When Padraig Harrington sacked longtime coach Bob Torrance in Killarney 11 months ago, bringing a 15-year father-son style relationship to a shuddering halt, he tried to explain why.
“I think it comes down to the fact that I want to spend more time working on my mental game and my short game than necessarily beating balls, which I would have done earlier on in my career,” the Dubliner said shortly before teaming up with Pete Cowen, who does very little work on the short game.
Whatever about that nugget and Torrance’s belief that finding it in the dirt is far more worthwhile than putting or talking to shrinks, there was a deeper, more fundamental disagreement between the now 80-year old Scot and his star pupil.
It’s nothing sinister, but why Harrington hasn’t explained it fully until just few days before what he admits will be an “awkward” reunion with his former coach in next week’s Scottish Open is anyone’s guess.
It’s all about shortening the backswing, injury prevention and fundamental differences of opinion that could never be resolved.
“I suspect and I hope that Bob is happy to see me playing well,” Harrington said from home, where he is recharing for Castle Stuart and another tilt at the Open. “When it comes to the changes I’ve made, Pete has encouraged me to as regards my shoulder injuries, to work within those things and to work within some of the stuff that I do in the gym to shorten my golf swing. Little things like that.”
Torrance hated Harrington’s short backswing, which first manifested itself in 2009. Harrington denied he was doing it.
“You know, it’s not that one man is right and one man is wrong,” Harrington insisted. “You need a different view on things, and Bob would be a great believer that Mother Nature shortens your golf swing and that you shouldn’t go down that road. Pete was quite happy to tighten up my golf swing in that sense.
“It’s somewhere I was thinking of going, and certainly with Bob, we discussed it many times, and ultimately, maybe that’s where I wanted to go. I needed to step away, because you can’t do anything behind somebody’s back and you can’t be committed to something unless everybody’s committed to something.
“It’s been difficult. Bob and June, I love their company and Bob has been like a father figure to me. I love his company. It’s awkward, and I miss his company in that sense.”
Harrington has always been careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings and while it is ovious that he has barely spoken to Torrance since their shock split last year, there is genuine warmth and respect in his voice when he speaks about the Largs coach.
Now with just one win in the last four years - a minor Asian Tour event in Malaysia nearly two years ago - Harrington appears ready to peak again. Eighth in the Masters, fourth in the US Open and seventh in the Irish Open last week, the 40-year old needs to win to complete the comeback he says never was in the first place.
“Come back from what?” he said in Augusta in April, explaining the the glory days of winning three majors in 13 months could never been maintained.
Those who believe he should never have left Torrance will recall the master’s words the day after his sacking:
“He has been going down one road that I think is the wrong one and he is determined to go down that road. I said to him, if you go down too far, you won’t come back. You cannot make changes at 40 in golf. You can make them when you are in your 20s, but once you get to 40, it is too late….
“He still says he works on exactly what I told him, except this one move he makes with his right elbow. He knows it’s wrong but he is determined to do it.”
Harrington looks a far more consistent and stronger player these days but whiile he’s contended recently to win two majors and the Irish Open, he’s lacking a confidence boosting win.
Asked if he felt he needed a win to prove to himself that he was right to make his swing changes and dump Torrance, Harrington said:
“I personally don’t need it. You know, I personally will persevere. I’ve made many changes in my golfing career and I continually change. I made a substantial change after the U.S. Open two weeks ago going into Travelers. So it’s just my nature. I will change all the time. I don’t need the results all the time; as in, I don’t have to have results to prove it. But I think it would be valid to say that you do need wins every so often in order to ease the pressure, let’s say, the external pressure. Yes, a win would be very important for me. I believe it’s coming.”
Never a man to be pinned down, Harrington went on to say that winning the Scottish Open next week would be a two-edged sword with the Open the following week.
“I don’t need to win a tournament,” he said. “I need to be in contention. I’ve done that the last couple of weeks and hopefully I can do that.
“Being in contention is the same, your mind is going the same way. Winning, if anything, winning the Scottish Open would make it harder the following week because winning takes a lot out of you…
“Winning the Scottish Open, it would have its pluses, no doubt about it. And if I win the Scottish Open, I would be telling you exactly the reason why it’s going to help me win The Open… If it doesn’t go well for me, I’ll be able to discount it. If it goes well, well, I’d say that shows more of the same.”
It’s all about mind games for Harrington and he’s a master of that art.
“We have got to create a reality no matter what,” he explained. “We have got to create our own reality going into any tournament, and so whatever happens at the Scottish Open, come Monday morning, I’ll be putting a positive spin on it going into or even if I did win it, maybe I would be playing it down a little bit going into The Open.
“You know, we’d be telling you little fibs when it comes to the week of the tournament just to get our game in the right place… not that I’d ever tell fibs!”
After finishing 14th on his major debut at Royal Lytham in 1996 and 27th in 2001, Harrington will go to Royal Lytham telling himself he loves the place.
“I would definitely be erring on the side of loving Lytham, even though it can be a real tough golf course.”
Tough and love in the same sentence. That’s something Torrance will recognise.