Padraig Harrington believes he’s taken his game to a new level since he won his third major title nearly four years ago and insists that his recent struggles are just part and parcel of sport and made him even tougher than before.
The 40-year old Dubliner has never lost faith in his ability to win more majors and after mounting a final round US Open charge that saw him threaten to snatch a fourth grand slam title and share fourth place, he knows he’ll be back on everyone’s major radar at the Open at Royal Lytham next month.
Up 19 spots to world No 75 after a closing 68 gave him a share of fourth, Harrington said: “Winning is a habit and the tough times make you more resilient.
“It is hard when you continually feel like you’re being judged and you’re working away at it and expectations are being built up all around you while you are trying to do your own thing.
“It has made me more resilient. I’m harder. Anybody who knows me from my amateur days they wouldn’t have thought it was possible for me to get harder. But I have. I AM harder.”
Winning three majors in just over a year piled the pressure on Harrington to continue racking up the most coveted titles in the game. But he knew it was impossible to remain on such a high.
After clinching his second top 10 in a major this year and his best finish in one of the Grand Slams since his 2008 US PGA victory, he explained: “I won three times in 2007 and 2008 – and you only have to look at other major winners. People think you can continue to play at a peak, but it is impossible to play at a peak. It wouldn’t be a peak if you could play like that all the time.
“So I know quite well that these things are cyclical and you go up and down in your form and you keep working away at the averages. And if you improve the averages, then those peaks come around maybe more often. Of just higher peaks.
“Usain Bolt hasn’t won every 100 metres since the last Olympics. At that stage nobody ever thought he could lose a race. So it’s just like that. Golf is the same. You have your peaks and you have to knuckle down and play your way through.
“I do believe I am a better player than I have ever been. I have learned a lot in the last couple of years and I continue to learn. I’m only disappointed there’s not a US open every week and I’m looking forward to the next couple of majors.”
Asked if we would see those staring eyes from the 2008 US PGA again, he said he was a different player now.
“I will be surprised if you ever see them again, you might. But I’m not looking to be in that position at all. I am happier to just manage my game in a more relaxed way. There’s a huge amount of intensity goes into that.
“Yes, it will happen again I am sure but I don’t need it. I can do it much more within myself and again I was in contention and there is no doubt about it, I felt nice and relaxed and comfortable. The same with the Masters and it is a little easier than the intensity of those staring eyes.
“It is not finishing top-10 that’s [pleasing]. I want to finish top 10 when I have a chance of winning and that’s the feeling I want. Everything is geared towards the majors. I do find regular events more of a sprint. I find majors and the patience you need suits my game, suits my attitude. So I needd tougher golf courses at times and I like the idea that at a major there is a lot of players play themselves out of it.”
Harrington flew in under the radar at The Olympic Club as an 80-1 chance but knew he could challenge on a track he felt suited his game.
And after finishing eighth in the Masters and fourth at the Olympic Club, he knows he’ll be expected to challenge for the Open Championship at Royal Lytham next month.
Smiling, he said: “Unfortunately, I will go to the next major and there will be expectations. I was nicely under the radar this week. Coming to the Open now there will be a little more expectation on my shoulders and I will have to do my own thing like I did for the last three or four years.
“Expectations will rise. People will say, ‘Oh Harrington has a chance’, but they weren’t saying that coming in here! I was 80-1 and I was laughing at those odds. 80-1 is a great bet.”
Six shots off the pace entering the final round, Harrington looked out of it when he dropped two early shots.
But he hit back with three birdies on the spin from the seventh, chipped in for another at the 13th and then birdied the 17th to go to the last with a chance to match the clubhouse leader Michael Thompson on two over.
Trying to make an eagle two, he plugged his 111-yard gap wedge from a downhill, sidehill lie in a greenside bunker yet almost chipped in for a miraculous par.
Reflecting on his final round, Harrington said: “I haven’t analysed the round at all. I know I certainly left a lot of shots out there. I can certainly look at the round – 10, 11, 12, I had chances and didn’t make the putts. Okay, I got a bonus on 13 chipping in and on 16 its just an awkward hole ….. The 18th is an extraordinarily difficult shot off a downhill sidehill lie, up the hill to a tight left pin.
“I’m thinking of holing (shot from 18th fairway). I’ve been practising my wedges there. I’m number one in proximity from wedges from that distance on the tour. All week off the downhill sidehill lies I’ve been hitting my wedges to the right.
“Not alone getting five yards of cut spin but it is moving another five yards when it hits the green and I was wary of that, that I couldn’t afford to hit it five yards to the right of the green and I just hung onto it too much. I’m very disappointed with doing it and to be honest I made a miracle five as it turned out.
“I holed a great putt for par on 14, chipped in on 13, the putt on 17…. That was good. I haven’t been holing those kind of putts and it was nice to do it when the pressure was on.
“I could have easily chipped if 50, 70 yards off the green (on 18). If I hit that by four, six feet it was going to run off the green and then the next slope and the next slope. I did a lot of good things. I thought I’d holed the chip on 18 for par.”