Pádraig Harrington is sitting in the iconic art deco clubhouse at Royal Birkdale, having lunch and shooting the breeze.
But as he looks back on the sensational, 272-yard five-wood to two feet that set up the 71st hole eagle that clinched his second Claret Jug in 2008, he opens a Pandora’s Box of fascinating insights about where he’s come from - and where he is today.
He admits it was a wrench to leave home and fly to Birkdale in the first place — an occupational hazard after 22 years on tour.
“If I was leaving last night to go to Wentworth, I’d have missed the flight,” he jokes.
“I know I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to go. I was having a great time at home.
“Now, saying that, I have a great time on tour too. Nobody wouldn’t want my life on tour.
“Everything I do on tour is a bonus.”
Harrington is now on the greatest victory lap of his career and while he still wants to win and compete — he returns to Royal Birkdale this week for The Open believing he can finish the job if he gets into position — he’s already done it all.
So is Pádraig Harrington, the ultimate competitor, on procession?
“Ah, I am,” he said with a grin. “Even though I can win and all that, why wouldn’t I be? Bear in mind, I have had a bit of time for reflection, and I have looked at it.
“I played with a couple of the leading lights later on in their careers and it frustrated me to hell that these guys weren’t able to accept what they had done.
“I wouldn’t want to go down that road myself thinking, ‘I want to get the next one to prove something about the first ones’. That’s nonsensical.”
It’s late May and Harrington is at Royal Birkdale for his sponsors Wilson Golf, trying to recreate the iconic pull-draw into a raging left to right wind that chased up the 17th green to two feet, turning a two-shot lead into four shot advantage on the final day in 2008 to clinch the second of his three major wins.
It was the shot that ended clubhouse leader Ian Poulter’s hopes of victory and finally killed off any chance of a fairytale win by 53-year old Greg Norman, who was only three behind at the time.
It was a glory shot and it also went some way to erasing the demons of the drive into the water at the 72nd hole 12 months earlier, at least temporarily.
Harrington had been living in fear of the hook since that day at Carnoustie, when he pushed his drive on the last into the water and drew a sly grin from Sergio Garcia as their paths crossed on a bridge that crossed the snaking Barry Burn.
“In many ways, I carried the burden of that shot for a long time,” Harrington confessed as we walked up Birkdale’s 17th, where a hook would have buried his chances of victory but a pull-draw opened the gates of heaven.
“I ended up leaving Bob (Torrance) over that shot in Carnoustie — the drive right into the burn. It took me a long time to get over that shot. In fact, it took me nearly five years to get over that tee shot.
“I was afraid of hitting it left. I didn’t know why I was getting the lefts and so I’d hit it right. Bob couldn’t go out on the golf course, so while I’d never hit that bad shot on the range, but I’d hit it on the golf course.
“So I got very frustrated with Bob, and there were a couple of incidents on the range where I’d be rude to Bob, and I didn’t want to be. It came down to that. That’s exactly why we parted company. I didn’t know why I was hitting a hook.”
It’s a testament to Harrington’s remarkable mental strength that he managed to overcome that fear of going left at the crucial moment at Royal Birkdale the following year.
As he stood over the same shot a few weeks ago on a soft fairway with the wind blowing into him from the right rather than across from the left, he couldn’t get within 20 yards of the green with his Sunday best five-wood.
“Wow, it looks a lot tighter today,” he said with a chuckle, nodding towards the jungle on the left he had taken on so bravely nine years earlier.
In truth, he felt he had no choice. If he laid up, he could go long with a 90-yard third to a tight back pin and made six, or come up short of the back tier and three-putt for bogey.
“Greg has played well all day, and nothing has gone for him,” he recalled. “It was a fairytale for him, and it looked like he was going to make eagle - he’d hit a great drive 30 yards past the bunkers.
“I thought, something good is going to happen for Greg and he’s going to make eagle. If I lay up here I have to two-putt up the tier, I am going to be struggling.
“But if I hit one shot now...”
Winning majors means putting your neck on the line at some stage and Harrington knew he had no choice.
“I wanted the glory of walking down 18 for sure,” he said. “I wanted the clarity that I could walk down the 18th and enjoy it. I didn’t want to leave it any longer.
“If I hit this shot, that’s it. Done. And I was feeling good. And I have to always go back to the Bob Torrance’s quote. Bob always said, ‘It’s easy to hit a great shot when you are feeling good, but it is really difficult to hit a good shot when you are feeling bad.’
“I this particular situation, I was feeling good. It was my favourite club; my go-to club under pressure.”
Adding to the difficulty, Harrington was forced to aim left and pull his five wood into the wind so he could chase it up the green from the left side.
“That was the thing, the one thing you didn’t want to do was NOT hit it left. If you baled out, you are getting that big choppy one out to the right. So I knew I had to pull it into the wind.
“You couldn’t hit a normal draw shot and aim right. You had to actually physically pull-draw it into a strong left-to-right wind and trust that you are not going to hit it left.”
Last Friday, Harrington gave another interview by telephone to flag up the fact he will be doing some analysis for Sky Sports at The Open this week.
It’s clearly not something he would have done nine years ago but it says a lot about his comfort level with his legacy. He’s already hit the shots and won the Majors. What’s left to prove as he approaches his 46th birthday next month?
“I’d need to get to six or seven major wins to change my standing in the game,” he said as the sun arches towards the west through Royal Birkdale’s big bay windows. “If I get to four, great. But three is pretty damned good.”
‘I wouldn’t begrudge Sergio Open win’
Pádraig Harrington insists he’d be happy to see former arch-rival Sergio Garcia win The Open this week.
But he’s not ruling out a fifth major win for the struggling Rory McIlroy, who missed his third cut in four starts at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open on Friday.
“I would be happy for Sergio,” he said of a potential Open win for Masters champion Garcia, who he denied in a play-off for the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in 2007. “He has certainly paid his dues at this stage.”
Harrington and Garcia put their long feud behind them at McIlroy’s wedding earlier this year. “I would have had a chip on my shoulder over the years with Sergio,” said Harrington, who will work as an analyst for Sky Sports as well as compete at The Open this week.
“We were always looking for the worst in each other. I am looking forward to a much better relationship with Sergio going forward. We always do at Ryder Cups, and life is always easier. It would be nice if that is the way it is going forward.
“You never want to have a situation where there is tension between two players, dragging the two of you down.”
As for McIlroy, Harrington admitted last Friday that “Scotland will determine a lot” when it comes to the Holywood star’s chances to turning things around for The Open. “Rory has a game where he can win out of the blue,” Harrington said. “But he is very capable of winning anyway, regardless of form.”
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