The Open: ‘Most dedicated golfer since Hogan’ emerges from the doldrums
AFTER finishing eighth in the Masters and fourth in the US Open, the odds on Padraig Harrington winning a third Open title in six years have tumbled. In most of the betting markets he is rated fifth favourite behind Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. It would be the Dubliner’s fourth major in all if he does it at Royal Lytham on Sunday – but the first since he decided last summer to end his long relationship with coach Bob Torrance.
Both talked during their 15 years together of being like father and son and the Scot – the actual father of former Ryder Cup captain Sam – admitted to disappointment, even some hurt.
Harrington, after all, had once told Torrance that he would still want him there in a wheelchair if it ever came to that and described him as a genius. But, despite wishing the split had not come like it did, you will not find the 80-year-old hoping his ex-pupil, now coached by Pete Cowen, comes a cropper.
“I know everybody told Padraig he was off his head to split up with me,” said Torrance. “But he’s just determined to prove everybody else wrong. That’s all he wants to do and I’ll be delighted if he gets back to where he was. I always still look for his name and his score. Not before my own players, but I always look.
“Padraig’s a very nice chap. He’s very determined, very dedicated – more than anybody I’ve known in the game with the exception of (Ben) Hogan.
“He wanted to shorten his swing and was convinced it would be easier to maintain. He’s playing well right now. Whether it’ll last I don’t know.”
Harrington originally went to Torrance because he had seen and admired his work with Paul McGinley’s swing.
There was much to be done, Torrance decided, but the Irishman’s willingness to put in the hours speeded up the process. “We used to put him up in our house – it became known as ‘Padraig’s Room’ – and I remember one time during the winter we were out in snow and sleet. He’d say ‘I’ll just do another ten balls, Bob, and that will do’. Well, I stopped counting because he kept going and going.
“He eventually said ‘you’ll not see many guys practising in this’ and I said ‘Aye – and you’ll not see many coaches either!’ ”
The major breakthrough came, of course, at Carnoustie in 2007 when Harrington beat Sergio Garcia in a play-off.
“He said that he wanted to win for me there because he knew Hogan was my hero.”
It was on the Scottish links that the American won the Claret Jug in 1953.
The following July at Birkdale, Harrington became the first European to make a successful defence since James Braid in 1906 and a month after that he pushed Garcia into second place again to become Europe’s first USPGA champion since 1930.
As Harrington slowly emerges from the doldrums and looks like a contender again – according to him his putter must take most of the credit.
“I’ve been putting better, that’s essentially it,” he said. “I’m playing better but the putting really does help. I would have said I played well over the last couple of years too, at times, but I certainly didn’t putt very well.”
Harrington said he previously tended to overhit the ball on the greens. “I’m particularly trying to improve my ability to hole 15-footers and I’ve done a lot of practice on them,” he explained. “I used to have a 15-foot putting stroke for a four-foot putt and I didn’t realise that.”
Harrington said he was relieved to discover the problem on the greens was physical rather than mental.
“I had no idea that (overhitting) is what I was doing but that’s what it turned out and it’s helped me a lot,” he added.
Harrington, the first player from Ireland to win the Open in 60 years, has also been experimenting by taking a spirit level on to the putting surfaces at Lytham. “I’ve been picking a number of pin positions on each green and took a spirit level out and measured the straight putts,” he said. “I was actually more practising my reading of the greens than expecting that I can pick out where the pins are exactly going to be. But if I get one or two pin positions right as well it will be worthwhile.”
Harrington was the last player to triumph in back-to-back majors and since he captured the 2008 U.S. PGA crown there have been 14 different winners of the big four tournaments. “Even though everybody thinks that’s unusual, what is unusual is that Tiger Woods won 14 majors during his period of domination,” said the 40-year-old Irishman. “That is probably not going to happen again. There are just too many good players out there now, it’s hard for one player to be able to win as prolifically as Tiger did.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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