God knows there are many reasons to marvel at Tiger Woods and among the talents Pádraig Harrington has had occasion to envy was the American’s knack of finding his rhythm at major after major without recourse to anything like a tune-up coming in.
“I’d be a basket case if I didn’t play the week before,” said the Irishman.
Even more so when it comes to rehearsals for The Open and it’s unique demands. Woods won three Opens on the back of weekends ‘off’ — in 2000, ’05 and ’06 — but Harrington’s devotion to detail and need for a dry run on a links track were integral to his successes at Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale just over a decade ago. And it’s a schedule he advocates for anyone intent on winning at Portrush this month.
“If you’re serious about winning The Open, you’ve got to be playing tournament golf at least before it,” he explained yesterday at Lahinch. “You’d rather be playing links golf and being in a tournament than just on your own going into it.
"I would say two if you can handle three events in a row. I’d say definitely you’ve got to come and play. It’s distinctly different.”
Harrington, as he tends to, was discussing this in some detail with Martin Kaymer yesterday morning. Why, they pondered, do their short irons travel that bit shorter here than across The Pond? And why to their longer irons go further? It’s not as if the temperature was a major differential yesterday as Lahinch lounged under a blazing sun.
Harrington knows this better than most. He won the Irish Close Championship here 25 years ago shortly before turning pro and yet he still found himself under-clubbing. It’s that manner of vagary that informs his view about the need for the top players to be here in Ireland, or in Scotland next week before they make for Co Antrim.
Harrington has personal experience of just how beneficial it can be.
Twelve years ago, he stood over his second shot on the first playoff hole of the 2007 Open at Carnoustie when a thundercloud colonised the sky and the temperature dipped. He had about 170 to the flag but took an extra club than normal. He even hit it harder that he wanted and it landed pin high.
Sergio Garcia’s approach landed two clubs short. Harrington’s edge had come, he said, from playing the Irish PGA at the European Club the week before when showers and sunshine chased each other across the skies. The memory of the difference that had made to his irons had stayed with him. And won him his first major.
“I don’t need to measure that. I know that. So we don’t need to get a barometer for that sort of stuff. We know that if it’s heavy, the ball doesn’t go. You need that reminder every so often, but you’ve got to get out on the golf course and see those changes.”
Whatever the make-up of this week’s leaderboard, Harrington doesn’t see himself being part of it, not so much because of any Ryder Cup captaincy duties so much as the wrist injury which has compromised his entire season to date. There isn’t the same range of motion in the joint and, while he can swing the club, there’s a soreness if he overdoes it that could last most of 2019, so he hasn’t been able to practise with the same zeal or sign for anything near enough competitive rounds.
The sun is out, the sky is blue, but Harrington feels as though he is stuck in ‘winter mode’. “Shane Lowry said to me there, we were up at the pro am, ‘I’ll see you on the range this afternoon’. I said to him, ‘no, you won’t’. He fell over: That he’s going to the range and I’m not.”