The European Club will probably go down as the world's last great links course - a design as unique and interesting as its creator and owner, Pat Ruddy.
As on the eve of the Irish PGA Championship, where Padraig Harrington is hoping to win the title for the third year in a row before attempting the triple-double by bagging a hat-trick of Claret Jugs at Turnberry, the man who shaped the links took time out of talk about his efforts to help Ireland's most successful golfer take another step towards sporting immortality.
Do you go out of your way to set this up like Turnberry or the Open venue? Yes!
Unashamedly so? Positively so! There are two purposes. We are hosting the national championship, which is a great honour. And then the excitement, the fun and the challenge of perhaps helping minutely a great golfer get ready for a great event next week. It’s only logical … when people are to run at altitude they go high up to prepare. So this is a version of the same thing – to acclimatise a man, to get him ready.
Padraig was at Turnberry on Sunday and Monday and played two rounds – he was amazed how deep and thick the rough was, especially close to the greens. Have you been keeping tabs on conditions across the water? I’d imagine any links has to have deep rough now because it’s been raining a lot and it’s warm.
In effect, Turnberry has been becoming more like the European Club than vice versa? One day they’ll be as good. (Laughs)
Which would be your favourites on the Open roster? Turnberry and Birkdale would be my favourites, after this place of course. They are lovely. They have an open aspect to them and very few blind shots. That appeals to me. They can also be pugnacious. If you don’t make a golf shot you know you are going to die. You can’t be scatter-brained, you must be focussed.
Padraig said Turnberry was bit like Muirfield in 2002. With the growing weather we’ve had, there are places which could be like a jungle They won’t cut it back because they’ll be left with stubble.
How much do you have to resist the temptation to cause some pain this week? All joking aside, you have a dog track and it’s fun when the dogs come to run. It’s a tricky balance. It’s a championship, our national championship, so my disposition, before you add in the Padraig factor which compromises it hugely in a positive way, the trick is to make sure the better player wins. The better player is a ball player, a controller of the ball and if the others perish, that’s what people have always done in Championships. There will always be fodder, guys with bad backs, sudden injuries. The fact that all that happens at one end of the field is of no consequence at all. The Championship happens at the top. This can be misconstrued by players who are failures like myself, you get sadistic and brutal and all this rubbish. It’s not really. It’s like when the bar goes up in the high jump competition. You are addressing the top 15 per cent of the field. Everyone knows they are the best because they are the guys making the money all year on the Irish or international circuit. There’s no dispute they are the best. You set it up for them and if the others find that difficult and want to change it, they don’t change the game, they change themselves. They get better.
It’s an important issue, the way you set up your course. People react in different ways to it’s important that the underlying logic is understood. It’s important not to have them think you are addressing it as a joke. Padraig is working miracles and it’s important to be respectful to him. It’s important he has a good training ground and if anyone gets at him, they are worthy of getting at him. It’s a stress test, stress-testing is part of life. What does Padraig get out of this? I don’t know but in the Olympics the race is decided on point 001 of second, so after four years of strenuous training some guy loses by a hundredth of a second. So it is in golf they go around for all the year and they get to this tournament (The Open), they play 28,000 yards of golf and a spike mark spoils it. Maybe one hundredth of an inch where the ball defies gravity and it can all be decided on that. That’s the physical side. The mental side is where you can’t possibly go where the champion is – you can only imagine this, where they get their mind. Hopefully we are hitting the right buttons this week to get him interested and amused. You can only hope that what you do physically on the golf course will only spark something. Entertain the champion in some way though that’s a domain which is private to him. Short of banging him on the head, knock, knock, it’s his domain. If you look at the golf course, at 16 I’ve put in a grass bunker, which is a bit of fun. I put in a couple of bunkers but he didn’t take them on, which is his business. He started laying-up in the fat to the left. Now he either goes for it or lays up further back, which is a different shot again. It’s observation, other people might go into it but I don’t expect him to. It’s just a bit of fun, so it doesn’t get monotonous, make sure there’s some little entertainment here.
How much do you enjoy playing chess with the Open Champion? It’s unbelievable. Who would have thought that such a thing would happen. Just hold onto your horses, this might go on forever. Imagine he again hits the same number here this week and next week and does the business again, it’s incredible it could happen. And it could happen. It’s just the clicking of a switch in this man’s mind. I think of Johnny Miller, his father dies three weeks before the Open and he goes out and wins it for daddy, yet he’d been farting about before that. I’ve seen that umpteen times, it takes so little to switch it on. It’s like giving a thoroughbred a little flick with the switch and he goes on. The Champion always comes up with the punch.
Did you make that change at 16 specifically for Padraig? Oh yeah, for no other reason. I looked at it and said … the concept of the grass bunker was just to address the issue. It was getting monotonous, what he was at. I said if I put a full bunker out there, it’d be like a fellow going out to break his ankle. I said we’ll just send a little fellow out with the long shorts, an old fashioned guy like a Busby Babe and all you do is tap his ankle. Don’t break the leg. We changed the fairway a bit as well. The main feature, it’s like a little wart in the wrong place.
Adam Scott and Stewart Appleby, others would love to be playing here before the Open. What's your take? My response to that would be very simple. It’s A and B. A it’s the PGA’s Championship. But from my side, bugger off, we’re training the Irishman. The whole magic of this for me, which is a total miracle, is an Irishman has arrived like the Messiah and we happen to do something here the week before which looks like it’s connected. Harrington is one of God’s people. I know Padraig only from observation but I know one thing, anyone who has won a Major is special. To win three makes him ultra-special. He’s a man that I’d have huge regard for, to the extent of calling him a hero, which is very hard for an old man to do. He’s become more of a hero now not because of what he’s done but in the way he has handles it. He’s a special person. I’m very sure he may go forward, back, sideways, he may not win again but he could win 10 more. A dog that bites is always dangerous to have around.