Putting a perspective on success on fringes of the Major league

It’s torture and in a way he’s tortured, but Pádraig Harrington has the good grace and awareness to realise he’s still one of the lucky ones.

Putting a perspective on success on fringes of the Major league

Last Wednesday on the often irreverent but always relevant Second Captains Live, Harrington gave an insight on the pain of missing out on playing in a Major last weekend but also the solace of always knowing and always been known as a man who won three Majors before.

Maybe it’s because he was mindful of another piece of brilliant television he’s contributed to tomorrow. In The Long Walk, a two-part documentary directed by the award-winning Garry Keane, Harrington reflects on the life of the struggling pro, knowing he’s not one of them. The struggling pro is the guy trying to stay on the European Tour, or get on the European Tour and get off the Challenge Tour, or get on the Challenge Tour and off the UK-based EuroProTour.

That struggling pro is the hero, or at least the main focus, of The Long Walk. For sure, it features Harrington and Paul McGinley and Shane Lowry, but only to offer us a taste of the world the others strive for. As one of them, Gareth Shaw, puts it, “No one really understands what’s going on at the lower levels.”

People see Rory and G-Mac in the papers, on the TV, mixing with sheikhs in Dubai and models on red carpets and think golf is all about the glitz and glam and the Majors but it’s not. Golf, as The Long Walk illustrates superbly, is something else entirely.

It’s Mark Murphy, a genial 35-year-old from Waterville, finding himself the morning of the first round of the Colombian Open on the Latin American Tour unable to lift a club with a back injury. “A $5,000 (€3,600) trip for nothing,” as he glumly puts it, when $5,000 can be a few months’ earnings.

It’s Peter O’Keeffe from Douglas, Cork, on a Friday evening left waiting and wondering for a couple of hours whether he’s made the cut or not of a Challenge Tour event and wondering if he wants to make the cut or not with his brother’s wedding the following day. As a college player in the States, O’Keeffe beat Keegan Bradley in a playoff three years before Bradley would beat Jason Duffner in a playoff to win the USPGA championship. Bradley is currently one of the world’s top 20 players. O’Keeffe is 1,544 places lower but still dreams of mixing it with his old college rival.

It’s not a forlorn dream. One of Murphy’s best friends we learn is Rocco Mediate, another former top-20 player who was involved in a famous playoff, being the man who pushed Tiger Woods closest the last time Tiger won a major. Rocco is now on the seniors tour but finds time still to hang out with and mentor Murphy, who he befriended on a trip to Waterville with Tiger 14 years ago. Mediate has seen guys older and not a lot better than Murphy finally get the break. But it’s a big risk and a big decision, and ultimately one which only Murphy can take and make.

It’s a dilemma they all face. We follow Brendan McCarroll from Donegal around the Sardinian Open. On the Friday, he shoots six under. “Days like today,” he says, “is what makes you play the game. Days like yesterday (when he shot two over) is what makes you want to quit the game.”

Even those who have what McCarroll crave are tortured, to an extent. Peter Lawrie talks about a noose around his neck going into the last European Tour event of the year, needing a certain placing to retain his tour card. For two months, he’s been barely able to eat and sleep, mindful that he has a wife and four kids to look out for.

“It’s a crazy, head-melting game,” as Stephen Grant puts it. For a decade or more, Grant was a full-time soccer player before taking up golf in his mid-20s. Within a year and a half, he was a scratch golfer. It seemed so easy then. Now he’s on his fourth year on the Challenge Tour, and challenge is the operative word. We see another putt roll just by the hole and Grant grimace “Feckin’ hell, man!” Whereas a putt for a Rory or G-Mac might be to win a tournament and buy another pad in Florida, for the likes of Grant and McCarroll and even Lawrie it is to meet the monthly mortgage of a three-bedroom semi-d.

There are easier ways to make a living. But, it would seem, few as intoxicating or life-affirming as well.

“Golf is a drug,” says a grinning if perplexed Murphy. “Maybe I’m just stupid, I don’t know.”

Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it. At least he has that much in common with Harrington.

nThe Long Walk, produced by Motive TV, airs tomorrow night on Setanta Ireland at 10pm, with Part Two showing at the same time a week later.

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