Pádraig Harrington: Christy O’Connor Snr made it possible for me to play golf

Pádraig Harrington broke off from his preparations for a 21st professional appearance at the Irish Open yesterday to attend the funeral of Christy O’Connor Snr, the golfing great who made it possible for him to play golf.

Harrington feels he has nothing left to prove in golf after a professional career which began at the K Club in 1995 with a nervy opening round 77 at the Smurfit European Open and the Dubliner overhearing a more seasoned pro discussing his play and asking “why is he turning pro?”

Now 44 and with three major championship wins to his name, Harrington has had the last laugh but as he returned to the K Club following O’Connor’s funeral in Clontarf to resume his build-up to this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, he explained how if it was not for the late great inspiring his father Paddy to take up the game, he might never have been a golfer at all.

Paddy Harrington was an accomplished sportsman in his own right, reaching the 1957 All-Ireland football final with Cork before losing out to Louth. His love of all sport saw him avidly digest the newspaper coverage of O’Connor’s heroics, so beginning a love affair with the game that saw him help to found Stackstown GC in Dublin, where his son Pádraig would hone the skills that would eventually lead to golfing glory of his own.

“I was reminded today, my dad got into golf because of Christy so I wouldn’t be playing golf if it wasn’t for Christy,” Harrington said. “I don’t know if Stackstown would have been done, maybe somebody else would have done that but Christy Senior, he was the Arnold Palmer of his time and would have been taking up pages in the paper, sports-wise, and dad would have been reading about him, big time. That’s why he took up golf.

“He took it up after football. I’m not saying dad was out watching Christy play golf but the coverage would have been of this larger than life, he was the Arnold Palmer of Irish golf.”

From one golfing icon to another, Harrington was asked if he could relate to Tiger Woods’s comments the stage the American was at with his career meant anything he achieved from here onwards was “gravy”.

“I think if you were being realistic, which I don’t have to be, it would be the gravy, no doubt about it. I don’t have to prove anything. Three majors is far more than ‘why is he turning pro, why did he bother’.

“I’ve done far more than I’ve ever expected in this game of golf. I don’t have anything to prove. I play this game because I love it. I’m just fascinated, passionate about it, and it just gets me every day. Winning is great, and I really do look forward to winning again, but I just love the whole concept of the game and everything about it, and yeah, very happy to be out here.

“I think it’s hard for Tiger, because when you’ve won 14 majors, it’s hard; there’s nothing to prove there. I don’t think I have anything to prove, but I think I’m not under the same spotlight as Tiger.

“So you know, it’s hard to perform average when the world is looking at you. Whereas, I can go out there and perform average and nobody is really looking at me, but if I perform well, it’s ‘well done’.

“He’s under a lot more pressure and more stress than me, so I can understand where he’s coming from. The spotlight isn’t as focused on me as that, so I can still get out there and have fun with it. I’m disappointed when I play badly for sure, though.”

Harrington, who won the Irish Open in 2007, comes to the K Club off a missed cut at the Players last weekend and has been paired for the first two rounds with 2010 champion Ross Fisher as well as France’s Victor Dubuisson.

Tournament host Rory McIlroy will tee off at 1:25pm tomorrow alongside defending champion Soren Kjeldsen and another prospective Ryder Cup team-mate Andy Sullivan, with Masters champion Danny Willett out 10 minutes later in a similar group of Team Europe hopefuls with Lee Westwood and Rafa Cabrera Bello.


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