Padraig Harrington is fast becoming Ireland’s answer to Tiger Woods after signing a three-year sponsorship deal for the front of his cap worth a cool $12m.
But if mega-rich Woods is The King of Cash, Harrington is on his way to becoming The Count as he racks up the endorsement money and bids to replace Tiger as world No 1.
Just seven weeks after renewing with club sponsors Wilson for $10m over three years, Ireland’s three-time Major champion announced ruthless changes to his schedule and even his sleeping habits as he signed the biggest endorsement deal of his career with US financial trouble-shooters FTI Consulting.
Set to become the global face of FTI in a three-year deal, Harrington reckons he can become world No 1 within four months if injured Woods remains on the sidelines until the Masters.
Planning his Major assault for 2009, world No 4 Harrington said: “If I had won one of my last three events this year I would have got to number two in the world. But interestingly, it’s likely whoever starts well in 2009 has a great chance to go to world No 1 come the US Masters.
“I think if Tiger isn’t back playing by the time of the Masters he may lose out to No 2. So there’s a lot of incentive for myself and Phil Mickelson to catch Sergio Garcia at this stage. He has got a little bit of a jump start there at the end of the year. I think it’s going to take two wins to catch him.”
Three-time Major winner Harrington qualified as a certified accountant before becoming a professional golfer, and FTI view him as a perfect model to take their brand forward.
“Our new partnership with Padraig Harrington represents the next stage in the evolution of the FTI brand and our Company’s presence all over the world,” said Declan Kelly, FTI’s Executive Vice President and Chief Integration Officer. “In 2009 we intend to maintain our strong growth strategy and that means expanding our presence and our brand awareness to as many corners of the world as possible, especially in the markets where we now have a physical operational presence.
“Padraig has shown himself to have all the qualities required to be a world class athlete over a sustained period of time. He is a proven winner and we are very proud to be embarking on this new journey together.”
Florida-based FTI Consulting specialise in helping out failing companies but Harrington pointed out that they also help the top dogs remain where they are.
And that’s why he’s prepared to take a leaf out of Tiger’s book by structuring his schedule to peak for as many events as possible outside the four majors.
Confessing his admiration for Woods’ ability to turn it on week after week, Harrington said: “If you are going to win a substantial amount of Majors, there’s a lot to be said for playing a schedule like Tiger does.
“He only plays 18 events and there is no doubt, I’d have had a much better end to the year if I’d taken two weeks off after the US PGA. If you are going to win the big events and take those highs, scheduling is incredibly important.”
Harrington’s 2009 schedule will see him begin his campaign in Abu Dhabi before heading to California for a three-tournament run (Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Riviera) followed by a possible appearance on the new Jack Nicklaus course in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.
However, he plans to skip May’s BMW PGA at Wentworth for the second year running so that he can play more golf before The Players at Sawgrass and then rest before beginning his preparation for the US Open at Bethpage Black by playing The Memorial and the Stanford St Jude Classic.
He explained: “I was thinking of a run down in the Middle East. But now I am thinking that maybe I should go to Torrey Pines and look to have a three-week run there. I like those golf courses. That is one change. Memorial will probably be in there. As much as I had intended to play the PGA (at Wentworth) my team are certainly thinking that it would be the craziest decision in terms of my schedule.
“I don’t know about the matchplay. It is on a new course and that would attract me to it. I generally like Jack Nickalus courses and while I try not to play four in a row in the middle of the season, this is early in the season and I’ll have a three week break after that.”
Harrington will again skip the WGC - CA Championship at Doral in March and prepare for the Masters by playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and the Shell Houston Open.
But in order to be better prepared for The Players, where he missed the cut this year and finished tied 52nd in 2007 when the event at the renovated course moved from March to May, he plans to warm up in the Wachovia (Wells Fargo) at Quail Hollow and then head home for the Irish Open before taking a two week break to get ready for the US Open.
On his record at Sawgrass, where he was runner up in 2003 and 2004, Harrington said: “Considering it is a golf course that actually suits me, I have had two miserable efforts the last two years. I could either put that down to a change in date of a change in the golf course, which should really really suit me.
“I love what they have done to the golf course. It is much more suited to me that the old golf course that I performed on. So we are putting it down to the fact that I keep turning up cold
“Normally I’d be turning up there after a three week break there. It would be the worst week of the year for me to perform. If I put in Wells Fargo, as it is now, I would play better at the TPC and the third week is the Irish Open.”
Harrington skipped the European Tour’s Flagship BMW PGA Championship, scheduled for the week after the Irish Open, and was roundly criticised for doing so last year.
But if people expect him to perform in the Majors and close the gap on Woods at the top of the world rankings, he believes he must follow the schedule that makes most sense.
Explaining his decision to swap political correctness for scheduling sanity, he said: “I fully intended to go and play the PGA but as we’ve clearly found, there’s a better schedule there. The great thing is that I have a team behind me and I can listen to them and blame them for it.
“The people I listen to are more independent and much less likely to worry about political correctness. Their concern is what is going to make me play my best golf.”
Harrington has looked at the way Woods and other top players prepare and conferred with his back room team on the best way to attack the 2009 schedule.
And what most impresses Harrington about Woods is his self-belief, his short game and his meticulous preparation.
He added: “There’s lots of things I look at in everyone’s game: the positives and the negatives. The best things about Tiger are: first and foremost, his belief. Nobody believes it more than he does. Secondly, he has an awesome short game and imagination. No matter how good you get at this game, that short game is going to be needed.
“After that, he is incredibly professional about his preparation. It’s amazing. We are totally the opposite in terms of what we do to prepare for tournaments yet it’s the same in that we are both doing what suits us.”
Physical preparation will be key for Harrington who had a “board meeting” with his caddie, his manager and his backroom medical team of Dr Liam Hennessy, Dr Paul Hurrion, Dr Dale Richarson and Greg Rose at the Titleist Performance Institute in California two weeks ago.
Harrington’s medical team has advised him to sleep flat on his back so that he doesn’t continue to make his tennis elbow worse by sleeping on his arm.
He said: “We were looking at injuries and decided that I have to change my sleeping pattern. That’s a really the biggest change I’ve made. I have tennis elbow and If I don’t learn how to sleep on my back with my arms rested by my side, I sleep on my arms.
“So I stress that injury when I sleep as well as when I am hitting shots so I’m not getting any rest time. So I have to learn to sleep on my back or they are going to strap my arms to my sides.”
Asked if he’d do a Count Dracula and sleep in a coffin, he beamed: “It’s not far off that. It’s very hard to do when you are jet-lagged, not to turn over.”
Sleeping might be giving him trouble but with another $12 million in the bank, Count Harrington can rest easy.
Padraig Harrington’s early 2009 schedule
Jan 15- 18 Abu Dhabi Championship
Feb 5-8 Buick Invitational, Torrey Pines
Feb 12-15 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
Feb 19-22 Northern Trust Open, Riviera, LA
Feb 25 - March 1 - WGC Accenture Matchplay - provisional
March 26 - 29 Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bay Hill
April 2 - 5 Shell Houston Open, Redstone Golf Club
April 9 -12 The Masters Tournament, Augusta National
April 30 - May 3 Wachovia/Wells Fargo, Quail Hollow
May 7 -10 The Players, TPC Sawgrass
May 14- 17 The Irish Open
June 4 - 7 Memorial Tournament, Muirfield Village, Ohio
June 11 - 14 Stanford St Jude Classic, TPC Southwind, Memphis
June 18 - 21 US Open, Bethpage Black, NY
July 2 - 5 French Open
July 8 -12 Irish PGA
July 16 - 19 The Open