Golfers, like most sportsmen, are often at their most interesting in moments of frustration or failure. Triumph is a quick high but the buzz soon wears off. In contrast, the pain of defeat, and the soul-searching it provokes, can often provide a deeper insight into the psyche of the top level athlete.
Pre-tournament chatter is never particularly informative as players lapse into a positive-thinking rap that rarely changes. It’s always about hope, good vibes and big dreams. It can’t be any other way.
At this week’s US PGA, Padraig Harrington will be hoping he continues to play well from tee to green. He will also be hoping he can get out of his own way and trust his reading of the greens and regain some lost confidence. His potential Ryder Cup skipper may be hoping he can get the win he needs to make the team for Medinah, but Jose Maria Olazabal spent more time giving reasons why Sergio Garcia should be in the team and a lot less time explaining the patently obvious - that Harrington “will have to really do extraordinary well here” to win a seventh cap because he thinks the Dubliner’s putting has let him down this year so far.
Zero new there. Olazabal said several months ago Harrington’s putting is below par and must improve. The problem is that despite some recent improvement on the greens, the Dubliner has been stuck in the same groove for more than 18 months or more.
Graeme McDowell is the arch-expert in the power of positive thinking but the weaknesses in his ball-striking have been shown up on the final day - in the final group of the last two majors and even he admits that he will have to make up for his lack of length at Kiawah Island’s Ocean course with clinical chipping and putting.
Again, he’s hoping it will all work out better than it did in the last round of the US Open and the Open:
“It was just a little bit of a lack of good ballstriking really on both days as opposed to anything else. But I take a lot of positives away. You know, it’s just building and building and putting myself there more often, knock on the door, and hopefully, some day I’ll bust one down again.”
Hopefully nobody will ask McDowell any more awkward questions about who he wants to represent in the Olympic Games in 2012. He said recently that he hopes someone will make that decision for him. Frankly, it’s time to bite the bullet because no-one but McDowell can make that decision. The longer he leaves it, the more contentious a difficult the decision will become. Ditto for any other players with doubts about whether he should represent the poorly named “Team GB” or Ireland.
Back at the US PGA, much is expected of Rory McIlroy, who is the great white hope of world golf for many. It’s a burden he could certainly do without. Madly in love, richer than Creosus and just 23, he’s hoping he can win a few more majors over the next 25 years. Yet he also admits he’s got such high hopes for himself that he’s disappointed he hasn’t contended to win one of the five majors he’s played since he won the US Open in record-breaking fashion just over a year ago.
He’s been telling us since Congressional that he’s not the next Tiger Woods. But he does fancy his chances this week. Like Michael Hoey and Darren Clarke, he’s hoping his recent struggles will be erased from the memory bank, in his case by a fifth place finish at Firestone.
Yet he also knows that he won’t know if that’s true until he’s in the maelstrom of contention on Sunday. Hopefully.
Tiger Woods is hoping it all comes together and he plays like Tiger Woods.
Sure, new technology has made it easier for “some of the lesser players catch up to the better players”, as McIlroy said yesterday. Hopefully for Tiger, he’ll be the one sinking the putts and hitting all the fairways. Hopefully the weather holds up and the insects don’t bite.