Padraig Harrington has spent his winter break in his laboratory, implementing a huge series of changes to his swing and routines he believes will make him a more consistent and accurate player.
Following the “most frustrating” season of his professional career, which brought a win in the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia as well as missed cuts in three of the four majors, the Dubliner has gone back to the drawing board to correct issues that have literally driven him to distraction.
Announced as the R&A’s first ‘Working for Golf Ambassador’ at a function at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club, where he is a paid up member, Harrington revealed that he spent the first four weeks of his six week break in his indoor practice facility, working to implement changes with the help of biomechanics expert, Dr Paul Hurrion and his coach Bob Torrance.
The biggest change is an alteration to Harrington’s swing trigger - the move away from the ball that begins the backswing. But that’s meant changing many other things, such as his grip and even the lies of his clubs. He’s even changed his putting routine
It’s all designed to eliminate some of the issues that cause him to lose focus or alignment when standing over the ball.
Outlining the biggest changes, Harrington explained:
- “I changed the actual grips on my golf club. Most people would think ‘well, what’s that’. I have a reminder in my grip – I’ve taken it out. I’ve gone to round grips. That’s a big, big change.
- “I’ve knocked all the clubs a degree flat – that’s a little change.
- “I have weakened my grip, lowered my hands a bit and pushed them a bit further forward … small things.
- “Probably the biggest one (and this is partly why I’ve changed these other things), I’ve changed my trigger to take the club away in my routine. I used take the club away from a moving position. I now take the club away from a static position.
- “Part of that, I used to have a big squat to take the club away, so that’s gone. There’s a little one. I’d love to get it all gone but it’s hard to change your trigger, full stop.
- “I’m taking the club away without my hips so there’s a much smaller hip turn – a much bigger coil but a smaller hip turn.
- “Obviously, that changes my plane in the back swing.
- “I’ve changed my chin position at the top of my backswing. I used to try and swing my shoulder under my chin, so I’d poke my head out to do it, which we think has contributed to my neck issues. So now I’m tucking my head in at the top of my backswing.
- “The trigger probably is the biggest thing. Through impact I’m going back to squatting quite a bit at the start of my downswing, as I used to. So I’m going back to that.
- “I’m going back to trying to get my chest more down through impact to get my hands lower through impact and reduce the lateral through impact.
- “From seven feet out I probably was 150th in every putting stat so I’ve changed my putting routine as well.
- “I’m not standing off the ball when I’m taking my practice putts. I’m practice putting over the ball … when you see a raw beginner, they often do that. When they take a practice putt, they lift it up and do it over the top of the ball. I’m doing that so when I put the putter back down, I’m not adjusting anything. I used to line up and get a feel for the putt, which you see a lot of guys do, then I’d take the putter inside an try a practice putt. But when I take the putter inside, I move my eye line, so the practice putts I’m getting a feel for are not the same as the putts I actually have. So I’m not changing my eye line.
Harrington knows that changing his trigger is a risky move and he recounted an anecdote about a top amateur who change his when he made the move into the pro ranks and was never the same player again.
But after a series of major mental errors in some of the big tournaments last year, he had to find some way of reducing the things that cause him to lose concentration when standing over the ball.
He explained: “I had two big waggles, which, with those waggles, sometimes the club would twist in my hand. And because they were such big waggles, on some of the tighter, slippier fairways, I’d be worried about touching the ball, so sometimes I wouldn’t be within two inches off, the ball when addressing it.
“Also, the big waggles meant I looked up quite a lot with my body, so I lost my alignment. So I got distracted by my alignment, by the club face, as in how it was sitting. Obviously I could waggle and put the clubface down behind the ball in practice but when you’re under pressure …
“I remember at Hoylake a few years ago when it was slippy, you didn’t want to put the clubface within three inches of the ball because you were afraid of it moving. Obviously, because I was waggling a lot, I was getting distracted by it.”
Torrance has always advocated the use of the legs in the swing but Harrington has not moved away from that philosophy.
“No it’s all about the legs and the coil is there. I’m just not starting with the legs at the start of my backswing,” he said. “Last year I tried to reduce my hip turn but this is why I need Bob because, as he always says, you can’t hold anything back.
“This year I’m just starting the sequence differently so my hip turn comes later, so hip turn will not be reduced. It will look like it’s reduce but physically I’m not stopping my hips turning … it’s just they’re turning later in the swing, which means they are not turning as much. I am starting the swing by taking the club away with my arms.
“I like that. I notice where my knee will squat half an inch, where it used to squat maybe two inches, so it’s not gone. I actually quite like not waggling but I sometimes look up three times, which is going to be a distraction in itself until I get used to that.”
He’s not expecting to shoot the lights out straight away but hopes that he can bed in the changes through tournament play as he plays eight events before the Masters in April starting with back to back appearances in next week’s Abu Dhabi Championship and the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions in Bahrain the following week.
“There are always going to be teething problems when you bring these things out,” he said. “It’s like being a soccer player and spending six weeks learning how to kick the ball with your left foot.
“The first time the ball comes in during a match, you automatically try and switch it onto your stronger foot. How many times have we seen a soccer striker and wonder why he tried to switch it onto his strong foot. It’s hard to move away from it until you truly become adept at it.”
Often wild off the tee, he’s making the changes so he can hit more fairways and greens, explaining: “I’m definitely looking for more accuracy with the driver and obviously, I’m always looking for a quality strike with the irons.”
However, he hasn’t changed his character and he is still keen to put something back into the game. As the R&A’s first ‘Working for Golf Ambassador’ he will coach young people in R&A-funded golf development programmes, appear in Rules of Golf multimedia productions, promote the etiquette of the game, take part in biomechanical equipment testing sessions and support the work of the R&A Foundation as he travels the world.
R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson with Padraig HarringtonHe said: “There is no better sport for teaching young people the virtues they need to run their lives. Anyone who plays the game knows how important it is to stick the rules and the etiquette of the game.”
Harrington will celebrate his 40th birthday in August but he laughed off suggestions that he is on the slippery slope and insisted that he’s excited about the season ahead.
“I am always like this in January but I have never been more optimistic about my game and I truly think the best years are ahead of me,” he said. “I still feel like I am a young man and I am fitter and stronger than I have been at any stage of my life.
“I may be going into my 40th year but it won’t be too long before we are saying that I am going into my 50th year, so we will have to reflect at that stage.”
Feeling ultra-positive about the new campaign, he said: “If you offered me one win during the year I’d say no thank you. At the end of the year I might take your hand off but at the moment no, I’d want more.
“One major would make it a great year. But I wouldn’t take just one win and I’m keen to get out there and have a bumper year with plenty of wins.”