Harrington changing little for 2013 - except his putting

Pádraig Harrington grinds on the line of his putt on the 13th green in the opening round of The Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieTwo years ago Pádraig Harrington made at least a dozen changes during his winter break. This year he’s focussed on just one thing - his putting.

While he’s made small adjustments in his putting technique during the season, most notably to his grip in the latter half of the year, the Dubliner has not had time to work intensively on the issue that’s left him winless on the game’s big tours since 2008 and caused him to fall out of the world’s top 50.

From tee to green, the statistics say he is hitting the ball better than ever yet he is averaging more than 30 putts per round and missing far too many putts inside 10 feet.

He says he’s not flumoxxed and has a plan he hopes will get him back on track and make him a putting assassin once more. 

“I need to putt better,” he said recently, ruling out a slew of changes similar to those he carried out at the end of 2010. “I’d be happy if I played golf like I played last year (2012).

Harrington’s left index finger was gripping the club during the final round of the US Open in June. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ie“Tee to green, I hit it further than I have in years. I hit is straighter than I have, hit my irons well, my wedges the best ever, my bunker shots the best ever. I chipped the difficult chips well, the simple chips not as well and my putting wasn’t as good. That’s my breakdown of the year.

“What am I changing? The only thing in my swing I am changing is my release a little bit with Pete Cowen, that’s about it. That’s why I am beating balls at the moment. I’ve been practicing my putting quite a bit.

“I have been working on my eyesight with a company in North Ireland. They worked with Darren for a while, stuff like that.”

Clarke and Alps Tour winner Gareth Shaw both turned to Ulster-based sports vision specialists SV:EYE to find a cure on the greens and Harrington has followed suit.

The company’s website lists many of the issues that have plagued Harrington in recent years - difficulty reading greens, distraction, pace… It even included a testimonial from an un-named golfer that said: 

“I am more aware of my surroundings and less distracted by other stuff going on around me. My concentration is about 85% better after just 6 weeks.”

What would Harrington give to be able to say that?

Harrington’s grip was different during the Portugal Masters in October. His left index finger is now down the shaft. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ie“I’m looking at my putting as a weakness,” he said. “I didn’t putt well this year and I was 13th in the stroke average in the States. I drove it so much better. The only time I didn’t drive it well was four tournaments Dunhill, Portugal, Singapore and Hong Kong and in all four events I changed the set up of my driver.

“One I changed the shaft and the other I changed the angle. In Portugal I put in a light shaft and yeah, it was a disaster. It was nice to make the mistake. I now know that the equipment is important. I’ve gone to a heavier shaft and just drive it so much better that way.”

Returning to his putting, he said: “I am not flummoxed. I have one technical and one mental thing that I am working on that will get me putting the way I want. I am happy enough that I have it under control.

“Up until the end of August I was struggling with my putting because I had no answer. I’d hit a bad putt and wonder, what am I working on, what am I doing. Whereas now I have two things to work on. I didn’t know what was up. Now I know one technical thing and one mental thing.

“The technical thing was that my putting stroke had got too long and slow, so that was pretty straightforward, especially my backswing.

“Mentally I have struggled to read the greens but I was allowing that struggle to affect my putting. I was more worried about my read and wasn’t committed enough.

“It was reasonably simple. It’s kind of like what Bernhard Langer told me at the Masters - you just have to accept that you can hit a good putt and miss.

“It’s a hard realisation. Just hit your good putts and understand that if you do that on average you will hole more rather than trying to hole every putt.

“Because of my lack of confidence in my reading, I was hitting too many weak putts. I don’t mean weak with pace, I mean they weren’t struck with authority. You can roll a putt with authority.”

Harrington mentioned his overly long backstroke in May but continued to second guess himself on the greens right to the end of the season.

It would be easy to argue that putting cost him his chance to win the Masters and the US Open this year but if he can find a way to get the ball in the hole again, it would be foolhardy to write him off as a major force.