When Pádraig Harrington lifted the Claret Jug for the first time 11 years ago he joined a select band of Carnoustie Open champions.
Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Paul Lawrie were the champion golfers here since 1945, and Henry Cotton and Tommy Armour the previous winners at this famous links, all of whom could be considered, like Harrington, to possess tenacious qualities.
Such is the nature of the challenge facing the 2018 field as golf’s oldest major championship returns for the first time since the Irishman’s 2007 victory at The Open’s toughest course that Harrington is perfectly positioned to assess just what it takes to join that select band.
A practice-round drive on the 18th into the famous Barry Burn on Saturday served as a gentle reminder of the pitfalls Carnoustie has in store and Harrington said yesterday: “You have to hit the shots. You just continually have to keep hitting big shots. There’s a lot of questions to be asked.
“Some of the times, it will go wrong, and so you have to be that character to, you know, you’re going to take a shot on, it won’t work out, but you can’t second guess yourself afterwards.
“You have to have that mentality that you have to believe that your strategy is it, that you are the man, that 100% it’s all about your strategy. You’ve got to believe in yourself.”
Harrington’s Carnoustie victory sparked a brilliant period in his career which saw him retain the Claret Jug at Birkdale in 2008 and then win back-to-back majors with the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills near Detroit the following month.
Just one PGA Tour win, the 2015 Honda Classic, and a single European Tour victory, the 2016 Portugal Masters have followed, as well as a couple of tournament successes in the Far East but the 46-year-old insisted yesterday that there can only be positives from his Carnoustie win.
“I don’t think I lost anything. Yes, it possibly makes golf harder. There’s no doubt about it. When you’ve won majors, you’re trying to live up to that, and I’ve watched from the outside with so many other players and said, well, I’m not going to make that mistake, but it seems to be inevitable for people that, when they win a major, it’s hard to keep that momentum.
“You change as a person, there’s no doubt, in terms of your golf. For me, it was certainly a peak in my career. How do I put it? It would have been a lot smoother in my career if I won a major every five years. If I won one in 2007, 2012, 2017, that would have been a lot simpler on my golfing career. But at the end of the day, it still goes down as three wins, and it always will, unless I make it to four. So there is no downside. And if there is any downside, it’s only perspective, that you’ve got to work hard and turn it around.”