“And they all expected me to come play,” he said.
Now, 10 years later he is better able to reflect on his remarkable run and appreciate the honours he’s been afforded.
On Monday night, Harrington, 46, received the Gold Tee Award, the highest honour bestowed by the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association, given to an individual whose career achievements exemplify the best spirit and traditions of the game.
Recipients of the award include legends Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Nancy Lopez, and Annika Sorenstam.
Harrington’s keynote address at the dinner attended by several hundred members of the media, golf dignitaries, and supporters of the game, ran more than a half hour and sounded like a dress rehearsal for his eventual World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony acceptance speech.
Harrington, dressed in a blue blazer and a tie with a red rose pinned to his left lapel, recalled his earliest days in the game when his father, a former Cork GAA star and garda, helped build two courses for the local officers. Harrington grew up at Stackstown Golf Club in South County Dublin, and still remembers levelling the 12th green and chasing rabbits there. “From the age of four,” said Padraig, the youngest of Paddy and Breda’s five sons, “that was my playground, where I spent my summers playing 45 holes a day. All I wanted was to beat my brothers.”
By age 15, Harrington was playing off scratch. One of the last times that one of Harrington’s brothers got the better of him, he lost a pound, which his brother pinned to the wall.
It stayed there for some 20 years,” Harrington said, “just as a reminder he beat me.
Despite an undefeated record in singles matches between 1990-96, Harrington never considered turning pro. He changed his mind when he kept beating all the players joining the pro ranks.
I assure you if I had an intention to turn pro, I’d never have spent four years going to night school to become an accountant,” he said.
Harrington was competing on the European Tour’s Challenge Tour in Nairobi when he was invited to compete in a tournament in Durban, South Africa. Six players had already declined but Harrington took the chance. Playing with clubs 4 degrees too upright and suffering dehydration, Harrington finished 46th and won £1,480. He rang his mother on a payphone and proclaimed, “You’ll never believe it. I made the cut and they’re just giving it away.”
That proved to be a pivotal moment in his career. All of a sudden, he sensed he could do it, that he belonged. In 1998, he played his best golf at the US Open, but only finished T26. Convinced he needed to improve, Harrington switched to instructor Bob Torrance. Another critical moment came in defeat at the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot when he made bogey on the last three holes and finished fifth. Despite falling short, he realised he had played good enough to win.
That led to his major championship run of two Claret Jugs and the Wannamaker Trophy. Harrington is one of only 45 men that have captured three or more majors in his career. Harrington has won 15 times on the European Tour and six times on the PGA Tour, with his last victory coming at the 2016 Portugal Masters. He continues to work at his craft but seems at peace with the fact that his best golf may be behind him.
“At some stage, there is a tipping point between innocence and experience and scar tissue and the game tends to get harder as you get more knowledge,” Harrington said. “I still love the game. I’m fascinated by it, I’m obsessed by it, I’m addicted to it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Did you know?
He hasn’t read an article about himself since he was 18.
He got the yips in 2012.
The Pádraig Harrington Foundation has sent 111 kids to college.
His mother banned golf talk at the family dinner table.
Harrington played on three Walker Cup teams (1991, ‘93, ‘95) and didn’t turn pro until age 24.