'Fear' stirs Harrington to enlarge major haul
Tuesday 22 July 2008
For Padraig Harrington the work is never done. On awakening yesterday as the first European to retain his Open title since before the Titanic sunk, Harrington set out a new list of objectives. They ranged from leaving behind the exclusive champions' club he has only just joined, to making a better fist of next month's USPGA, to beating his friend in a driving challenge – one-handed. And it is his old friend "fear" that will be his secret weapon.
Rarely has a hero gone to bed at 4am and returned to the scene of his triumph a few hours later looking so alert and being so keen to step into the future. The contrast between his press conference at Birkdale yesterday and that of Carnoustie last year was the absence of any wonderment or nostalgia. Ireland's greatest sporting figure will always be magical with the blarney and disobey the mantra of his great friend JP McManus – "There would be a lot more fish in the seas if only they would keep their gobs shut" – but something changed about the Dubliner on Sunday evening.
The Jolly Green Giantkiller of 2007 is now the Jolly Green Giant. Yet he has not altered in one crucial respect. The paranoia, it seems will be ever-present. "Last year the biggest fear was that after The Open I was going to go down the road of those who have struggled to keep the intensity after their first major and I couldn't let that happen," said the 36-year-old.
"Fear pushes me on, has always been my motivating factor and will stop me standing still. There are some exclusive clubs in golf and I've moved into a new one with two majors. Now winning a different major would be entry to another club and winning three different ones would be entry to yet another."
It will begin in Detroit in a fortnight's time and Harrington is positive that he will not suffer the same hangover of 12 months ago. "It was far too much far too quickly – I don't think it's going to be like that this year," he said, referring to his 42nd placing in Tulsa. "It was a blur, far too much too early. This time around I don't believe I'm going to be as mentally hit. I'm looking forward to the USPGA. I'll have to be disciplined in some areas, but I should be ready."
When Harrington says "disciplined" he means what to the rest of us would be "indisciplined". It means putting his feet up. The wrist injury that did not quite wreck his defence – the bookmakers yesterday revealed that many punters backed Harrington at 4-1 not to make the ninth hole of his first round – will begin to hurt again when the anti-inflammatories wear off and his physio, Dale Richardson, has warned him off practice until at least next week's WGC event in Akron. Telling Harrington he cannot use the range is like telling Ian Poulter he has to stay away from the mirror, although at least it will give him time to go through the hundreds of texts and emails he has received from his fellow pros. "I have noticed over the last year I do get far more respect from the players," he said. "I have noticed there will be more deference to me at times."
This will surely only intensify after Sunday's four-shot victory and after a back nine of four-under which he labelled as the "finest I have ever played". In the immediate aftermath, at a party thrown by his management company IMG – "I was last to leave" admitted this occasional drinker – he found himself thinking back to the day he was not selected in a 20-strong training squad of Ireland's best under-21s. "I was 18 and had the best results in Ireland," he recalled.
"It was an interesting decision, but I never looked like I had the surface talent that many "stars of the future" had. I made a lot of up-and-downs and people would say, 'Well, that won't last forever'. But I've always believed that what's under the surface is more important than what's on top."
Mentally, Harrington must now be classed right up there with the very best Europeans. Even the Americans are impressed and some of their number were comparing him to Tom Watson; that links monster who when he started winning Claret Jugs, found it difficult to stop. As Harrington says "I know how to peak" and to this trained accountant the equation is simple.
"If I can get into contention for 50 per cent of the majors and then maybe hit one out of four of those, you're winning every second year," he said. "That's a pretty high rate for most of us mere mortals."
Harrington's friend Kit Flood (the brother of Ronan, his caddie) will probably testify against the use of "mere" and "mortal" in relation to the new world No 3. Not so long ago, the pair struck up a bet that Harrington could out-drive Flood, a two handicapper, using just the one hand. Harrington can propel it at the moment more than 200 yards, but is certain he can find more distance. "It will happen," he laughed.
Kit will not fall into the same trap as those who underrated the boy from the southside suburb. They were feeling rather humble yesterday.
Race to be part of the Ryder Cup
(US unless stated; last week's positions in brackets)
1 (1) T Woods 19.50 ave pts; 2 (2) P Mickelson 9.68; 3 (14) P Harrington (Irl) 6.37; 4 (4) A Scott (Aus) 5.54; 5 (5) E Els (SA) 5.53; 6 (3) G Ogilvy (Aus) 5.40; 7 (7) S Garcia (Sp) 5.36; 8 (6) S Cink 5.33; 9 (8) S Stricker 5.22; 10 (12) J Furyk 5.04. Selected: 11 (17) H Stenson (Swe) 4.94; 12 (9) J Rose (GB) 4.87; 18 (19) L Westwood (GB) 4.28.
*RYDER CUP (Top five on world points list qualify for team, plus top five on European points list not otherwise qualified from world points list)
World points list
1 Harrington 238.64pts; 2 Westwood 229.18; 3 Stenson 200.02; 4 R Karlsson (Swe) 194.05; 5 M A Jimenez (Sp) 192.36; 6 Garcia 189.80; 7 I Poulter (GB) 173.21; 8 Rose 170.36; 9 G McDowell (GB) 166.03; 10 M Kaymer (Ger) 149.95.
European points list
1 Westwood 2,141,552.72; 2 Karlsson 2,087,550.28; 3 Jimenez 2,005,780.63; 4 McDowell 1,899,335.72; 5 Harrington 1,763,740.27; 6 Stenson 1,640,824.60; 7 S Hansen (Den) 1,340,921.93; 8 O Wilson (GB) 1,326,431.56; 9 Kaymer 1,316,335.15; 10 Rose 1,272,327.75.
Team as things stand: Harrington, Westwood, Stenson, Karlsson, Jimenez, McDowell, Hansen, Wilson, Kaymer, Rose.
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