Nip and tuck the name of the game for Harrington

IT HAS been a while since Pádraig Harrington played a round of professional golf but that isn’t to say he has been resting on his laurels over the festive season and the turn of the year.

He clearly hasn’t.

Workouts in the gym have delivered a toned and healthy-looking 39-year old into the latest calendar year and he has been working just as assiduously in the nets and on the range to ensure that his game is in similar fettle.

It isn’t. Yet.

As was the case during 2010, a year he described as his most frustrating on tour, Harrington has been busy tweaking his game. He was still hitting balls as late as 1am on Thursday morning and was at it again only seven hours later.

The rest of yesterday morning was spent in nearby Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in Enniskerry, where he is a full member and where he was unveiled as the R&A’s first Working for Golf Ambassador.

Ever the gentleman, he gave generously of his time to adults and kids alike before adjourning to a quieter room at the far side of the complex where he spent 45 minutes dissecting the latest changes to his game.

It was a dizzying list.

By his own reckoning, the man from Stackstown has made anything up to 20 nips and tucks over the last four weeks. Most of them are minor alterations and he couldn’t quite remember them all but he gave it a hell of a good old rattle.

Here’s just a taster…

He has changed his choice of grips, weakened his grip, lowered his hands on the club, altered his routine for practising putts and changed his ‘trigger’ which, for him, was two big ‘waggles’ before he hit his shot.

Of all his latest experiments, the trigger is the big one — a mental nuance rather than a physical one — a tricky procedure which other players have addressed with varying degrees of success in the past.

Indeed, Harrington offered up a story yesterday of one golfer whose amateur career suggested a tilt at true greatness only for his prospects to disappear into a black hole after he attempted something similar during a stint on the Sunshine Tour.

The hope is that Harrington’s decision will dilute a habit that had been distracting him as he stood over the ball and produce a swing that grows in accuracy without sacrificing length with his driver and long irons.

“I actually like not waggling. There is always going to be teething problems when you bring these things out. It would be the same thing if you brought a soccer player out for six weeks learning to kick the ball with his left foot.

“The first time the ball comes in you will want to switch it onto your strong foot. How many times have we seen a guy in soccer move it on to his strong foot and ask why did he do that. It is hard not to do it until you get used to it.”

News that Harrington continues to tinker with his swing will no doubt be met with groans by those who have despaired at his quest for perfection and the resultant two-year wait for a title which he finally ended in Malaysia last October.

He admits himself that his tendency is to overdo things but actually pointed out yesterday that, when push comes to shove, it is his mental and short games and not his long-striking which determine his success.

That begs the inevitable question: why not just stand up and hit it?

“That’s not me. I do that with my putting and that’s why I’m good with my putting and I do that with my chipping and that’s why I’m good with my chipping so you might say ‘why don’t you do that?’.

“My natural golf swing from when I was a kid was always a lot of moving parts over the top so I have to develop my golf swing. If I stood up there and swung natural, I would hit a good rhythm and good shots, but for a limited period of time.”

It was also interesting to hear Harrington say that, contrary to popular belief, he first began to pick at his game five years ago and not just after he won his third major in the space of 18 months, the 2008 US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

He returns to the circuit next week for the Abu Dhabi Championship but estimates it may be mid-March and the WGC event at Doral before he begins to find his groove.

Beyond that, the hope is that things will click at the Shell Houston Open which would be good timing because the US Masters — one of three majors where he missed the cut in 2010 — is a week later.

As ever, Augusta will tell a tale.

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