Harrington on Tiger: “He’s not a guy who’s taking performance enhancing drugs to hit the golf ball further.”

Harrington on Tiger: “He’s not a guy who’s taking performance enhancing drugs to hit the golf ball further.”
Pádraig Harrington in his home practice dungeon

Pádraig Harrington in his home practice dungeon

Padraig Harrington is not Tiger Woods. When it comes to telling his wife lies, the Dubliner reckons he’s a 24 handicapper.

So what do you make of Tiger’s double life, Padraig?

“Triple-life,” Harrington corrects. “Golf, home and when he was away. Imagine trying to manage that! I told two lies to my wife the other day about a phone call and a text message. They were about a Christmas present for her but I couldn’t say who the person was because I’d be giving away the surprise. I wouldn’t say I felt guilty but I was just brutal [rubbish] at it.

“I told her such and such a person had called and then 10 minutes later, I’m ringing that person and she says: ‘But you’ve just talked to him.’ Thankfully, my wife knew it was something to do with Christmas.”

Harrington is speaking in his golf room, where hundreds of soon-to-be-obsolete golf clubs are piled up in readiness for a charity sale on Saturday. He’s also selling dozens of pairs of golf shoes, cashmere sweaters, more than 100 lob wedges, a couple of dozen drivers, golf shirts galore.

The sale will be held at Harvey Nichols in the Dundrum Town Centre on Saturday from 11 to 1 and Harrington has signed everything and promised to sign anything people bring along in exchange for a donation to charity.

As he signs away, he’s bound to be asked dozens of questions about Tiger Woods. His thoughts on the whole sorry business are both revealing and sad. He thought Tiger was a sad, loner in the gilded cage. Why did he do it? Harrington’s no shrink. Maybe it was a cry for help, he says. Maybe it was the thrill. Maybe he became addicted to the risk.

Harrington is just guessing. He doesn’t know. What he does know is that Tiger will come back and play as competitively as ever. And he will beat Jack’s record...

Q So what do you make of the whole Tiger business?

I’M AMAZED by the fact I’m out on Tour and knew nothing. I must have my head in a hole or something like that. Seemingly nobody knew anything. That just amazes me. I thought the guy had a particularly, I’m loathe to use the word, but let’s say quiet life. He seemed to go back to his hotel room every night. Sitting in your room for six hours is not a pleasant experience, I can tell you. He couldn’t go out or whatever and I kind of felt sorry for him in that sense. Every night we’d [Harrington and caddie] go out for dinner.

I just assumed life on tour for him was real tough and that’s why you knew when he was off tour, he enjoyed his boat and going fishing and things like that. That was the only freedom he ever got.

I’m amazed by both sides of it. If somebody goes down that road [womanising], you usually can tell because of who they are talking to or hanging out with. There’s a bravado in it and all that sort of stuff. That’s what fellows are like. They have a few drinks and they are telling everybody. There was no indication whatsoever of Tiger doing that.

Q Tiger wouldn’t have been in that many hotels with you, would he?

The odd time we’d be in a hotel and you’d see him getting his ice and going back to have an ice bath for his knee. You’d see him in the gym or whatever. He was always incredibly diligent.

Sometimes we’d think, should we say ‘do you want to go out for dinner’ but then you think maybe he’s trying to do his own thing and be professional. You definitely would have felt for him -  that he’s absolutely living in a goldfish bowl and there was so little he could do. Life was so tough for him. 

Q His life will change now. What about the Tiger brand and the attention he’s going to get when he comes back?

He’s going to get different attention when he comes back but it’s going to be no more than he’s got before. When he comes back and plays his first tournament, the level of attention is going to be the exact same as when he came back from is knee injury. It might be different but it can’t feel any different – when you are at saturation point, adding more to it is not going to make a difference. He’s well used to that level of attention, let’s say. I know it’s going to be a bit different and things like that.

Q It’s bad for golf?

I don’t think we know. You’d certainly think so at the moment but we don’t really know what three months, six months is going to bring. There have been some high profile players in the past who have gone through marital difficulties and, you know, things went on.

Q When do you expect him back?

Who knows. The most comfortable place he is in his life is on the golf course and what he’s good at is playing golf. So, no matter what happens in his life, the only peace and freedom he’ll get will be on the golf course. Out there he’s in his own environment.

What’s going on is tough. Whenever a golfer goes through issues in his private life, it could have been the death of my father or his father, on the golf course is a nice place to be because we are pretty good at hitting that little white golf ball and that means we feel at home there.

Dealing with our emotions and trying to explain things – Tiger’s going to have to talk about this but, whatever he’s going through, he’s no expert or marriage counsellor himself. He hasn’t experienced this or seen this before, so he’s not going to be comfortable in that situation … but he will be when he’s playing golf.

Playing golf will bring balance to his life. Whatever he’s trying to work through, the playing of golf will actually bring balance to his life. That’s where he clearly is comfortable. He enjoys being out of the course. At the end of the day, that will come back into his life and will give him some grounding for what he wants to do in his personal life as well.

Q Do you want to see him back as quick as possible?

Of course I do, that’s part of his life. Out there on the course is what he does well. Out playing golf again and doing that would bring some structure back to his life, which, obviously, is in turmoil at the moment. It’ll give him something to do that he’s good at and that will help him to be back out there. Obviously there is going to be media focus but he’s dealt with that in the past.

Q On top of everything else, we now have the stories his doctor, Dr Anthony Galea, bringing illegal drugs into the US. That’s not going to reflect well on the rest of golf?

I don’t see why it would have any repercussions on the rest of golf. At this very moment, I’m putting that down as a total coincidence. Tiger sought to use a doctor who was on the cutting edge of rehab. Obviously, it hasn’t been proved, it looks like they’re saying the doctor crossed the line in that cutting edge but he’s saying there’s a bit of confusion.

At this stage, I’d see no particular link. I’ve met Tiger’s trainer and I’d believe from meeting that man that he’s above reproach. I’d suggest there’s not much Tiger does in his training life that hasn’t gone through him and he’s an experienced man who’s been in the game a long time. From the conversations I’ve had with him, I believe he wouldn’t let Tiger go down the wrong road.

The doctor has one specific treatment that Tiger used and I’m assuming that’s all he used. As I said, looking at the other people around him.....

Let’s face it, Tiger’s probably the only golfer in the last 10 years who’s lost speed and distance – he’s not a guy who’s taking performance enhancing drugs to hit the golf ball further. He’s reining it in. Tiger’s spent the last number of years not trying to push it with his swing but trying to reduce it so he doesn’t damage himself.

You can look at the stats with Tiger. He was comfortably getting a 190 mph ball speed and he’s at 180 now. He’s the only guy who’s deliberately reined it in over the last 10 years. If you look at that, logically, he’s not trying to increase power. He’s deliberately gone backwards and there’s no other part of the performance you can enhance – plus we are checked out as well.

Q When do you think he’ll be back?

I can’t answer that, like I can’t answer what’s the right thing for him to do. I have no idea whether they’ll work it out or not. I just don’t have that ability to say.

The only thing I can give on the whole story is the fact that ‘Wow, I’m out there on tour with this guy for 10 years and often times Tiger himself has said I’d be a friend and I’d no idea this was going on in his life.'

At the end of the day, it’s not the golfers you need to talk to because we have no idea. It’s the psychiatrists and counsellors and people like that who’d be able to explain all this. I’ve no idea – could it have been a cry for help or did he enjoy the risk of living on the edge because he can’t live on the edge. I’ve no idea.

Q You won two majors the last time he was out for any length of time. You like having him there, don’t you? You don't want any more asterisk talk.

It’s great having him as tournaments but, at the end of the day, I feel I am getting better and that’s all that matters. With Tiger, it’s totally out of my control when he’s going to come back – I’ve no idea, so there’s no point in me thinking when he’s going to be back. I prepare for my events on my own. I’m not just trying to beat Tiger – I’m trying to beat everyone else who’s there and that involves me preparing myself to the best of myself.

I don’t have any insight and, thankfully, I don’t have any particular talent at telling what’s the right or the wrong thing to do, so I’ve no idea when he’s coming back.

Q He wants to win 19 Majors, will this make him more determined to get there?

I don’t think it’ll make him any more determined. Golfing side of things, he was pretty focussed. Again, I don’t get to see it as much but maybe this was creating some turmoil in his life that was making it tougher. I think he was trying as hard but any time you are going through external issues emotionally, it can affect you on the golf course.

That was a common theme from people I’ve met on the street over the last six months. A lot of people asked me: ‘Why was Tiger looking angry on the golf course?’ When something like this is going on emotionally behind the scenes, it obviously has a big effect.

Q He wants to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record. Do you expect Tiger to win 19 majors?

Yes, I do.

Q Even now? After all this?

I don’t think this changes him competitively as a player. Yes, it might make it tough for him to play regular events when he comes back but the Majors have always been different. You are going there to play golf – they are very much about the golf. If there is stuff to be covered, it’ll be covered in the events leading up to them.

It’s a different sort of thing at the Majors, it’s more of a golf story than anything else. It can be the whole thing at another event. I don’t see it making any difference to his ability going forward in Majors and maybe it might clear up one or two things that might have been emotionally affecting his golf in the past.

Q You mean, give him release?

Whatever was going on, there wasn’t clarity in his life and that surely wasn’t helping him on the golf course. From a purely selfish point of view as a golfer, his life needs more clarity, emotional stability and balance to bring it to the golf course.

I didn’t see it myself but that might be the reason why people though he looked angry on the golf course in recent months.