A missed cut at The Masters in Augusta earlier this month did the three-time major winner no favours in the world rankings and he is currently in the 80s, rather than the top 60 where he needs to be to automatically qualify.
However, in Thurles yesterday for the opening of the LIT campus Sportslab, which is already on the way to becoming an internationally-renowned strength and conditioning centre, the Dubliner was optimistic about his chances.
“Because my points are back-ended at the moment, it actually means I only need a reasonable performance in my next four events,” Harrington said. “Like a top five or something would probably do the job.”
The last of those four tournaments is the Rory McIlroy-hosted Irish Open at Royal County Down at the end of May but Harrington said he would have no problem going across to England and down the pre-qualifying route for the US Open, if needs be. “Absolutely. Of course I would. An opportunity to get in, I don’t care how I have to get there. It wouldn’t bother me.”
Part of Harrington’s backroom team in recent years has been Dr Liam Hennessy, one of the brains behind the new €3.7 million Sportslab at the LIT campus in Thurles and a man who’s worked with many top international athletes and teams.
The golfer yesterday spoke of the key role played by strength and conditioning expert Hennessy in the latter years of his career.
“I think it’s intangible… I’m stronger, more powerful than I was 18 years ago, than at any stage in my career, than 10 years ago. I’ve had less injuries in the last couple of years than I’ve had ever before.” Because of the near year-round nature of their profession, golfers need to be more careful than many other athletes about getting the balance right between preparation, play and rest, he said.
“So it’s should I practise, should I rest, should I get in the gym? I’ve got to play four tournament rounds, all that soft of stuff, it’s always trying to get the right mix. Liam is very much part of guiding me, when I should take breaks, what I should do during the week. The greatest thing about Liam, which is amazing, is always it’s about finding the minimum effect of dose. Less is more, at times.”
The distance learning centre founded by Dr Hennessy, Setanta College, is working in partnership with LIT in delivering the programmes at the Sportslab, among which is a motion-study programme which can pinpoint potential injury issues in teams, using 32 cameras and special computer software but without the need for wires and sensors attached to the body.
Already there’s interest from some Premier League teams across the Irish Sea in this innovation and word is expected to spread to other sports.
In his speech to the gathering for yesterday’s opening, which included environment minister Alan Kelly and LIT president Dr Maria Hinfelaar, Dr Hennessy referred to the benefits the Sportslab will have for all levels of society, not just elite sportspeople.
“The students coming through the programme here are preparing for the broader engagement with people further down the pyramid,” he said. “The key thing is that students get to use technology they are not forbidden to use. Years ago you had to go into a lab and wear a white coat and spectacles and ruffle your hair a bit and peer through a microscope… But here it’s available for every student once they’re up and running and show they can use it.”
Padraig Harrington told the crowd he would have “dreamed about” such a facility when he was an 18-year-old. “I ended up doing accountancy at night. What was that about?” he wondered to laughter. “Sports psychology wasn’t really on the map at that stage. Even sports science wasn’t really around… I’d have loved this.”