PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON was already in good spirits when he was informed that he would play the first two rounds of the 150th Open Championship with 60-year-old Tom Watson and Ryo Ishikawa, 18. While Harrington has been a long time fan and admirer of Watson, he has also seen enough of Iskikawa to believe he is another Watson in the making.
Between them, Watson (5) and Harrington (2) have seven claret jugs and there is a widespread belief that in the fullness of time Ishikawa will become the first Japanese to hold the famous old trophy aloft. What all three don’t have on their cv, however, is an Open victory at St Andrews and that’s something they would dearly love to rectify this week.
“It’s nice to have won a couple of them and it would certainly be nice to win an Open at St Andrews,” said Harrington. “It’s a good week to play well, it’s a good week to compete and it would be a great week to win.”
Reminded that he had also two Dunhills Links titles to his credit at St Andrews, Harrington was less impressed, stating that “it would be a different golf course when the Dunhill is played. Playing an Open at St Andrews in my experience is of a very, very firm, very, very bouncy golf course with tricky pin positions.”
For the past few years, Harrington has warmed up for the Open by playing the Irish PGA at the European Club but he doesn’t have the benefit of that event this year. Instead, he came here early but because the weather on the east coast of Scotland has been extremely windy and cold, he has yet to play the full course since his arrival on Saturday. However, that hasn’t stopped him holding strong and interesting views on the new tee at the famous 17th Road hole which has been stretched from 455 to 495 yards and promises to wreck a countless number of promising cards.
“It’s exactly like I would have envisaged the hole played when I first came here in the early 90s,” he mused. “It’s a tough test off the tee. It’s a 290-yard carry so you’ve really got to stand up there and hit your drive and hit it well. And it’s a tight fairway as well.
“The way I look at it, you always want to make sure that the guy who wins the Open is tested at some stage coming down the stretch. It’s a long hole and one you’re going to think about for 16 holes before actually getting through it.”
Harrington duly reminded the media that just as he likes to tinker with his swing and alter things from time to time, golf courses — and especially those as old and venerable as St Andrews — must change from time to time as well. He even pointed out they used to play it from the greens to the tees.
“Since I’ve been playing the course, and that’s only since 1994, there have probably been ten new tee boxes,” he went on. “I know 17 is high profile but this is the modern game. I say to those guys who are not happy with the new tee that they won’t be thinking about it in five years time, they’ll just see it as the hole that it is.”
Harrington’s admiration and respect for Tom Watson could hardly be more apparent. He went so far as to suggest that “everybody wanted Tom to win last year, even Stewart Cink,” adding that he’d be happy to see Watson win this week if he couldn’t. Nor could anything excite him more than the prospect of playing two rounds in an Open Championship over the Old Course at St Andrews with Watson and the Japanese sensation Ishikawa.
“Tom has given a lot to the game of golf and I think that’s why people want him to win big championships,” he enthused. “If it was a random guy of 59 last year, I don’t think people would have been as keen. But it was Tom Watson, a man who has held up the traditions of the game. He is somebody I would watch and follow and wish to do well. I have played with him now a couple of times in major championships and he just rips it, just keeps going after the pin, just hit it and find it kind of thing and that’s a tremendous attitude.
“We crossed tee boxes at Pebble Beach for the US Open and although I didn’t realise it, everybody in my group on the 4th walked back to the 17th to see Watson hit. I never saw Lee Trevino in his hey-day and I was disappointed in that. But we still get to see Tom Watson and a little bit of what he was like in his great days. Every chance you will get to watch him, you will learn something.
“I always step back to have a look because he really does look like a guy with all the experience in the world.”
Ryo Ishikawa may be 42 years younger than Watson and only at the beginning of his career but Harrington believes that he could hardly have been handed a better draw for the two days.
“He’s a phenomenal talent and everybody should get to see him,” said Harrington who, in reference to the massive, noisy and frenetic Japanese media who follow Ishikawa everywhere he goes, added “there’s a big circus behind him so he stands out when he’s out there. But from when I’ve seen him play — and I haven’t actually played with him yet, I look forward to that — he hits it great.
“I would actually say he’s a young Tom Watson because from the little I’ve seen of him, he just seems to go after everything without fear. He just rips it and while I don’t fit into that category at all, it will be a joy. That’s a lovely three ball. I’ve got two ends of the spectrum to look at, certainly a lot to learn from Tom Watson and certainly a lot to watch with Ryo Ishikawa.”
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