Padraig Harrington receives Gold Tee Award

By Adam Schupak

When Padraig Harrington won three major championships in little more than a 12-month span in 2007-08, he said he received an honorary membership at nearly every club in Ireland.

"And they all expected me to come play," he said.

Now, 10 years later he is better able to reflect on his remarkable run and appreciate the honours he's been afforded.

On Monday, June 17, Harrington, 46, received the Gold Tee Award, the highest honour bestowed by the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association, given to an individual whose career achievements exemplify the best spirit and traditions of the game.

Recipients of the award include legends Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam.

Harrington's keynote at the dinner attended by several hundred members of the media, golf dignitaries and supporters of the game, ran more than a half hour and sounded like a dress rehearsal for his eventual World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony acceptance speech.

Harrington, dressed in a blue blazer and a tie with a red rose pinned to his left lapel, remembered his earliest days in the game when his father, a former Gaelic football star and policeman, helped build two courses for the local police officers.

Harrington grew up at Stackstown Golf Club in South County Dublin, and still remembers levelling the 12th green and chasing rabbits there.

"From the age of 4," said Padraig, the youngest of Paddy and Breda's five son, "that was my playground, where I spent my summers playing 45 holes a day. All I wanted to do was beat my brothers."

By age 15, Harrington was playing off scratch. One of the last times that one of Harrington's brothers got the better of him, he lost a pound, which his brother pinned to the wall.

"It stayed there for some 20 years," Harrington said, "just as a reminder that he beat me."

Despite an undefeated record in singles matches between 1990-96, Harrington never considered turning pro. He changed his mind when he kept beating all the players that were joining the pro ranks.

I assure you if I had an intention to turn pro, I'd never have spent four years going to night school to become an accountant.

Harrington was competing in a tournament on the European Tour's Challenge Tour in Nairobi when he was invited to compete in a tournament in Durban, South Africa.

Six players had already declined but Harrington jumped at the chance. Playing with clubs 4 degrees too upright and suffering dehydration, Harrington finished 46th and won 1,480 pounds.

He rang his mother on a pay phone and proclaimed, "You'll never believe it. I made the cut and they're just giving it away."

That proved to be a pivotal moment in his career.

All of a sudden, he sensed he could do it, that he belonged. In 1998, he played his best golf at the U.S. Open, but only finished T-26. Convinced he needed to improve, Harrington switched to instructor Bob Torrance.

Another critical moment came in defeat at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot when he made bogey on the last three holes and finished fifth. Despite falling short, he realized he had played good enough to win.

That led to his major championship run of two Claret Jugs and the Wannamaker Trophy.

Harrington is one of only 45 men that have captured three or more majors in his career. Harrington has won 15 times on the European Tour and six times on the PGA Tour, with his last victory coming at the 2016 Portugal Masters.

He continues to work at his craft as hard as anybody, but seems at peace with the fact that his best golf may be behind him.

"At some stage, there is a tipping point between innocence and experience and scar tissue and the game tends to get harder as you get more knowledge," Harrington said.

I still love the game. I'm fascinated by it, I'm obsessed by it, I'm addicted to it. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Five things about Harrington you may not have known

1. He hasn't read an article about himself since he was 18.

2. He got the yips in 2012

3. The Padraig Harrington Foundation has sent 111 kids to college

4. His mother banned golf talk at the family dining room table

5. Harrington played on three Walker Cup teams (1991, '93, '95) and didn't turn pro until age 24


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