The Open still stirs the passion in three-time major winner Pádraig Harrington, and he can’t wait to get into the thick of the action at Troon on Thursday.
Don’t expect Pádraig Harrington to be doing cartwheels down the first fairway at Royal Troon this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or even on Wednesday.
OK perhaps there will be a slight frisson of excitement in the 44-year old’s ageing body as soon as he sees the soaring Open grandstands and the big yellow master scoreboard at the Ayrshire links. But as a general rule, it takes a lot to get Harrington excited on the golf course these days.
“There is no reason why I can’t perform well going forward but in many ways I am a different person,” he said recently.
“While I love competing and I really like practising, I am bored out of my tree on a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday waiting for the golf to start.”
Short game contests with Shane Lowry or Paul Dunne can only keep Harrington’s attention for so long and nothing less than the primal excitement of the hunt gets the hairs standing up on the back of Harrington’s neck.
He’ll tell you that himself and, indeed, the public will have a chance to ask him anything they like at the Roganstown Hotel and County Club on July 18 and 19 as part of “Tour Life — an inside view of professional golf” (tickets are available via eventbrite.ie).
Dr Bob Rotella will host the first night, and Harrington the second, as they talk about the life of a professional golfer and the challenges he faces.
For Harrington these days, it’s all a battle to remain engaged, which is no easy feat after two decades of beating yourself up mentally and physically.
Getting yourself in the right frame of mind to forget the myriad negative thoughts that chip away at a golfer’s psyche over the course of two decades is no easy feat.
“I still like competing. I still like to figure it out,” he said.
“But there is no doubt that I am not as strong mentally as I was at one stage. There is a little bit of scar tissue there. But I might come to deal with that some day and be better than ever.”
Having won three majors and come close to a fourth at St Andrews in last year’s Open Championship, Harrington knows that he can win another if he puts himself in position.
The problem is surviving the first 63 holes of the tournament — and that requires not just three-and-a-half rounds of top-class golf but, in his own case at least, a proper build-up.
“There is no doubt, for me at least, you have to be contending and getting in there,” said Harrington.
“The mental side of the game is where it is at. I need to go through my routines in the next couple of weeks and get my head in he right place for sure.”
Harrington spent time at Troon last month, reacquainting himself with the course where a final-round 67 catapulted him into fifth place behind Justin Leonard on his major debut in 1997.
For a long time that week it looked as though Darren Clarke would become the first Irish Open winner for 50 years. But it would be another decade before Harrington followed in Fred Daly’s hallowed footsteps.
Apart from Alan Dunbar’s win in the 2012 British Amateur Championship at Royal Troon, the Irish have walked away disappointed more often than not.
The last six Open winners there have been Americans — Arnold Palmer in 1962, Tom Weiskopf in 1973, Tom Watson in 1982, Mark Calcavecchia on 1989, Leonard in 1997, and Todd Hamilton in 2004.
In ’82, Des Smyth missed a string of putts inside 10ft on the final day and the title went to Watson for the fourth time.
David Feherty was sixth behind Calcavecchia in ’89 while in ’97, Harrington followed an opening 75 with rounds of 69, 69, and 67 to finish fifth, eight shots behind.
It was an Open that saw Clarke lead after the first and second rounds but go into the final round two behind Jesper Parnevik only to have a shank out of bounds onto the beach at the second hole kill his chances.
He eventually finished tied second with the Swede, three behind the winner.
But in common with many of the previous Opens at Troon, Clarke had no answer to the winner’s prowess on the famous small and flat greens at the Ayrshire course.
“I didn’t have a chance of winning in 1997,” said Harrington, who would go on to miss the cut in 2004, when Todd Hamilton beat Ernie Els in a playoff.
“But I probably went in with my expectations too high in 2004 having finished well in 1997.”
This year, he hopes things will be different. But when it comes to strategy, Harrington knows it’s all about great ball-striking and solid putting.
“It’s an interesting golf course in that you have to make your birdies on the way out sometimes and hang on for dear life coming back,” Harrington said of what is a traditional out-and-back links.
“A lot does depend on the weather because it is a reasonably straightforward golf course in nice weather. But if it gets firm, then it gets a lot tougher and trickier.
“There are a lot of bunkers that you can’t necessarily avoid by laying up. You have to take some of them on at some stage, especially if the ball is running and the course is firm.”
A par 71, measuring 7,190 yards, the first six holes head straight out from north to south, with eight of the last nine heading straight back against the prevailing wind.
“It is one of those golf courses that is well liked,” Harrington said before going on to warn of the dangers posed by the 123-yard Postage Stamp eighth where the narrow Coffin Bunker left of the green has been the grave for many a championship hopeful.
“You could comfortably play that hole in a couple under par during the week and yet one day get stuck on it and feel like you are never going to finish it, if you get out of position,” said Harrington.
“So, while I won’t say it is through no fault of your own, but certainly eight is a hole that could literally ruin your week if you get caught in one of those bunkers and literally can’t get it out or are going back and forth.”
Harrington is surprised that the club has cut back the gorse right of the 11th, which instantly became the hardest hole on the course in relation to par when it was converted from a par-five to a 482-yard par-four for the 1997 Open.
Combine small greens, narrow fairways and thick gorse with stiff winds and it’s no wonder that Troon member Colin Montgomerie believes the winner will be top ball striker in the McIlroy, Jason Day mode though he doesn’t rule out Shane Lowry, following his runner-up finish in the US Open at Oakmont.
“Rory will be disappointed with that performance on a course that should have suited him,” Montgomerie said of McIlroy’s missed cut in Pittsburgh. “He will want to bounce back in a hurry with all these people winning majors since his last one.
“Troon’s greens are not the fastest, they are not he slopiest, but they are quite small so you have to strike the ball properly. So enter Rory McIlroy because there is nobody who strikes the ball any better than he does. I think he will be really up for this at Troon.
“Shane Lowry, he had a fantastic performance at Oakmont and my heart went out to him at the end. The putts that went on the first three days, just lipped out or just missed and I had that myself in 1994 when I lost that playoff at Oakmont.
“But I bounced back pretty quickly in 1995 to get into a playoff at the US PGA at Riviera and I expect a similar thing to happen to Shane. He is going to gain huge confidence in being there.”
US Open winner Dustin Johnson prepared for Troon by playing Portmarnock on Friday and The Island on Saturday. Asked what he though a hitter like Johnson might do to Toon if it’s downwind on the front nine, Montgomerie shuddered.
“That’s the thing, if the wind is in the right direction and it is firm, he could drive the first three greens,” said Montgomerie.
“And then he’s got four and six. He could do a Greg Norman. I remember 1997 in the last round and he was six under after six.
“What is it his brother says to him on the tee? Send it, bro?
“If he sends it straight. He could drive the first and the third for definite. If it’s not straight and out of position, you will be making a lot of bogeys. That’s Troon.”
You have to make your birdies on the way out and hang on for dear life coming back
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