What next for Harrington

From Brian Keogh in California

Vijay Singh calls it “a mind blowing experience” and Fred Couples says it’s “an incredible feat.”

But for mild mannered Jim Furyk the most important thing about winning your first major is planting both feet firmly on the ground again.

Now that he has joined the major champions’ club, Padraig Harrington’s biggest hurdle as he sets off in search of major No 2 is to carry on as if nothing happened.

That’s the view of major winning trio Singh, Couples and Furyk, who have no doubt that Harrington won’t be over-awed by the task.

Reflecting on Harrington’s Open victory at Carnoustie this summer, 1992 Masters winner Couples reckons there is more major glory in store for Ireland’s biggest sporting hero.

Couples said: “Winning a major is not like winning any other tournament. Once you win them, it doesn’t change you as a person.

“But to win an Open or a Masters, to win a US Open or a US PGA, you have to be a really good player. And there are not many guys who don’t know how to play that win those things. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if Paddy won another major.”

The initial shock of realising you are a major champion should not be too great a handicap for Harrington, who has been a member of the world’s top 10 for the past nine years.

And Singh - winner of two US PGA crowns and one Masters title - does not believe that Harrington will be psyched out by the pressure.

Singh said: “Winning your first major makes it easier to win another one. But then, you cannot get it through your head. If you get too comfortable with that, then obviously it can affect you.

“But Padraig has won many tournaments. Winning a major is big but I think he is very accustomed to winning and the way of life. So I am sure he knows how to handle himself.

“The first one is always the hardest one to win. The pressure of winning the first is a lot more than a mind can handle. But some guys never do get over winning that first one. It is just something you have to figure out.”

Couples has yet to add to his 1992 Masters victory, though he has finished in the top three in six majors since then

And he doesn’t believe the Harrington’s breakthrough win at Carnoustie this year will make it more difficult for him to move on or force him to change his game.

Shaking his head, Couples said: “He is such a great competitor, I don’t think so. Padraig has put in all the work and he has finally won one. Now he is looking for number two.

“I don’t think it will change his game. If he was a 24 year old Irish player and maybe won once or twice, it might. But when someone like that wins a major, it doesn’t really change they go about things.

“You just play golf. You don’t hit balls for four hours instead of three. Or an hour instead of a half hour.

“If you interviewed the 20 guys who have won majors in the last 10 years and Tiger has won a bunch, not many of them have changed anything.”

Resting on your laurels and consoling yourself for bad performances with the mantra, “Well, I’ve won my major” is a definite no-no, however.

Couples added: “You don’t ever want to do that. If you do, your game will start to deteriorate pretty quickly.

“When you win a major it is an incredible feat. But once everything dies down, you have got to go back to playing golf.”

Knowing when to say no to the huge demands on his time is the first trick the rookie major winner needs to learn.

And while Harrington has so far found it hard to turn down requests - spending nearly four hours recently doing a 45 minute TV special for a US network - he is already a big league player who is not going to be influenced by waving cheque books.

Furyk explained: “For a guy like Padraig, who has won a lot of events worldwide, who is one of the top 10 players in the world and has been for a long time, there is an adjustment but it is probably very minor. Nobody was surprised toe see him win a major championship.

“Is there a danger of complacency creeping in? No. That usually goes away when you hit your next bad shot.

“You get over winning a major pretty quick. It was nice to be introduced as US Open Champion and there was a big smile on my face at the next event when I was announced that way.

“But you still want to compete, to play well, but you miss a cut here and there and all of a sudden it doesn’t matter any more from the perspective of competing.

“It definitely gives you an increase in confidence. Things mellow out and return to normal eventually. It’s probably different for every person but when it does go back to normal, you still have that confidence in your ability to win a major.

“You come back down, you have your two feet on earth again and you have to go tee it up and play and compete every week.”

Harrington confessed after his 72nd hole dramas at Carnoustie that he now knows that he doesn’t have to play perfect golf to win another major.

And for Furyk, that boost in confidence will kick in when he gets into contention again.

He said: “Every time you get in contention whether you fail or succeed, you find something or draw something from that experience and it stands to you the next time. You feel more comfortable with being in that position.

“Winning a major is an experience. It’s one of those things you are put through a very severe test under very difficult conditions and you prevail.

“In the 2003 US Open, it was my time. I played very, very well all week. I was able to stay calm and I hit some really key shots and knocked in key putts and when I look at it, there’s other events I could have won, lots of British Opens. I didn’t do anything better in ’03 than I did in other years t key times. It was just the timing was right.

“But I still draw things from that event which have helped me in the last few US opens to get to the positions I was at and helped get me back into contention.”

Harrington, Furyk, Couples and Singh will all be going for the green jacket at Augusta National in four months time.

Add to that list names like Woods, Ernie Els, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, and the task of winning a major title looks as big as ever.

The difference for Harrington is that he now knows he can actually do it. Watching him bid for No 2 should be one hell of an entertaining ride.