The F-word is never far from Padraig Harrington’s lips these days.
He finds his current battle to get back to golf’s top table to be “fascinating, frustrating and even fun.”
“All the F’s,” he adds with a grin. But he’s so far resisted the temptation to let fly with a four-letter F-word as he languishes at 37th in the world rankings.
Harrington isn’t just fascinated with his own inability to resist the addiction that plagues all the game’s top players - the temptation to find the holy grail that will help them improve in a sport where the finest of margins define the difference between winning and losing.
His current plight came home to him in recent weeks as he listened to players like Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell wrestle with the idea that they are now among the game’s top four players, according to the world rankings at least.
Having reached a career high of world number three following his third major win in the US PGA at Oakland Hills, the now 39 year old Dubliner wondered if he really was the third best player in the world and took a step back to reflect.
He did the same when he got to 14th in the world, eighth in the world and especially to sixth in the world following his maiden major victory in the Open at Carnoustie in 2007.
He made changes to his swing to try and get better and live up to his new status as a golfing icon and as he prepares to tee it up in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral tomorrow, he’s simply waiting for his fifth coming.
“It’s fascinating,” Harrington says of his quest for the Holy Grail. “Can we get better? Can we improve? It is very interesting. I am listening to a number of the European players who have gotten their world ranking up to their highest point ever and a lot of them are coming back with very similar statements to when I got to that level.
“Luke and Graeme both say, I am three or four or better in the world, I don’t know if I quite deserve this. They are not sure that they feel comfortable there and it may be the second time they get there that they feel comfortable.
“Certainly for me, I got to those positions, and moved away from them and came back to them before I felt ‘okay, I deserve this’ or ‘I am good enough to be world No 3’.
“You say to yourself, I’m ranked better than such and such a person. I can’t believe that. It’s very similar for all players. When I got to 14th, eighth, sixth and three in the world, I said each time, ‘Wow, this is bit much’ and I backed away from it. Then I got back to and said, I am good enough to be here.”
Harrington admits that he stood back at the end of 2008 and is still trying to get back to playing like a world number three. And while he is not in a technical slump, he’s clearly finding it difficult to be patient when in contention and turn solid starts to tournaments in big results.
“I have been going backwards on a Sunday instead of forwards and that’s always the sign of a guy who is trying just a little bit too hard and it is not happening,” he said of his recent tendency to hit reverse gear when in the mix. “But the good news is that I am certainly happy with the changes I’ve made and it is much more now about the good stuff.”
The reason he made those changes in the first place is the key to understanding what makes Padraig Harrington tick.
“If I was wise in hindsight, I would have been economical with the truth,” Harrington said of living his changes in the full glare of publicity. “When I won in 2007 at Carnoustie, I won playing with a draw. But I hated my tee shot on the 72nd hole so much I changed to play with a fade the following year and won two majors playing with a fade.
“Then I drove it so badly on the back nine at the US PGA, again I wanted to change. So I changed after 2007 but nobody really knew. Then I won two majors and I changed again but foolishly probably told people I was changing. That puts a lot of focus and pressure on that change, whereas to be honest, it was not different to what I had done any other year.”
Harrington needs a string of decent results to relieve some of the pressure he has been exerting on himself. And while he knows he’s close to clicking again, he realises that he has to just let it happen.
“It’s easy to know it and understand it but it is a lot harder to do,” he said after a nine-hole practice round with his mental coach Dr Bob Rotella alongside him. “You have to manage the situation and sometimes I can overdo it, that’s for sure.”