If there was ever any doubt that Padraig Harrington is a sponsor’s dream, he proved it in the Biggest Little City in America last night.
The Dubliner would prefer to be in steamy Akron playing for mega money and some badly needed world ranking points. Instead, he’s made the trek three hours futher west to Reno, Nevada, and confessed that he might even play a little blackjack in the gambling city.
Harrington has gambling in his blood. His late father Paddy was a legendary poker player among his colleagues on the Irish police force, the Garda. His mother worked in a a bookies at one stage, while his brother Tadhg was a professional bookmaker for a spell.
His cousin Dan, 66, is “a professional poker player, best known for winning the main event world championship at the 1995 World Series of Poker,” according to Wikipedia. “He has earned one World Poker Tour title, two WSOP bracelets, and over six million dollars in tournament cashes in his poker career. He is also a member of the Poker Hall of Fame.
Asked if he’d had any gambling tips from his cousin, Harrington broke into a wide grin. He’s a big fan of the game but he’s nobody’s fool.
“Yeah, well, I kind of take the attitude that don’t play with Dan,” Harrington said. “That would be the best tip… I don’t think I’ll be sitting down to play any poker this week. One, I haven’t got time; two, I would be a little bit intimidated. Maybe I’ll play some blackjack.”
Harrington is one of 39 players over 40’s in the field who will be battling to adjust to the modified stableford format at Montreux Golf and Country Club for the Reno-Tahoe Open.
It’s 5,000 ft above sea level and in a different time zone to next week’s US PGA at Kiawah Island on the South Carolina coast.
Hardly ideal preparation for a major but as far as harrington is concerned, anything that keeps him concentrating with a pencil in hand and away from the practice ground is good news.
“I always play the week before a major,” Harrington said. “If I was to practice at home I would get all mixed up. I just wouldn’t be competitive for next week if I didn’t play this week.
“So I did a long week’s work last week, and now I’m trying to get my game game‑ready, really. I want to be competitive.
“When you hit a lot of shots you’re breaking down some of your competitive instinct; whereas on the golf course you’ve got one chance, card in your hand, and you’ve got to get your mind in the right place.
“This is what it’s all about… I know it’s a little awkward coming three hours time difference from where we’re going to play the PGA at Kiawah Island next week. It’s a little awkward traveling back on Sunday night. But saying that, I would rather be competitive, and Reno gives me that opportunity. That’s the most important thing.”
As for the format - eight points for an albatross, five points for an eagle, two points for a birdie, nothing for a par, minus one for a bogey and minus three for a double bogey - Harrington knows that missed birdie putts will hurt more than usual this week. Yet give the possibility of a four or five point swing on any given hole, he had some interesting theories.
“You could come down the last‑‑ I’m trying to think through the scenario. If you can come through the last here and play the hole okay, you know, make five and some guy is four points behind you and passes you. You never lose a four‑shot coming down the last, but you could easily lose a four‑point lead.
And vice versa. If you’ve got more than a five‑point and certainly more than and eight‑point lead, you could pick your ball up going down the last and just wave at the crowd. That would be an interesting one, wouldn’t it?”
Harrington reckons Reno has a unique selling point on tour but he probably got a little carried away with his other ideas in this PC world at a time of economic austerity for most ordinary people.
“I’ve often said when we come to a casino town like Reno, there should be a wheelbarrow of cash on the 18th green and they should be handing it out in real money rather than cheques into the accounts. You got to think when you come to a casino town that it’s a little bit like that.
“Maybe we should have a few dancing girls down the side of the fairways. Who knows? You got to have something different and set yourself apart. As I said, Reno is doing that by having the Stableford points. I never played the Colorado event, but a lot people, you know, wish they had that event.
“Reno can fulfill that spot and set themselves apart, as I said, in a town like this where it is a casino town and it is already different.”
As for playing at altitude, Harrington confessed that learning the game at Stackstown would not be any help, which will draw a wry smile from those who joke that the hilly Dublin course is best tackled with oxygen and crampons.
“My golf course is in the Dublin mountains. If any of you have ever been there, you mightn’t have noticed them. I’m sure it’s about 300 feet of elevation where I am, so we don’t really have ‑‑ we have a couple mountain ranges, but they would be called hills if they were in the U.S.”