Thursday 21 November 2019

'You must love game to play well'

Harrington's advice to out-of-sorts Daly shows how Irish star has dealt with a barren five years

Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington

Karl MacGinty

IT must be one of the quotes of the year ... a few philosophical words from Padraig Harrington which were aimed at an ailing fellow Major champion but so aptly explain how the Dubliner himself has survived the nightmare years.

Crediting John Daly for the fighting spirit he showed during a career-worst round of 90 at the Valspar Championship last Friday, Harrington said: "He's waiting to play well to love the game but he needs to love the game and then wait to play well.

"It's like he's trying too hard," added the Dubliner. "If I was going to say anything about John Daly, it's that he tries too hard. He's caring too much. I know that's not what people see."

Harrington was in the same three-ball as Daly last Friday at the Valspar Championship as the American endured yet another meltdown, hitting three balls into the water at 16 on the way to an octuple-bogey, later quipping he "made a good up and down for 12."

Describing Daly as "perfectly fine to play with that day", even after making that 12. "He didn't walk in, he didn't stop trying. He tried to hit the right shots on the last two holes. It didn't seem to us he was shooting that score."

Harrington probably tries harder than anyone else. This intensity is almost palpable each Friday on tour as he scrabbles and too often fails to beat the cut.

As a three-time Major champion, he's supped with the gods of golf, yet Harrington somehow retained the enthusiasm of a tour rookie through five barren years which sent him plummeting to 152nd in the rankings.

The one thing that keeps him coming back is his love of the game. As a younger man, Harrington couldn't see himself playing much into his 40s, saying: "I'll be burnt out by then."

Recently, the 42-year-old cheerfully insisted: "I'll play this game forever."

After making last weekend at Copperhead (phew), Harrington's unyielding pursuit of the tournament victory that would clinch him a place at next month's US Masters continues in today's first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Bay Hill would not be one of his favourite stamping grounds (he's played here just three times since 2008) but he's grateful for Arnie's invite and an opportunity this week to keep chasing the dream.

Graeme McDowell, second to Tiger Woods here two years ago, was scheduled to play with Woods and Harris English in the first two rounds. However, the injured world No 1 has been replaced on the time-sheet by tour rookie Brice Garnett (33) from St Louis.

Twice a runner-up at Bay Hill, McDowell still relishes this event and performing just 20 minutes from his own front door at the Lake Nona resort.

Darren Clarke, slim, trim and, after shaking off his recent chest injury, brimming with energy for the climb back from 300th place on the world ladder, also has happy memories at Bay Hill.

Like McDowell, Clarke's gone round this taxing course in 63 – on Saturday in 2006 on his way to third place and an impressive hat-trick of top-10 finishes at Bay Hill.

Predictably, Palmer feels that Woods' lifelong ambition of overhauling Jack Nicklaus's total of 18 Major titles is slipping out of view.

The golfer they call 'The King' owns Bay Hill and had been expecting the world No1 to be defending the Arnold Palmer Invitational crown here this week.

But Woods withdrew on Tuesday because of his back problems and phoned Palmer to apologise.

"I have great sympathy for him," Palmer said yesterday. "He tried like hell to be here."

Will he make the Masters in three weeks' time? Palmer is not sure and, neither, he claims, is Woods.

"I don't think he knows how bad his back is," Palmer said. "The doctors are telling him he needs to give it a bit of rest and see if he can work it out."

So Woods and the game face a nervous wait to see if he has to miss the Masters for the first time since his debut in 1995.

But whether he does or not, Palmer cannot help but look at the big picture – Woods' chase of Nicklaus' record Major haul – through a negative prism.

"Well, I don't think 38 is the ultimate stopping point for his quest to do what Jack did," Palmer said.

"But I think it lessens the possibility of it happening. It's going to be tough – tough to keep the concentration and the type of game necessary to win Majors. Add in the fact that (the depth of talent is) tough. And they're strong.

"And the fear of a player being so good that they back off, I don't think that's the case any more. I think that the players that are going to win and win Majors have to be physically fit and mentally fit."



Irish Independent

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