Harrington still in dreamland

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington thought he had just woken up from a wonderful dream.

Just two hours after getting to bed, he opened his eyes at 6 am and saw the Claret Jug glinting in the July sunshine at the end of the bed.

Was it really true? Had this modest, 35-year old Dubliner just achieved his life’s ambition and won a major?

The answer was a resounding yes, yet Caroline Harrington just wanted to sleep.

Shining almost as brightly as the trophy itself, Harrington beamed: “It’s just unreal. In my quieter and more reflective moments, like when I’m in the shower, you just go, 'I’m the Open champion.'

“I went to bed at 4 o’clock in the morning and woke up at six. Wide awake. I’ve woken my wife up and said, ‘I’m the Open champion.’ The trophy is at the end of the bed and both of us are looking at it.

“In those sort of reflective moments, it’s hard to take it in. In my quieter moments, I sit back and think I can’t believe I’ve done it.

“Caroline said, I can’t believe it, there’s the trophy, but can we go back to sleep?”

Harrington has been hotly fancied to lift a major since he finished fifth behind Justin Leonard as a raw 25 year old at Troon in 1997.

Punters have been piling the cash on him ever since and his win caused the Irish bookies a massive headache on Sunday.

Rated a 35/1 shot at the end of last year, he was 25/1 on Monday and still a lengthy 20/1 on Sunday morning as he headed out six shots behind Sergio Garcia.

Yet he came through to win in the most dramatic Open championship finish since Jean Van de Velde took seven on the 18th in 1999 and blew his chance of glory.

Paddy Power were forced to pay out €5 million to patriotic Irish punters and the betting industry nationwide was stung for a massive €13 million - a fraction of what they have lost on Harrington over the years, no doubt.

Yet that ‘debt’ pales into insignificance compared to what Harrington believes he owes his 75-year-old coach Bob Torrance.

After 11 years together, the gravel-voiced Scot watched with tears in his eyes at his home in Largs as the boy who has become like a son to him raised the Claret Jug to the skies - just as his idol Ben Hogan had done in 1953.

Harrington did not forget his master swing-builder when he bounced into the Media Centre just after 11 am yesterday with the trophy in his hands.

He said: “I am thrilled for Bob. Bob is so much part of this. He has worked tirelessly on my game and never stops thinking about it. For me to go out and win a major is very special for Bob.

“For me to win a Major at Carnoustie, because Bob loves Hogan is much, is the icing on the cake. It is fairytale stuff for Bob. I am so delighted.

“I could never repay Bob for the time and effort he has put into my game. Winning a major, winning the Open, winning at Carnoustie, helps repay that debt a bit.”

Torrance idolised Hogan and famously visited him at his home in the US to learn the secrets that made him a multiple major champion.

Hogan’s work ethic impressed the Scot and while Harrington’s swing is more Sam Snead than Hogan, the legend from Dublin in Texas was an ideal role model for the lad from Dublin, Ireland.

Harrington explained: “The guys I have always admired as my idols have not necessarily been the unbelievably talented. I have more admired the the guys who have worked hard on the game and got the most out of their talent.

“Hogan went from being a struggling professional to probably the best ball-striker of all time and definitely one of the best golfers of all time. He is certainly someone I will hold up as a role model.”

Hogan’s Open victory at Carnoustie in 1953 was also the last of his nine majors.

But Harrington is already setting his sights on winning his next big one and will get his chance in the USPGA at Southern Hills in Tulsa in two weeks time.

He said: “Phil Mickelson got it right when he answered questions about when he was going to win a major by saying he wanted to win more than one.

“I've always had it in my head that I am going to try to do the same. That should help me move on."

Before that opportunity presents itself, he will tee it up in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestones in Ohio.

And after a career defining victory he has no plans to change his approach to the game - once the celebrations are over.

The new world No 10 celebrated his victory until the early hours at a party that his management group IMG threw just a few hundred yards from the 18th green.

The first drink from the claret jug was John Smiths bitter, but it won’t stop Harrington from keeping his promise to son Paddy and put ladybirds inside it.

Harrington said: “They might get a bit intoxicated but it is definitely happening.

“I had a couple of drinks. But I was flying anyway. There was no need for any outside help on that. I drank a little bit out of the Claret Jug.

“I was in a good mood and I will be for the next week or the next year or ten years or forever with this. There was no need for any outside help.”

Indeed, the presence of little Paddy at the 72nd green was a key moment on a day and something that took Harrington’s mind off the double bogey six that could have cost him the title.

He said: “It was great. My son knows daddy’s going out to win the trophy. He’s telling me I’m a winner regardless.

“As with any kid, he just want’s to enjoy himself, play and be happy. He’s not aware of the significance of any bogey or double-bogey or the pressure of a situation.

“I think that’s a positive, having my family here all week. Once I leave the golf and spend any time with my son or my family it definitely moves my thoughts away from the golf. I’d recommend it to anybody.”:

Thoughts of home were never far from Harrington’s mind and even his miraculous up-and-down from 47 yards at the 18th in regulation holes was inspired by his practice routine on his back garden practice ground.

Describing the lob wedge that skidded to a halt just four feet from the flag, he said: “I play that up and down every day in my back garden. That is why I hit the shot the way I hit it.

“I think most players would have played the pitch and run. But I paced it off - it was 47 yards from the pin but I needed to pitch it ten yards short of the green. I have a 35 yard pitch in my back garden that I play every day.

“When I got over the ball I said, pitch and run is the simple shot, even though I actually know the other shot. I make a certain length swing and made sure to commit to it.

“I said, give it a good strike and it will jump up that green and spin. It was just a shot I have played time and time again. There was nothing new about it. It was practice that made that shot.”

It proved to be vital in the end but it was Harrington’s zen-like focus after going in the water for the second time with his approach just moments earlier that proved to be the difference between winning and losing.

Even when he crossed paths with a smirking Sergio Garcia on the bridge that separates the 17th tee from the fairway, he kept his head down and concentrated on what he had to do.

Harrington said: “He said hello. I nodded. But I couldn't quite get words out. It wasn't quite: 'Hello, fancy meeting you here.’

“I had no idea that Anders Romero ever led the tournament. It was only at half eleven last night that it turned out he had a two shot lead at one stage when I was playing the 14th.

“I can’t wait to see this tournament on TV. I had no concept. Ronan said to me after 72 holes that you played great, the best I’ve ever seen. And I said, ‘Did I?’ I didn’t realise that either.

“I suppose I was in the zone, in the present, and wasn’t watching anything else going on. It just shows how good a place I was in.”

Harrington feels for Garcia, however, a player he believes will go on to win multiple majors.

Generously, he said: “He is probably the best ball striker in the game and he is still young. I really felt for him. I know he is under incredible pressure to win a major and he will. It will happen

"The more he believes that the quicker it will happen, but the longer it takes the harder it gets. He could have left the field behind here."

While he flew into Dublin on a private jet yesterday afternoon, Harrington will be feted publicly in Ireland sometime this week.

As European No 1, he was determined to fly the European Tour flag on high this year. Now he is Open champion, he must become an ambassador for the entire world of golf.

He said: “I do want to do the Open Championship justice. Like being the European number one last year, I want to feel I carried the flag well.

“It carries responsibility being the Open champion. You have to play probably have to play more than you want.”

The texts messages have been building on Harrington’s mobile since he holed the winning putt on Sunday night.

He has fielded calls from the Minister of Sport and the Taoiseach and received dozens of congratulations from his tour pals in European and abroad.

One of them is likely to have come from Van de Velde, a close friend of the Dubliner’s.

And Harrington confessed that the Frenchman, who was ridiculed for taking seven on the 18th in the 1999 Open when a six would have done, was close to his thoughts as he twice found the Barry Burn on Sunday.

He said: “One big part of me making six was not making seven. I did think of Jean and started counting, one, two, three, four, I didn’t want to make seven.

“It did cross my mind that he had taken seven to lose the Open and I was slipping down that slippery slope too and it wasn’t hard to do.

“I’ve always said in defence of Jean that the 18th at Carnoustie is the last hole in golf you would take to have a lead on.

“There are so many easier holes to finish up on. As we saw during the tournament, there was many as six, seven, eight taken there. It must have played as one of the highest scores as a par four in the Open.”

After going into the burn with his drive, Harrington faced a nightmare approach of 207 yards over the water. Taking aim at the out of bounds beyond the green, he tried to cut his five iron into the right to left wind and find the front left half of the green.

He explained: “That to me was the logical shot to make five. I could have played down the right hand side as Jean Van de Velde did if you had a few to spare. But I didn't.

“Obviously it was an incredibly difficult shot to take on. I had left myself in a very poor position to approach the green and I did hit a poor shot.

“I paid a penalty not alone for a poor shot and going in the hazard for a penalty drop, but I paid a penalty for being on that side of the fairway and having to play that shot.

“I am coming over a water hazard and yet I am trying to play short and front of that green. I wasn't worried about hitting it in the hazard. I was more worried about missing the green right where I wouldn't have been able to get up and down. I would have been happy to miss it in the left hand bunker from where I was coming from.”

After duffing it into the burn for a second time, he could have been forgiven for throwing in the towel.

But having watched Van de Velde take his set back so well in the intervening eight years, Harrington knew he would have to be strong or face the possibility to dealing with a career-crushing loss.

He said: “If I’d lost after doing what I did on 18 I’d struggle to compete in that situation again. I would have so many doubts about being able to win if I was in that situation.

“I’ve talked to Jean about it. I really wanted to find out his mind set. As I said at the time, to come back and play golf after something like that has happened, Jean has got to feel like surely that was his one and only chance to win a Major.

“To have lost it in those circumstances, that’s an incredible knock. I know he’s had a few illnesses and injuries but he has come back and he’s playing away and getting on with his golf.

“I don’t know if I could react that way. I think anybody who hasn’t won a Major and some thing like that happens or something that could have happened to me yesterday, you definitely walk away from it questioning if you are ever going to win a Major.

“It’s hard to convince yourself you are going to win a Major. It doesn’t matter how good you are. To actually believe you are going to go out there and win it takes a lot of convincing.

“For you to get in a situation that it’s yours and then to let it go, that’s a big knock to your ability to convince yourself that you can do it again.”

Harrington came close to winning the Masters in April and the US Open last year.

But what kept him going on Sunday was the way he maintained his focus in the recorder’s hut as he waited to see if Garcia would par the last to win.

He said: “I’m really, really happy with how I handled myself after the 18th hole. How I didn’t get involved in what I’d done at 18. I kept myself very level and I think that was what won the playoff.”

“It’s not that I would stop competing in golf, I meant it would have been very difficult to get into that situation.”

Now that he has ended Europe’s eight-year wait for a major champio, Harrington believes that more victories will follow from the elite on this side of the Atlantic.

He said: “I definitely think we have banished out hang ups for the moment.

“The European players know my game and they know what their game is in relation to my game, they can visualise it and see it.

“The fact that I’ve gone and done it I think will make a lot of them believe that they can do it. I don’t believe I’m an intimidating force for a lot of the younger Europeans. T

“They know if they play their golf they can compete with me and the fact that I’ve now gone and won a major they will believe that they can do it. I do think European golf is very strong, so this may be the start of it and if it is I will be telling everybody that I started it off.

“Hopefully I and some of the others will go on and win some majors and carry the European flag well.”

And with that he loped off with a spring in his step and the Claret Jug in his grip.

There goes Padraig Harrington, Champion Golfer 2007. Who knows what the future holds?