Harrington masks his pain with optimism

Pádraig Harrington wasn’t punching holes in any walls or smashing any clubs - not even the offending six iron he used to rack up that horrific eight on the shortest par three at Hazeltine National.

Padraig Harrington changes his shoes minutes after the final round at Hazeltine.The US PGA championship was over and as YE Yang paraded the Wanamaker Trophy through the clubhouse and Tiger Woods licked his wounds in the locker room, Harrington reflected on what many would consider to be a crushing disappointment.

“Jaysus lads, it’s not a wake,” he said, scanning the gloomy faces who’d sought him out in the sanctuary of the club’s caddie shack. “I don’t mind. I’m really only interested in winning and I didn’t win, that’s it.

“It is not like it’s a big deal. If I was five shots better on one hole, I still wouldn’t have won. There’s no scar at all, none whatsoever.”

Who else but Harrington could rationalise what others would regard as a morale crushing, possibly career ending blow and look to the future with more optimism that ever.

One behind Tiger Woods with 11 holes to play, the Dubliner hadn’t put a foot wrong. He looked more comfortable than anyone in the field and finished up shooting 78 to share 10th place on level par.

Aggressively taking dead aim at the pin 167 yards away, he refused to bail out, pushed his six-iron into the water, pulled his next one from the dropping zone and with his mind scrambled, thinned his fourth shot into the water.

Ironically, it is that three-yard push that has sparked the swing change he hopes to show off to the world in all its glory next season

“Ultimately I was trying to play the shot to win the tournament," he said. "I wasn’t going to bail out. I suppose it is hard when you have done something like that to not feel like you’ve lost the tournament at that stage and yet a five would have helped me.

"How many guys hit it left and made bogey? I didn’t feel like I could afford to make bogey. That would be my attitude. I was trying to play the golf course correctly and I think I was justified at the end of the day. If I’d taken four there, would it have made any difference to my day than eight? Probably not. That’s the way I look at it.

"I actually would have been very annoyed if I’d hit it in the bunker. I was playing the aggressive shot because there was no alternative there. That’s one of the few shots on the golf course you have to hit. There is no alternative.

“At the end of the day I had 35 putts. I single putted that green but it was one of only two holes that I single putted, and I didn’t putt badly. It wasn’t my day. It didn’t matter what I did. Taking eight there didn’t matter. I was never in trouble, out of position all day.

“If I had made three and I was six under and a lot more positive going forward, I could have played the rest in two under. If I made four I would have been kicking myself to have bailed out. Such is life. Another time you bail out and take five doing it that way and it is no use.”

If one considers Harrington’s well documented struggles this season, the past fortnight could be regarded as something of a mini golfing miracle.

Eight months battling in vain to bed in a swing change has led to a two week period that has seen him clearly emerged as Woods’ most credible rival going forward.

Rather than wishing the next seven months away and fast forwarding to the Masters, Harrington is setting his sights on winning one of FedEx Cup play-off events before going back into the laboratory to work on the changes that have him “buzzing” with optimism about the future.

“I’d say I’ve definitely learned more in the first six months of this year that I ever have as a pro,” he said. “It has probably been the most pivotal period of my entire career.”

It’s more pivotal, he said, than the time the “major” epiphany he had when he bogeyed the final three holes at Winged Foot when three pars would have given him the 2006 US Open.

Just two weeks away from his 38th birthday, he’s looking at the next decade with more optimism than ever. Why?

“Because I am getting a lot better. I’ve made some big improvements this year. I don’t wish the Masters was next week. I need eight or nine months now. I am buzzing about where my game is going.

"What I’m enthusiastic about is how much better I’m getting. I feel like I am going to come on leaps and bounds and from where I am at, any improvement is important."

With three majors wins in three years, Harrington is no longer interested putting up a good show in the big ones. Besides, he believes Woods will be inspired by Sunday to take his game to new heights as well.

All that counts is getting into contention and going for victory because the more times he does that, the more majors he will win.

“I’d rather play 17 holes well and have that one bad hole rather than go out there and struggle all day and hit a lot of bad shots.

“You don’t win tournaments by shooting 66 and finishing level par and everybody patting you on the back. Who cares.

“The only thing that matters is did you have the chance of winning. Did you put yourself under pressure and did you learn from that experience if you didn’t win.

“I don’t look on this one as the one that got away, I wouldn’t put it in that category, I would definitely put it in the category of how easy it would have been for me to be better all week within myself. I performed well enough to win this week but I think I could perform even better than that.”