A heavyweight Padraig Harrington in Hong Kong last Movember. Photo Jenny Matthews/www.golffile.ieThe moustache might have gone but Padraig Harrington is living up to his boyhood nickname of “Podge” right now having piled on the weight in a bid to gain even more distance off the tee.

The Dubliner, 41, returns to the scene of his European Tour debut in Durban 17 years ago with an appearance in the season-opening Volvo Golf Champions. And he does so looking bigger than ever - 20 lbs heavier - following a concerted effort to gain weight over the past six months.

Speaking to reporters at Durban Country Club, where he also touched on Rory McIlroy’s dilemma over the Olympic Games (he understands McIlroy’s problem but still believes it’s crucial that he plays in Rio), Harrington explained:

“There’s many reasons, but you know it’s very important in this day and age to hit the golf ball a long way. Power is based on speed. I have spent a long number of years working on the speed part of the equation.

So in the last, say, since the middle of the summer, probably the whole of last year, but since the summer, I concentrated more on the strength part of the equation; and hoping that if you can maintain the same speed, that would give more strength and obviously it should equate to more power. So it’s working on a different part of the equation.

There are things that I work on my game, I try and work on connection with my irons, having a bigger upper body won’t do you any harm in your golf swing, in my golf swing, anyway.”

Padraig Harrington makes sure he keeps up his calorie intake in Dubai last year. Photo Jenny Matthews/www.golffile.ieHarrington explained that he has made changes to his routines over his six-week winter break but he was again asked to comment on McIlroy’s latest pronouncements on his national identity and possible absence from Rio de Janeiro when golf returns for the first of two Games in 2016.

Asked if he felt any sympathy for McIlroy’s Olympic dilemma, Harrington said:

“Massive sympathy, massive sympathy as a Irishman and massive sympathy, more so as a sportsman. No sportsman should have to make that decision.

“That’s it, straightforward, nobody at 23 years of age should be asked to make that decision. And the reality is, there’s been people in politics for the last hundred years have tried to negotiate that and haven’t been able to negotiate it.

“So why would you ask a 23-year-old just because he’s going to hit a little white golf ball? It’s very unfortunate, and I think it is unfortunate in the sense that it means a big deal for golf for him to play.”

As an ambassador for the R&A and one of the players chosen to make golf’s Olympic proposal, Harrington knows that McIlroy’s presence is crucial if golf is to have credibility as an Olympic sport:

“It’s a very big deal because golf is only a trial period in the Olympics. We have two runs at it the next two Olympics, and we do, as golfers, have to perform and put our best foot forward. So it would be nice if the world No. 1 is there and he’s supporting the event. It’s an extraordinarily difficult decision. I really don’t know — unselfishly, I would say he’s probably making the right decision, what he said the other day was actually probably trying to let — for the game of golf, golfers need him to play. We need our best players to play in the Olympics to show that golf is serious in the Olympics.”

Harrington then referred to a point that Graeme McDowell has made several times - the administrators should take the matter out of the golfers’ hands and tell them who they must represent:

“It would be nice if the Olympic council would just clear up and say, here we go, you can play in the Olympics, or make the decision on their behalf. I don’t know.”

Yet Harrington also knows that that still won’t make everyone happy:

“There’s going to be no winner out of this one, whatever.”