Harrington hones method of finding trouble-free swing
Thursday 25 September 2003
Things are a little different at the Dunhill Links Championship, a pro-am event played over three courses, Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and the Old Course. While spectators will be admitted free for the first three days, one punter has paid more than £8,500 to be allowed to play alongside the professionals inside the ropes.
The fee forked out by an Irish-born businessman from Atlanta, Georgia will go to a charity helping to restore historic buildings and monuments in this ancient university town. Nothing sums up the tournament better.
Great fun, we are told constantly, for the pros and the amateurs, but completely unwatchable as the celebrities, anonymous in woolly hats and waterproofs, take six hours over their rounds. At least, the amateurs have been told in no uncertain terms to pick up if they are out of a hole.
The serious element is that there is an enormous pot on offer to the professionals, with £490,000 to the winner. With the top eight on the order of merit present, the field is strong and those trailing behind Ernie Els, £350,000 ahead of Darren Clarke at the top of the list, could do with a victory to mount a challenge in the closing weeks of the season.
In terms of the Ryder Cup qualifying, it is still early days but a sizeable cheque even at this stage could help a lot. Europeans have hardly covered themselves in glory in the last few weeks with the first three qualifying events won by South Africa's Els and Retief Goosen, and K J Choi, of Korea.
Padraig Harrington, who has not won since May, is the defending champion and bamboozled his audience yesterday over whether it was better to practise like a madman during the week of a tournament, the Irishman's usual modus operandi, or to saunter up to the first tee with barely one creaking warm-up swing, which is how the couple of golf writers who have been invited to observe the action from rather closer quarters than usual will doubtless prepare this morning.
A year ago, Harrington arrived here straight from the Ryder Cup and, like his team-mates, was in no fit state to go to the driving range. "It might work one week but can you do it again?" Harrington queried. "Up to now I've been obsessed with how I'm swinging the club to the detriment of individual tournaments. The whole intention is that in time I will be like Colin Montgomerie in having a low-maintenance swing."
It is to be hoped that Harrington is referring to the old Monty and not the Scot's highly variable swing of this season. But there is a cunning plan involving the Dubliner's wife and baby son, Patrick. "My wife will laugh at this but the idea is if I do the work now, I won't have to as the family grows up and I won't have as much time."
Shaun Micheel, the latest unlikely major winner at the USPGA, has only ever seen links golf at the end of a cathode ray tube, so this week represents a huge learning experience. "I've watched the Open on TV probably every year but it is hard to appreciate this type of golf until you get on the first tee," said the likeable American, who is accompanied by his father, Buck. "Carnoustie really beat me up yesterday. I'm used to hitting the ball and seeing where it lands. Here you are aiming at bunkers, gorse, cranes, clocks. It's just different golf for me. It's fun."
Micheel's life has become so busy that after two weeks at home he was looking forward to getting back on the road. He will return to Britain for the World Match Play at Wentworth but his most bizarre decision was whether he would appear in Playgirl. "Look at me, that's not going to happen," he said.
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