Padraig Harrington saluted national coach Howard Bennett this week and revealed: “I owe him everything.”
Englishman Bennett received an emotional send off from the Golfing Union of Ireland when he retired after 14 years on the job.
And world number ten Harrington took time out from his schedule to pay tribute to the man who nurtured him from a raw five handicapper at 16 years of age to three Walker Cup appearances.
Since he turned professional in 1995 Harrington has played in two Ryder Cups, won seven titles worldwide and banked over €4 million in prize money last season alone.
Four of those wins have come in the past 18 months but Harrington has never forgotten the man from Southport who moulded him into the top player he is today.
He said: “Not a day goes by that I don’t play a round or hit and shot and not be reminded of Howard.
“He has played a big part in what I have done as a player. He’ll never know how much I owe him- nor will Paul McGinley or all the other guys he coached.
“He often said that practice makes permanent and that is just one of many things I have taken with me. As a coach he worked harder than anyone else in the squad, as hard as any of us who played. He wanted to improve as a coach just as much as we did as players.
“He got us to look at sports psychology and to understand the importance of physical fitness. He helped you mould your character and the way you lived your life.”
Initially coached by David Jones on his arrival in the Irish Boys squad, Bennett took over in 1988 and within a year, Harrington was down from a five handicap to scratch.
In fact, Harrington had a remarkable amateur record for Ireland. He played 114 times at all levels from Boys to Senior and won 72 percent of all his matches, including 92 percent of all singles played.
He puts it all down to the coaching offered by Bennett and the ‘Three Ds’ he always emphasised.
“Howard always spoke about the Three Ds of discipline, dedication and desire. As he retires he can be proud of the fact that he has been able to contribute to the betterment of the game,” Harrington said.
“He wanted to get better as much as I wanted to get better. His enthusiasm was what made him such a great teacher.”
Bennett will now pursue other golf projects in his native Southport as the GUI sets about replacing him with a full-time golf coach for the first time.
The new GUI headquarters at Carton House Golf Club will comprise offices, a museum, and a golf academy that is being designed with Harrington’s expert advice.
And Bennett retires as a happy man having nurtured some of the most talented players this country has ever produced.
Future Ryder Cup stars such as Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley were only under his watchful eye for a short time, but Bennett also coached the likes of Richie Coughlan, Keith Nolan, Peter Lawrie, Michael Hoey and Graeme McDowell as well as the current crop.
“It really gets my adrenalin pumping to see these guys do well,” he said. “Peter Lawrie showed last week in the Spanish Open that he is another player who can go far. Peter wants it really badly and he’s prepared to put in the work to get the rewards.
“They all have great talent but maybe Darren Clarke had more gifts than most of them. But I’m not saying that he wasn’t prepared to put in the work. But either way, to have three players on the Ryder Cup team is amazing for such a small country.
“The most important things it the grass roots and we need more Padraig Harringtons because the future of Irish golf is only as good as our junior golfers.
“Seeing Padraig come through has made it all worthwhile. I’d be very surprised if he or Darren or Paul doesn’t win a major. They have a great chance and it gives me a buzz just to have been a small part of it.”
If Harrington continues to improve, the biggest thrill of all is yet to come.