FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK | It’s undeniable, if a little harsh, that these days Pádraig Harrington is asked to comment about other players as much if not more than he is about his own game. Yet there is reason to see this as a compliment to an intelligent man because he had a purple patch a dozen or so years ago during which he won three major championships starting in July 2007 and finishing in August 2008.
Harrington, 48 in three months, has been there, seen it and done it, so who better to talk to about the golden period that Brooks Koepka is going through at the moment during which he has triumphed in three of his past seven major championship starts. Who better to talk to about Jordan Spieth, who won three major championships between April 2015 and July 2017 and none since. Oh, yes, and if time permits, we’ll ask Harrington about his own game. That’s the running order these days.
Only moments after signing for a 77 that took him to 12-over par and out of the PGA Championship, which he had won 11 years earlier, the Irishman stood in the light rain and talked.
No, he said firmly, even at his peak he never felt invincible. No, he said, he never felt that the rare and blazing form that earned him those prized trophies would never go away. No, he said, he never thought when he had three of the game’s greatest prizes he would go on and reach 10 or more. This was a reference to Koepka’s much-vaunted remark on the eve of battle that he didn’t see why he could not go on and collect “double digits” of major championships.
“Brooks is young. He might get to double figures. It’s a numbers game. Why wouldn’t you talk about getting to 18? He is cracking them out at a fair pace. History would say it is difficult. Who knows but he’s young enough,” Harrington said.
“When you’re winning majors like that you get to a point where you’re comfortable that your game is good enough,” he continued. “Brooks alluded to that this week. He didn’t come in here thinking he had to play great to win. He came in here thinking he just had to play like Brooks and it would be close enough.
“Tiger used to say, ‘Well my ‘B’ game is good enough to win.’ If you think your ‘B’ game is good enough to win then your ‘A’ game will turn up. If you think you need your ‘A’ game then your ‘B’ game will turn up. That is just the way golf is.
“When you’re winning, good things happen. You are able to handle adversity, to take a few punches. I think there was a stat about Jordan a few years ago that he often birdied the next hole after he made a bogey. How easy is it if you know that if you make a bogey you’re going to make a birdie straight away? It’s momentum and Brooks clearly has that at the moment. When you believe your stuff is good enough it makes it a lot easier for it to turn up.
“Rory (McIlroy) was like that. He had an advantage in 2011. He knew turning up that if he played his game he was going to win. Now he turns up and he’s looking over his shoulder and wondering how other guys are going to play. He wasn’t doing that in 2011. Brooks is going out there this week and he’s not really worried about the other people on the leaderboard. He is more concerned about himself. That is a nice place to be when you’re not looking over your shoulder.”
Few tinker with their sentence construction or their swings as much as Harrington, the son of a Dublin policeman. His answers can sometimes resemble a double-dogleg par-5 hole with a few circumlocutions and tributaries thrown in for good measure.
Harrington is just getting back some form after breaking a wrist at Christmas, finishing 12th in last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas. There is still enough fire in him for him to say that he was happy with the way he played “… but I’m not too thrilled when people come up to me and say I had a great week,” Harrington said on Tuesday. “Twelfth is not a great week.”
Harrington is in the public eye not for being 240th in the world but for his role as captain of Europe in next year’s Ryder Cup. It could be a difficult line to straddle. Pay too much attention to the biennial competition against the US and his game will suffer.
But too many hours on the practice ground, the putting green or in the room at his home in the hills outside Dublin, where he has a TrackMan and all the other gadgets needed to fine-tune his swing, and he might miss a Ryder Cup detail that could make all the difference between victory and defeat at Whistling Straits in September 2020. “Not yet,” he said. “I’m not worrying about the Ryder Cup at the moment.
“There is a possibility that (the time and mental effort put into being Ryder Cup captain) won’t benefit my playing and a possibility it might,” Harrington said. “Only time will tell. I enjoy the idea of trying to manage the two. I enjoy that in my head I’m trying to play golf maybe for the next year and leave the duty of administration in the background and then with six months to go, you’re kind of getting deeper into it. It might benefit my playing.”
Few tinker with their sentence construction or their swings as much as Harrington, the son of a Dublin policeman. His answers can sometimes resemble a double-dogleg par-5 hole with a few circumlocutions and tributaries thrown in for good measure. He is not being deliberately misleading. In the way that some people can be terse and others loquacious, Harrington is prone to be prolix, giving each question its due consideration and each answer its full length. His press conferences as Ryder Cup captain are going to be something to listen to.
Years ago in a piece I wrote in The Times about him, I said that Caroline, his wife, handled most if not all of the Harringtons’ affairs, leaving Pádraig to concentrate on his golf. “If I asked him to book a restaurant for dinner, we’d never eat,” she said. “He’s never seen a credit card statement or a utility bill in the time I’ve known him.”
On Thursday night standing in the players’ car park near the clubhouse, while Ronan Flood, Harrington’s caddie and brother-in-law, put the golf bag in the boot, she tossed her blond hair and laughed: “He still hasn’t. No, no, no. I do all that sort of stuff.”
Down the years Harrington has become something of a media darling, always willing to stop and talk after a round. A vignette involving the two Ryder Cup captains took place in the soft sunlight late on Thursday afternoon. Harrington came off the 18th green and marched towards the scorer’s tent to hand in his card. At almost the same time Steve Stricker, his opposite number on the US team, arrived at the same tent to hand in his card, having finished on the ninth.
Two journalists were standing nearby, watching. “It would be hard to find two more popular men than the two Ryder Cup captains,” one journalist, a Briton, said. “That’s true,” said the second journalist, an American. “I like Steve. He’s a straight arrow. I liked Jim Furyk too. He was very intelligent. But he wasn’t very playful. I would prefer to talk to Pádraig. He’s playful.”
Popular too, a man who seems content in his own skin. Playful, prolix and popular Paddy Harrington, the man everyone wanted to watch a dozen years ago; the man everyone wants to talk to now.
Pádraig Harrington in a lighthearted mood at last year’s British Masters at Walton Heath in England. Photo: Andrew Redington, Getty Images
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