Harrington on song as win brightens dull summer

IT WAS Sunday night at Doneraile Golf Club, the affable Peter Hogan’s President’s prize-giving ceremony done and dusted (The Griff had picked up his usual piece of glass, Denis ‘Dinny’ Cole in the winner’s enclosure once again), and Donie Cotter, a magnificent one-man rock orchestra, was giving it Galtee.

In the normal scheme of things most of the attention would have been on Donie, on the dancing, on the partying, with the usual few suspects belly up to the bar discussing shots lost and shots made during their round, arguing the toss over the football and hurling matches that day in Croke Park (and I confess, yes, I’d be among the latter).

But this was not a normal night, and up at the bandstand, Donie was getting antsy; he’s not a golf fan, is Donie, couldn’t understand why his best efforts (and they were hot) were being ignored by most of the men on the premises, and a good proportion of the women.

There was good reason for what was happening, though, really good reason; around the corner of the bar from Donie, out of his line of vision, the impressive new widescreen TV was beaming pictures from Detroit — the final holes of the USPGA.

To win one major in a lifetime of golf has evaded most of the game’s top exponents, it’s a rare and magnificent achievement. To win two is to join an exclusive club; to win three, well, you’re entering golf’s stratosphere.

What would it be like then to win two in one season? What would it be like to win them back-to-back? What would it be like to win one, then retain that title the following season?

All those achievements are beyond the ability of most pro golfers, way beyond the ability. And believe me, as one who likes to hack a ball out of his way on the odd occasion, I have a very good appreciation of just how difficult it is to put that little ball in that slightly bigger hole.

On Sunday night, the reason Donie Cotter’s toe-tapping efforts were being ignored was because we were witnessing a bit of history at Oakland Hills. From way back in the pack at the halfway stage, our own Pádraig Harrington, had made a charge and now, on the 18th tee, he held a one-shot lead.

Consider this; until Pádraig won last year’s British Open, only one Irishman, ever, had won any pro golf major, of any description, and that was Fred Daly from Portrush, the British Open back in 1947.

Pádraig went on to repeat that feat this year, successfully defended a major, won his second in the process. And now, he was on the brink of doing it again; no European had won the USPGA since Tommy Armour of Scotland in 1930; with Pádraig going head-to-head with Sergio Garcia of Spain, on whom he held a one-shot lead and with whom he was playing, that was to change.

DRIVING back from Croke Park, I had been getting phone and radio updates, got into Doneraile just in time to see Pádraig examine the lie of his tee-shot off that 18th, and a poor lie it was.

In the bunker, he played his shot, well out but into the penal rough; a par four, he was looking at a probable bogey, his lead gone, and as the age-old Irish doomsday fears began to surface in some of us, possibly even worse. I mean, we’ve come to understand here again this summer, the reason it isn’t raining right this minute is because the heavens are just filling the tank again — how can you have a sunny disposition in those circumstances?

But Pádraig played a brilliant shot from the rough, to about 20ft. The worst he’d do now, unless Garcia holed out from the greenside bunker in which he found himself, unless the American Ben Curtis in the hole behind suddenly came good, was bogey, and a playoff.

But Sergio didn’t hole out, Curtis actually dropped a shot on the 17th; as Pádraig lined up his putt, I turned to Tom Meade, the Doneraile club captain, whispered, “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he makes this.” Make it he did, and the cheers nearly lifted the roof off the clubhouse.

Mick Quirke, a former Spanish Amateur Open winner; Jim O’Leary, long-serving club secretary; President Peter; Captain Tom; Finbarr Hallahan and his young sons; ordinary folk all, all now on their feet, punching the air.

It was a special moment, a communal moment, a moment which, like Cork’s hurling All-Ireland win of ‘99, like the double of ‘90, like Munster’s Heineken Cup wins of ‘06 and ‘08, I will cherish forever.

That’s sport. As much as my heart was aching after Cork’s loss to Kilkenny a few hours earlier, now it soared. I was very conscious of the fact that I still had a few miles to drive home, but I had a pint, a creamy celebratory pint, and floated home, smiling all the way.

A word on those hurlers, however, of Cork and Kilkenny; I celebrate those hurlers of Cork, magnificent representatives that they are of that proud county.

I also salute Kilkenny; without question, they are the new masters of hurling. It’s a great time to be from Kilkenny, from Kerry in football, but, isn’t it also a great time to be Irish? I just wonder now, what can Pádraig achieve next? Tiger hunt, anyone?

And what of our Olympians, is there glory there? In the midst of this dreary summer, sport, sport, sport — it lifts the spirit, doesn’t it?


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