finished on seven-over, which meant that Pádraig had a two-shot lead on him with two to play. Though I was more than happy for him to go for the green (272 yards) with another five wood, I wanted him to know how he stood before he hit it.

"Then, as soon as the ball left


Top Videos






Privacy