Harrington primed for his party tricks and the mind game - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Harrington primed for his party tricks and the mind game

Irishman slips into form at right time as self-belief is bolstered in pursuit of his first major

Padraig Harrington is doing his party piece. It is a sweltering after-noon on the practice range at Golf National in Paris. Harrington has a driver in his hands, a ball teed up but has not taken his usual stance. Instead, he shuffles into the ball off a run-up of four or five paces, advancing menacingly like a batsman coming down the pitch intent on depositing the offerings of a slow bowler out of the ground. Of course, the little white golf ball goes even further.

Each time, contact is as crisp and clean as if Harrington was in his traditional stance. Each time, the ball curves according to the preordained draw or fade. "Wouldn't it be great," muses Dave McNeilly, Harrington's former caddie who happens to be nearby, "to have a six-shot lead in The Open and hit one like that at the last?"

"Even better," responds Harrington, "would be to have the balls to do that on your opening tee shot at the Masters. That would be something."

Nevertheless, should Harrington ever have a six-stroke lead playing the last hole in The Open and he does something extraordinary, at least it will have been honed on the practice range, like the rest of his game. The 34-year-old former accountant has twice finished fifth in The Open, including four years ago at Muirfield, where he finished one stroke outside a four-man play-off.

He was in Paris to begin his preparations for Hoylake. The bouncy conditions and wispy rough give the former landfill site outside Versailles a linksy feel. "I never have a problem switching back to links golf," said Harrington, who enjoyed a long amateur career before turning professional. "But I do have to play. I need a good run-up to The Open, and this is a good place to start."

His routine continued at the European Open at the K Club, where wind is always guaranteed, although there was probably more this year than even the Dubliner would care for. But he once again skipped the Scottish Open, because it is played at Loch Lomond, a beautiful course, a beautiful setting but not links golf.

"I like to play a tournament before the majors, it's good preparation, but before The Open I prefer to be playing links golf. More than getting used to the wind, or the chipping and putting, you have to have the right attitude. You have to be mentally with it. On a links it is even more important than on other courses to play the right shot at the right time."

So Harrington took himself off to the great links around Dublin, such as Portmarnock and the European Club, and also spent two days at Hoylake. Unlike most of his colleagues he has seen the course before, but not since the 1994 Home Internationals and the 1995 British Amateur, where he went out in the first round.

"I have played there before but not recently enough for it to be any sort of advantage," he said. "Everyone is going to be on the same level this time. Of course, the first thing you remember is the internal out of bounds. The other awkward thing is that because it is so flat, it makes depth perception difficult. There are a lot of crosswinds, and also the greens can get very quick because most of them are so flat. Usually, at The Open they keep the greens slower because of the wind and the undulations. I expect them to be quicker this year."

It is well-known golfing lore that whenever Harrington says he is struggling with his game or is uncomfortable on a course then it is time to get your money on him. The curse struck in reverse at Winged Foot, where Harrington finished two shots behind the surprise US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy after bogeying the last three holes.

He had gone the furthest into the final round without dropping a shot before the golf gods got him. "I never thought I was going to make a bogey," he recalled. "Until I bogeyed the 16th, I couldn't see it happening. I was in the frame of mind where I was only thinking about birdies.

"I felt so comfortable on the course. I didn't seem to find it as difficult as everyone else said they did. It was tough, but it was certainly fair. It might have helped at the 16th if I had already had a couple of bogeys and a couple of extra birdies during the round. When I bogeyed there, it was a complete shock. The shame was that I got my tee shots away on those last three holes and was in good positions.

"I watched what happened after I finished but I'm only really worried about what I did. The disappointment was to not take advantage of one of those occasions when you really feel in sync with the golf course.

"On the other hand, what I took away from the week is that I was comfortable on the course. When I was there for the US PGA [in 1997] I couldn't get round the course. I couldn't see myself making the cut - and didn't. It shows I've come a long way in nine years."

After a slow start to the season, caused by a bulky putter, Harrington has all but ensured his place in the Ryder Cup back at the K Club in September. He has also moved into form at just the right time. Not that he takes preparation for the majors quite as obsessively as Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods. "They are at the level where they can do that," he said. "If they win another tournament, it is not a big deal, it's all about the majors. For me, winning any tournament is a big deal." But if a big one comes along, his party piece is ready.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'