By Brian Keogh
Padraig Harrington is stressed out, talked out and all played out after the most tumultuous year of his professional career.
But as he sat back in the plush surroundings of Sherwood Country Club, he reflected on the one thought that will help him come out fighting in search of Major No 2 next year.
The bottom line is that Carnoustie and the Claret Jug is history now and Harrington see no reason why can't he go out and do it again.
He explained: “There’s no better feeling than standing there beating golf balls and feeling that I am getting better with every shot I hit.
“If I didn’t have things to work on, I’d give it up. That is what gets me up in the morning. I am going to get better.
“I am getting better. I am a better player than I was in the week of the Open. I’m just a better player, full stop. Better swinger of the golf club, better mentally.
“Every day I am a better player. The day I am not getting better is the day I am retiring. I am always trying to get better, it’s my mentality.
“And I now know that all I have to do is be as good as that guy that Sunday at Carnoustie to win Majors.”
Harrington also knows that if he never wins another golf tournament, he will be a disappointed man but will still look back in 20 years time and say: “I won my major.”
That is a double edged sword and in order to move forward, Harrington has to forget that magical afternoon in July.
Some time later tomorrow night, the Open celebrations will end for the 36 year old and he will turn his thoughts to winning the Masters next April - a tournament he regards as “the ultimate test.”
Sitting in a clubhouse where club members such as Dennis Quaid and Don Johnson or hockey king Wayne Gretsky are banned this week, Harrington is condemned to look forward rather than back.
He said: “This week it the ultimate end of it all, if you ask me. Especially in my own head, I’m thinking, it’s great to have won The Open but from next week on it’s all about moving forward.
“It’s a very funny situation. You work all this time to win an Open and now I’m thinking I have to try and forget that I won The Open and move on.
“You know, on one hand I want to celebrate it every day but on the other I know I kind of have to put that on hold. The interesting thing is that maybe in 20 years time I might regret that I didn’t party the whole year away on the back of winning the Open but I feel that six months on it’s time to move on and start thinking forward and not look back.
“I think Christmas is probably the time to do that. Get ready for the new season and that’s what I’m trying to do. So, here we go.”
Forgetting is hard for a man who receives hundreds of letters a week, some of them simply addressed “Padraig Harrington, Golfer.”
But as 2003 US Open champion Jim Furyk recalled this week, you forget your first major victory as soon as you hit that first bad shot.
Harrington’s drive to become as good as he can be will keep him moving forward until he simply runs out of energy and can no longer swing a club.
In the meantime, Ireland’s sports fans are set for a major treat over the next ten years as the Dubliner sets about getting himself into position to strike for a second, third or even a fourth time.
He said “I am already a Major-winner. I know what I did to get myself there at The Open and I know I can do it again. It doesn’t mean I will win but I will give myself a chance.
“In the past 18 months, in 50 per cent of my Majors I have been in the right place. I’d be happy to do that, to maintain a 50 per cent hit rate in terms of feeling like ‘yeah, I am ready’.
“It doesn’t mean that I am going to do all the right things like before but once I’m good enough to be in there, I’ll be happy with that. When I am in that situation again there will be a little less pressure because I have already won one.”
Roll on 2008, but just for fun, here's Harrington's top thoughts on a magical golfing year.
MY PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tiger. I think he had a really good year. I think he came back to top form this year. He came back to dominate the sport.
THE SHOT OF THE YEAR
I really liked the simplicity of Zach Johnson’s chip onto the 18th in the final round of the Masters. It was a bit like my chip onto 18 at Carnoustie.
He just stood up there and hit the shot like he would have hit it if he was playing a friendly game of golf. Just the whole simplicity of it.
It looked to me like he struck it well believing that he was going to do that. Like he was playing a normal shot and in his head it was going to happen. I like that.
You could think of Cabrera’s drive at 18 at Oakmont except that’s his game. Then again you could talk about his second shot to the 16th, where he stiffed it.
MY MOST SATISFYING MOMENT
Obviously, the three and a half footer to win the Open. But the shot I thought was the best was the one from behind the bunker at the par three eighth in the second round.
I was able to do that as a kid, no problem, but as a pro I haven’t had the experience playing it as much. As an amateur I think it would have been the easiest shot ever for me. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.
MY REVELATION PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The most improved player of the year was Justin Rose, no doubt about it. He has come from outside the top 100 to inside the top 10. Results wise, I think a lot of what he has been working for in the past few years fell into place this year. He is definitely the most improved.
MY BIGGEST REGRET
The one regret I have from the year was falling out of the zone in Valderrama and losing the Volvo Masters and the Order of Merit.
Getting knocked out of the zone cost me shots. I would have been a lot happier if Justin Rose had just won on five under par instead of going back to one under when I finished one over.
MY TOP MOMENT
There’s lots of moments in the year. I always remember how happy I was on the first playoff hole at the Irish Open to hit it in the semi-rough so I didn’t have a shot off the tight sandy fairway. If I hit it off that fairway I don’t know where I’d hit it but to be able to hit it off that semi-rough was a blessing in disguise.
There were a bundle of them in The Open. I do think that the one thing I had no control over but had the biggest effect on me was my son running onto the green of the 72nd hole at The Open Championship.
Everything else, I will tell you, was in my hands, I was in control. It was me who was dictating everything but that was the one thing I had not planned for and it made all the difference. It totally did.
You couldn’t tell somebody to do it. It had to be spontaneous, on the spur of the moment. He ran onto that green and he looked at me like I was the champion. If I had known it would happen, I would not have felt that way. You do need those sort of things to happen.