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Harrington, golf's ideal ambassador

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Iain Carter | 17:05 UK time, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

These, as we know, are challenging times - every last pound, dollar and Euro has to be scrapped for whatever your pursuit.

Golf has not been immune to the credit crunch and is therefore not exempt from having to go that extra step, so thank goodness it has Padraig Harrington prominent among its ranks.

Here is a player who ensures he does that little bit more to exceed expectations. This applies to his golf game, with the famed thoroughness of his practice regime, the way that he deals with the business side of golf and in his dealings with the media.

Harrington is embarking on a three-week cycle of tournaments that culminates in the Masters and his bid to become only the third player to win three majors in a row.

The reigning Open and US PGA Champion begins this stretch here at Bay Hill, Orlando, home of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Harrington might have spent the Saturday before heading to Florida in Cardiff celebrating Ireland's Grand Slam success. He had the chance to go to the Millenium Stadium but chose instead to watch the rugby on television at home.

Surely he's the only Irishman who could possibly make such a decision to forego witnessing sporting history for his country - but to have flown to Wales would have interfered with practice and gym work. His choice, in fact, was no surprise at all.

Nor was the compelling media conference he gave on his arrival at Bay Hill.

Believe me these can be exercises of utter tedium as players take it one question at a time - Billy Bland beneath his logo-infested cap discussing not much more than birdies and bogeys.

Thankfully such players are in the minority, but the worst offenders can be at the very top of the game and they are the guys who fail the game when it needs to generate as much interest as it can.

Harrington is the polar opposite as he readily volunteers his theories, anecdotes and quotes.

Padraig Harrington

There was a handful of reporters on hand as he spent the best part of half an hour informing us on subjects that ranged from a new putting technique, Ireland's Grand Slam, the magic of Arnie to what is the next step for a three time major winner.

"It's interesting because winning one major, it' becomes significant to win two," Harrington said. "Two to three, yes it's great, but it's not as big a job as one to two and three to four would not be as big a jump as one to two was.

"Maybe the next level that really makes a difference would be starting to hit some of the European records, five and six sort of thing, or maybe it would be winning all four majors."

From this we can deduce the three-time major champion is putting firmly in his sights Nick Faldo's record of six majors and that he will be targeting the Masters and US Open to complete his major set.

Of course there is the possibility of the Paddy Slam, hence so much hype as he heads to Augusta next month because the Masters would represent the third leg.

"It would be nice to win three majors in a row, but does it make much difference whether I win this one or win in a year's time or two year's time? No, I'm quite patient," Harrington adds.

For Augusta this year you will see a different approach to the Irishman's putting. He first used it at Doral two weeks ago and it involves taking his practice stroke six feet or so behind the ball before addressing the putt.

"It's probably a bit more like Aaron Baddeley's putting routine; he's one of the most successful putters out here.

"It's the same way that I line up my driver. I walk in from behind the ball. I pick out my target and get settled into my target quicker."

Harrington was also asked if there was anything about the way that Greg Norman played in the final round of last year's Open that would have given away his age.

The answer was no, but once again Harrington was keen to elaborate and offer an added dimension. "A player was practicing behind my back one day (at Birkdale) hitting shots," he volunteered.

"I could see his ball flight coming out and he's the only player I stopped the whole week and I turned around to watch him hit the golf ball.

"It was Tom Watson. I've never seen a golf ball hit like that in the wind. It was unbelievable how well he hit the ball beside me.

"I had to stand back and pretend I was cleaning a club and have a little bit of a look. And Greg was very much like that in the final round. There was nothing to tell he wasn't a young man."

Soon after the moderator called an end to proceedings because Harrington had another appointment, a teleconference to discuss his Masters prospects.

But he wasn't done with us. "I have one more thing to say actually," he interjected and it was about this week's tournament host.

Harrington launched into a story about what happened when he was in a bar in Miami a fortnight ago. "A guy came up and ordered an 'Arnold Palmer' and the barman knew what that drink was.

"Now that's getting to another level. Think about it, you don't go up there and order a Tiger Woods at the bar.

"That's in a league of your own. I thought maybe you could do it in a golf club, but he's ordered it in a random bar and the barman probably didn't know one end of a golf club from the other but he knew what the drink was."

It's an Iced Tea by the way.

More significant is the story - the fact that in days gone by force of personality and weight of charisma could enable a golfer could make an impact on society in general.

As Harrington acknowledged there will never be another Arnold Palmer, but this Irishman's engaging nature helps make a welcome impact of its own and it's just what the modern game needs at the moment.


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice article Iain, thank you!

    There must be something extra in the water back in Ireland at the moment; Brian O'Driscoll being fothright about his preference to not have tomatoes in his fruit salad, and now Padraig Harrington recounting stories of his encounters in a Miami bar.

    Many of the sports "stars" that we regularily see or hear being interviewed give the impression that they wouldn't recognise a fruit salad if it landed on them from a great height, and certainly hold little recollection of any of their, all too many, visits to bars.

  • Comment number 2.

    Great article.
    Padraig is a marvellous role model on a number of fronts.
    We are a small nation in numbers but we love our sports and sport's people. Before Harrington won his first major he, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and many other Irish golfers before are held in the highest esteem by their peers.
    As a sports person myself I wish all sports could give kids to development through sportmanship, respect, humility, self control etc just like our golfers and rugby players.
    What about O'Gara and Jones at the eand of the rugby match. Beautiful.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good stuff, Iain; the crop of Irish golfers who have played events on the PGA Tour during the past twenty-odd years are a credit to the game and have all been very popular here. Rightly so.

  • Comment number 4.

    Never heard a bad word spoken about the man. One of the most well liked and well respected golfers on Tour.

    Funny how Pádraig, a man who until very recently was renowned for his close encounters with important victories, was asked by Declan Kidney to speak to the Irish rugby team about making the step up from perennial underachievers to winners.

    As expected, Pádraig obliged and not only were the players impressed but it has appeared to work.

  • Comment number 5.

    harrington is that guy who everyone loves because he reminds you of what we would look like if "we" (the average double-digit hanicap player trying so hard for single digits) suddenly found something that made us able to compete w/ the best players in the world...

  • Comment number 6.

    "It's interesting because winning one major, it' becomes significant to win two," Harrington said. "Two to three, yes it's great, but it's not as big a job as one to two and three to four would not be as big a jump as one to two was.

    If this counts as a "compelling media conference" then golf journalists really deserve our sympathy...

    Kwini at least you don't have to sit through stuff like that and can just concentrate on the fun side!

  • Comment number 7.

    Unfortunately the "fun side" has been hijacked by the "moderator" pirates and is currently being held incommunicado in a north-east African port awaiting ransom payment.

  • Comment number 8.

    I guess you paid up ;-)

    Don't let them get to you, your articles are always a pleasure to read.

  • Comment number 9.

    Harrington has a cracking chance of doing it. In his early appearances at the Masters he was consistently at the top of the putting stats, if he can reproduce that, and combine it with his improved long game, "Da world is his oyster an' guinness"

  • Comment number 10.

    We are hearing all sorts of chatter about the HSBC event in China becoming a 4th WGC event.

    What do you hear?

    And what do you think that says about the place of the great south-of-the-equator golf centres and Europe in Golf's new world??

  • Comment number 11.

    Kwini, Yes there is a lot of chatter about this and I've heard it from a couple of different sources. I understand the dotted line has yet to be signed but there's optimism that might be in time for this year's event to have WGC status. Woods confirmed this week he will definitely play in Shanghai but it's more awkward for Mickelson because he is sponsored by a rival bank. Either way it would be a big boost for the Race to Dubai and the European Tour. Will they revise the minimum tournament requirement for membership?
    Breaking out of America is good news for the WGCs and it would be great to see one staged in Australia or South Africa given the relative golfing strength of both countries at the moment. Not going to happen though, there's not the money or the willingness to travel among the big boys (unless you can get Aussie taxpayers to cough up $3 million each). Fields for tournaments in continental Europe are another concern.

  • Comment number 12.

    Appreciate the response, Iain. Seems like the tail's wagging the dog a bit.
    (Presumably Camilo's and Vijay's status being sponsored by Stanford not an issue!!!!!!!!!!)
    There's lots of chat on this on my thread on the Golf Board so I won't go on, but one thing that would have to be thought through is money/points for R2D and FedEx.
    Seems more questions than answers at this stage.
    Thanks again.

  • Comment number 13.

    yeah...totally agree with you Iain,i think he`s a breath of fresh air.
    Nowadays it`s all stereotypical dialogue from golf press conferences but Harrington just comes in for a chat.

  • Comment number 14.

    Down our way you can order a John Panton.


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