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On the couch with Padraig Harrington

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Rob Hodgetts | 12:44 UK time, Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Padraig Harrington backers need to ask themselves two questions.

Can he win the Open at Turnberry this week? And can he get in the position to win?

The answer to the first is yes, if he does the second. The answer to the second requires a far more complicated debate.

And that, in a nutshell, is the enigma that is Harrington.

Padraig Harrington wins the Open in 2008

The Irishman is going for a third straight Open title and fourth major in all. He dominated world golf last summer in Tiger Woods's absence, and demonstrated much of the winning mentality that has taken the American to 14 major titles.

But driven on by his perfectionist streak, Harrington has been tinkering with his swing to try to further improve his game.

And the current state of play? Five missed cuts in a row before clinching the Irish PGA Championship in his traditional pre-Open warm-up on Sunday.

At his news conference at Turnberry on Tuesday, the first question to Harrington was: "Congratulations on your win in Ireland. How's your form?"

"I would say it's very sketchy, obviously," he replied with typical honesty and openness.

"I've not really shown much form and I'm not really knowing what to expect. I could only be hopeful, rather than expectant, to put in a good performance this week."

Is this Harrington's way of deflecting the attention and expectation this year? Twelve months ago in the days before the Open he was struggling with a wrist injury, which clearly helped divert his, and our, focus.

In the first two rounds of his USPGA win at Oakland Hills last August, Harrington was suffering from dehydration and he admitted afterwards that he thrives when the chips are down.

"I actually struggle with things that are comfortable," he said at the time. "I definitely have a little bit of, I want to be fighting it."

He's certainly got that this time, but the deep-thinking Harrington told reporters it was different.

"I would have been mentally strong and well-prepared for the last couple of Opens," he said.

"It was a different sort of lack of preparation. I had a nice, quiet mind that week. This week, with all the stuff I'm doing with my swing, it's a bit too active. It will be hard to be calm and focused."

This swing remodelling is nothing new, of course. Nick Faldo famously rebuilt his swing before winning six majors. Woods was accused of a "slump" when he undertook some swing maintenance in 2003-4 before adding another six majors to his tally.

"You get to a certain point and you like to tear it apart and see how it works and put it back better," said Harrington, who is always engaged and never less than extensive when answering questions.

"I've just been working on things and when you change one thing there are a few other adjustments needed.

"And trying to figure out which adjustment goes with which has been a little bit more complicated than expected and is taking a bit longer than expected.

"Through all of that my short game is pretty poor. Golf is always for me a juggling act of keeping all the balls in the air and keeping everything working together. And I've obviously concentrated on one ball a lot and a few other ones have fallen on the ground."

Like most elite sportsmen, Woods's mantra is "Always trying to get better" and he touched on Harrington's plight in his own news conference.

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"The game is fluid. It's always evolving. We're all making changes. The hard part is doing it in front of everyone one," he said.

But it's a complicated conundrum. First, Harrington has as his mind man the renowned mental coach Dr Bob Rotella, whose best-selling book is entitled "Golf is not a game of perfect."

Harrington's major victories would appear to come straight from the pages of Rotella's philosophy of accepting what the fates deal you on the course and moving forward.

But the perfectionist in him wants a better golf swing so that the mistakes he might have to recover from are fewer in the first place.

The swing-obsessed side of Harrington said: "I worked hard with (swing coach) Bob Torrance on Monday and changed a few little things, but it's hard to make it automatic by Thursday.

"If someone can push the Open back a couple of weeks I'd be delighted."

But the Rotella-influenced competitor in him added: "I may swing the club better this week, but that doesn't necessarily mean you play better.

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"Sometimes trusting what you've got is better than going with something that's better."

So has Harrington sacrificed winning for improving, he was asked?

"Yes," he replied immediately. "I've spent most of my career trying to get better for the future rather than for the immediate future. I wouldn't recommend it to everybody. You've got to play for the now every so often.

"We all do it, players. You sacrifice in the short-term so that you get better for the long term.

"I fully expect to go through this now and hopefully be more comfortable with my swing and going forward over the next 10 years win plenty more tournaments."

The nagging thought, though, is if it ain't broke, why fix it?

All of which brings us back to the question of whether Harrington can win an Open hat-trick.

And that depends on which Harrington turns up. Because for all the confidence he lacks in his golf swing, he makes up for in links nous and knowing how to close out a major championship.

"I'd love to be in the heat of the hunt on the back nine on Sunday. It's one of those weeks to hang in there and get yourself in position," he said.

"There's a massive adjustment to links golf. But it's a very fair golf course and there will be quite an amount of excitement - you could see a significant swing in the last nine holes of this tournament.

"The one thing I know is that if I get in position I can win. Others can get there but they won't win. Can I get into position is what's in doubt."

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  • Comment number 1.

    i would say harrington has kein chance, but since he is in the field and i guess something drastic could happen on the first day- like a tournament ending earthquake where he and 25 others are the only ones to complete a hole and harrington's name is picked out of a hat as the winner...kidding aside he seems to have made a career out of the lack of respect everybody has for him. that being said i wouldn't bet even a bus fare on him...

  • Comment number 2.

    I would love it if harrington could out a performance together and win it again. I doubt he will though as golf is such a competitive game where there are maybe 20 or 30 players that have the ability to put together a few good rounds - harrington can win it and may win it but even if he was happy with his swing and form it would still be a very difficult task! Good luck to him - he seems a nice bloke!

  • Comment number 3.

    Harrington has more chance of 'knitting fog ' than winning this weekend.!
    His form is very poor and he has stated his putting is way off.

    On that basis as a high achieving professional he already knows he is making up the numbers.

    I reckon Sir Nick has a better chance of making the cut.

    For a winner look no further than Tiger, Kaymer this week.

  • Comment number 4.

    I just watched a BBC video clip now where the bbc journalist was asking Tiger Woods how much inspiration he gets from Roger Federer. That was a most absurd, disrespectful question to ask from such a champion as Tiger. I mean, we all know what a great tennis player Roger is, and his place in Sports hall of fame is assured. But, last time i checked, Tiger had already made his mark and won a few majors long before Roger emerged on the scene. What was Tiger's inspiration then. Is it now, when Tiger Woods has become an established dominant player in golf, that he will need inspiration from Roger Federer??

  • Comment number 5.

    Seems to me like there is a huge lack of respect shown to Padraig considering what he has achieved in the last 2 years. Why are so many people obsessed with the likes of Poulter and Garcia and all the others who put themselves in a position to win but can't finish the job. Padraig is a good guy and a great golfer and he deserves proper respect for his 3 majors, even Tiger can have a slump in form these guys are only human

  • Comment number 6.

    Each year Padraig prepares on the links in the Irish Open. Seems to do him the world of good. If Harrington is there abouts with 9 to play, it will be a brave man to bet against him. He Has the experience of winning and coping with the pressure to win a major.

  • Comment number 7.

    prof capello I think there was nothing wrong with the question about federer, as I believe it they are good friends and Tiger will be looking to match Federers record this week. Harrington has got no chance. More chance of knitting fog I love that.

  • Comment number 8.

    I can't believe how harrington has managed to win one major let alone three. I know its not just about the swing but when you look how good Sergio is when they stand on the range together, compared to Harrington hes in a different league. Padraig is closer to a sunday hacker than a major champion. His short game is sublime though and apparently thats the difference between us and them.

  • Comment number 9.

    Three in a row is extremely difficult to acheive. It's not about consistent form over three years, and Padraig certainly has not done that. Possibly due to his swing tinkering. It's about producing the shots and making the putts over the 4 competition days. Harrington has done that in the past, particularly when he won his first open at Carnoustie. I saw him produce some lovely iron shots around a difficult course. To me that was his best major performance, the other two were more workmanlike particularly the USPGA. If Harrington is still in contention on Sunday, you would not rule him out. Good luck Padraig!

  • Comment number 10.

    I guess it's an awfull pity for Sergio that none of the majors are played on the driving range........
    I think your comments about Harrington are disrespectful! I'm sure none of his fellow professionals would agree with you.
    Personally I think he will struggle this week, but also that he will win a major again.

  • Comment number 11.

    I can't see Pádraig winning a major this year, obviously. Hopefully we'll see a gradual improvement in his driving through the season and he'll come back complete with better putting. Next year could be very interesting if this happens, coupled with Tiger being there and some young uns coming through - Kim, McIlroy, Glover, etc.

    It would be spiffing if people would stop talking about what a beautiful golfer Garcia is and how much better than Pádraig he is. He's not in Harrington's league when it comes to strategy, mental strength, or indeed cojones.

  • Comment number 12.

    There are to many chocolate golfers on tour at the moment that is why Sergio Poulter Casey Westwood Kim Cink the Hansen`s etc will never win a major.
    They are all great golfers without the pressure of a major, Tiger Goosen Els Harrington and now Glover have conquered the hardest thing about golf closing out in the back nine of a major.

  • Comment number 13.

    I don't know if Harrington can pull it off for a third time in a row but I'm hoping he does just backed him at 28/1 with Boylesports. I don't need for him to win to make a bit of recession money but if he finishes anywhere in the top 8 then I'm laughin as they are paying out on 8 places.. Come on the Harrington!

  • Comment number 14.

    Harrington 3
    Garcia 0

    I'm sure Garcia would take the hacker's swing for just one of those majors.

    And you can be sure Harrington wouldn't swap one of them for the 'perfect swing', whatever that is. Chuckle.


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