Pádraig Harrington can’t see the future even if he does have two new pairs of glasses to ease the strain on his eyes and help him regain the bullet-proof green-reading confidence that made him a world star.
He says he’s “quietly confident” that 2013 can be a banner year, mainly because he’s pulled apart his putting stroke, changed his routine and taken steps to make sure he never putts as badly as he did last year.
“I’m always optimistic at the start of the year. It’s all ahead of you,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s only when you get halfway through, that it sets in…”
Believing he will only hit the ball better than he did in 2012, he’s keeping his fingers crossed that he will marry the ball-striking and the putting and look back on 2013 as a banner season.
His putting surely can’t be any worse than 2012 when he was 107th in strokes-gained putting on the US Tour last year - a fall of 82 places since 2009.
“I lost my confidence in reading the greens, essentially,” Harrington said when explaining why he consulted experts SV:EYE to retrain his eyes. “So it was pretty easy to figure out that it was my eyesight. I second guessed a lot of reads and ultimately hit a lot of tentative putts. I spent a good bit of the season working on my putting stroke trying to fix the tentative putts. But the tentative putts were coming from my lack of commitment and my doubt in my reading of the greens rather than anything else… Certainly I could have putted better at a few tournaments last year and it would have made a big difference. Your eyes just change over time and so I am working hard to get them back to where they were.”
Veteran Harrington watchers will know that when he calls his caddie Ronan Flood in to read a putt, he’s almost certainly about to miss because he has no clue about the line.
“If you see me ask Ronan to read a putt, it’s not a good sign… As Bob Rotella would say, it is far more important to be committed to your line than to be right. Ronan can help but it is not a good sign when you are relying on your caddie to read a putt… Once in a blue moon (I’ll call him in). I’ll ask him once or twice when I get distracted or lose my way but not as a regular deal. It’s like snooker. Nobody can tell you the shot to hit. You have to see it.
“At the end of the day, his perception of a firm putt right lip or an easy putt outside the hole, we all see things a little bit different. The best thing is to trust your own reading of the greens and be able to trust it and commit to it, which I was sorely lacking last year. I was really bad last year. I was just so bad.”
Harrington’s decision to play in Phoenix has plenty to do with the fact that he’s always been curious to see the stadium, par-three 16th and the 160,000-a-day crowds at first hand.
“I like golf,” Harrington said of his enthusiasm to play some of the lesser events. “If we played for $6 million on runway down there at the airport, I’d still tee it up.”
The real reason he’s in Arizona is that it gives him an extra week to get his game sharp before the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach and the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, which are two of his favourite events.
Bedding in the subtle changes he has made over the winter in both his routines, his putting, his short game and even his long game, is also easier in the desert where the practice facilities and the weather are perfect.
Given his confidence in his ball-striking under Pete Cowen, his season will be defined by his confidence on the greens and his conviction that it’s his lack of commitment to his line that has been letting him down.
“I’m perfectly fine in terms of what I can see,” Harrington said of his eyesight. “These [glasses] make it better, but really I have astigmatism like a lot of people. I grew up with a bias to reading putts right to left, so if I saw an eight-foot putt that was straight, as a kid, I’d aim right half. That’s where I would see it.
“For the last number of years, if I saw that same eight-footer, I’d actually look at it left half. Now, that’s just how my eyes have changed. I was used to it for 20 years of my life having a right-to-left bias, now I have a little bit of a left-to-right bias.”
Armed with two pairs of glasses this week, Harrington wore one in practice though he hinted that we are unlikely to see them in the tournament, where he has been paired with Hunter Mahan and FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker for the first two rounds.
Insisting his eyes were too dry to wear contacts this week, he wore the glasses on the range but was not happy with the results of his wedge play, joking:
“I could have been sowing potatoes after a while in the divots I was taking.”
His new regime is simply routine. After all, he has made a career out of changing things up every winter, applying some of the ideas he has spotted during the season but resisting the temptation to incorporate them into his game in mid-season.
“It’s kind of the way these days,” he said. “You know, you’re looking for specialists in every area of the game, whether it’s short game specialists, putting, long game coach, psychology, everything is par for the modern game, and this is just I suppose another little addition.
“We’ll wait and see how it goes. But certainly I didn’t putt very well last year, and I needed to do something about it. So far, so good.”