Padraig Harrington still has unfinished business

He has twice lifted the Claret Jug, made a reservation for a place in golf’s Hall of Fame and etched his success into the collective memory of Irish sports fans.

Yet as Pádraig Harrington readies himself for a 19th Open Championship, the three-time major winner is still searching for the key that can stall the inevitable tapering of a glittering career.

At the age of 43, Harrington has accepted he is not the golfer he was when winning those back-to-back Opens and a PGA Championship during a giddy 14 months in 2007 and 2008.

His Honda Classic victory in March was his first title on either the PGA or European Tours since he won the final major of 08 at Oakland Hills and offered something of a lifeline to the Dubliner in terms of belief that he can still rescale the heights.

Then again there is the realisation that after 19 years as a touring professional it is perhaps expecting too much of himself to be able to continue competing at those levels. Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters at the age of 46 and five-time Open champion Tom Watson almost added a sixth at Turnberry in 2009 at 59 but they are exceptions to Harrington’s way of thinking that however strong his desire remains to add another major, achieving it might be a different matter.

“I still need to find something to get my head in place for next week and that’s it,” Harrington said as he headed to St Andrews following the Scottish Open at Gullane on Sunday night. “It’s exactly like that. I still hold out hope that it is possible to find it. The Honda gives me hope that it is possible to find it and it can work at short notice. It’s completely in my own thinking, without a doubt. That’s the nature of the game. You just mentioned 19 years. You’d look long and hard to find anybody who has achieved their goals in this game and is still playing and competing after 19 years.

“It might be one out of a hundred that are still competing after achieving their goals. There could be somebody who comes along a bit late and still has aspirations, and they can do it, but just think of any of the guys that have won Majors… Faldo, Woosie, Lyle, Seve, Olazabal, you just pick any of them. Once they achieve their goals it’s hard to keep going.

"In another sport, after 19 years of a career you’d be allowed to retire gracefully. People would just say ‘ah, he lost a yard of pace’. How many times have you heard that to describe a (footballer) who’s allowed retire, go out to the States or something like that. Unfortunately with golf you don’t get that excuse.

“Once you’ve achieved a lot, you have to find a different sense of motivation.” Harrington is still motivated, make no mistake. His excitement at playing an Open he first won at Carnoustie in 2007 and then retained 12 months later at Birkdale is evident, the idea of doing it again at St Andrews, where he has twice won the Dunhill Links Championship, betrayed by a look that goes well beyond the statement: “It would be nice.”

He admitted: “I still love playing golf. I have to figure something. I can’t play the same way I played seven or eight years ago; I’m a different person. I have to find some way of… there’s no innocence in me whatsoever. You dream, but it’s a different kind of thing. When it comes to golf, I’d be much more cynical than I was as a kid, wandering around thinking I was going to find all the answers.”

Does that reality hurt, he was asked.

“It intrigues me,” came the response. “It would be nice to figure it out. I wouldn’t say it hurts. It would be nice to figure it out. I want to win but I don’t have to win,” he added. “The deep down need is much more internal, not that you’re not trying. If you start at 16 (pro golf), you could be finished at 36. If you start at 20 you could be finished at 40. That has to be taken into consideration, the intensity that someone is playing at. Golf is unique in that you tend to see the player as he is tapering off. It’s a very long hard road.”


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