Pádraig Harrington might be an easy target for the hecklers these days but he still feels more like Peter Pan than Captain Hook as he prepares to put on a charity clinic at The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin on January 20.
All the proceeds will be split between his charitable foundation and the ISPCC with Ticketmaster waiving their fees for the €45-a-ticket chance to pick up some pearls of wisdom from the three-time Major winner.
When it comes to the question of whether his best days are behind him, the world No. 337 remains firmly in the “Oh no they’re not” camp even if he does admit that he definitely peaked in 2008 and has just has his worst season in 19 years as a professional.
“Terrible,” he said. “Didn’t perform well at all. Most weeks I got the worst out of the week rather than the best out of the week… That’s relatively easy to change now that I am starting to putt better.
“But performance-wise, it was the worst performance I’ve had in my career, no doubt about it. I can go back to 2012 and that might have been a bit more disappointing because I played the best golf of my career and putted the worst, there was a big disparity in my game that year. I didn’t think I could get worse than 2013 but I did — 2014.”
Harrington grinned. His great strength is his ability to look on the bright side, which is a natural ability he’s turned into an art form.
“I have mantras about being myself, being happy, being lucky, staying optimistic,” he said of his tools for battling despair. “I have one called LOCH – it stands for Lucky, Optimistic, Carefree, Happy.
“I have lots of those little things. You have to remind yourself to stay upbeat. You never want to get sullen, you never want to be looking down at your feet, hands on your hips.
“You have to stand up straight, not allow yourself to rest on the bag, keep talking, keep smiling, keep chatting with the lads. All that sort of stuff helps you play well.”
Never mind Captain Hook or even captaining Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup, he’s determined to come back from Neverland as a golfer and believes Darren Clarke will, and should, get the skipper’s job at Hazeltine in 2016.
“I would have to say I am supporting Darren, absolutely,” said Harrington, who’s prepared to wait for a chance to captain. “I think he deserves it. He's been a big star in Europe for a long number of years, he's done a lot for European golf through the end of the 90s, early 2000s and I think he'll do a good job.”
Despite a year that’s seen him fail to qualify for the Masters and the US Open, lose his PGA Tour card, slither another 206 places down the world rankings, fail to qualify for the European Tour’s Final Series and miss a career record 13 cuts, he’s already begun his 2014-15 campaign in the US with a level optimism and innocence that wouldn’t look out of place amongst the younger pantomime attendees this Christmas.
“Look, I love the game of golf,” he said. “This is why I am doing the clinics. want to tell everybody about the game of golf.”
Joking, he added: “In the past I’ve charged six figures for this! I wouldn’t be charging six figures now.
“Anyone who turns up at this, I’d be shocked if they’re not blown away by what they learn. Whether they’ve played golf before, a beginner or elite players, they’ll improve their knowledge of golf, and be motivated and excited about going to play golf.
“Last time I did this, it took me six weeks to recover I got so buzzed.”
The Gaiety gig will come during his winter break but he’s still got three events to play this year — two on the PGA Tour and another unconfirmed event in Asia — he’s already shaking off the hangover of 2014
“I am putting lovely,” he said of recent form that has brought little in terms of results but a lot in terms of confidence. “I am, touch wood, five rounds without a three-putt which I probably haven’t done since 2011.”
Cut after three rounds in Las Vegas two weeks ago, he suffered a mild air scare when a piece fell off the private jet taking him to Sea Island last week, where he missed another cut.
Sky high expectations, he admitted, are still a problem.
“It is all duck or no dinner at the moment,” he confessed. “Maybe I am getting frustrated quickly because I am trying to win the tournament from the word go.
“These are the things I have to thrash out and figure out, because there are so many good things in my game, I have to thrash out where the roadblocks are, what is holding me up, certainly at times.
“But I feel optimistic. I feel good about it it. I certainly know what I want out of the game. Whether I can do it or not will be the next question but I’d certainly be reasonably assured about what I am trying to do.”
Getting out of his own way is still a challenge for Harrington, who admits that he plays his best when his mind is uncluttered and he simply goes out and plays.
One of his best performances of the year came in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he opened with a 66 that could have been several shots lower.
“I go onto the first tee now with much more confidence than I did in 2005-6-7, which is a strange analogy but that's the truth of it,” he said.
“I feel great going out there now because I understand so much more now. Back then I didn't understand stuff and in many ways, I was more fearful back then and now I don't have that fear.
“I don't get out of bed and think, what's going to happen. For example, I played well in the Dunhill at Carnoustie and one of the best shots I hit was off the first tee. I hit this magnificent three wood off the tee, down the middle with a little draw. Beautiful golf shot. Beautiful swing. But the reason I hit it well was I'd been doing a bit of practice going in but I really wasn't sure what I was going to hit off the first tee.
“I wasn't sure if I was going to hit a fade or a draw, I could hit it left in the burn or way right. It took me nine holes to build up a little bit of a repertoire of what to expect and then once I had the expectation, I started playing badly. I was five under after seven having missed two 12 footers (and bogeyed the last two). For eight and a half holes it was as good a golf as I had probably ever played.
“But once I had expectations... up to that I wasn't sure what was coming out of the bag here. A lot of that is... I'm just a different person.”
It would be easy to get down on yourself when things are going poorly but Harrington works hard at staying out of the doldrums. He smiles a lot and that’s deliberate.
“You have to be active in being upbeat, in smiling, in believing you’re lucky. All these things are very important on the golf course.
“You never want to get sullen, you never want to be looking down at your feet, hands on your hips… The sub-conscious mind takes everything as black and white so if you’re smiling, it believes you’re happy.”
The improvement in his putting came about simply by convincing himself that he’s the best green reader he knows.
“If I had a ten foot putt to win any tournament the only person I would want to read that putt is me. I was thinking I was struggling and reading the greens badly but then I said to myself if I had a ten footer to win I would never ask anyone else to read it.
“So ultimately whether I get it right or wrong I am my own boss and I will do it right more often than not.
“I trust myself far more. That one statement means I trust myself so much more.
“I have three events left this year (two on the PGA Tour and an unconfirmed start in Asia), I would like to have a ten foot putt to win one of them but you know what, I could sit here and say I would love to have a ten foot putt but if I miss it I will be going nuts, but that’s life, that is the way we are.”
Pro golfers lose their innocence over time but once the new season rolls around, Harrington will be as upbeat as a rookie and bouncing down the fairway with a smile on his face.
o to the Gaiety and he'll fill you in on some of the mental secrets that could make all the difference to your game.
"Do you know, if you hit your tee shot in the trees down the right on the first hole and you walk off the tee with a smile on your face, you’ll get a better lie than if you walk off grumpy?"
"Because when you get to your ball, if you’re grumpy you want see your options; if you’re grumpy, of the limited options, you’ll choose the wrong option.
"Of the wrong options, and limited options, you’ll executive it poorly when you’re grumpy. When you’re smiling, you’ll see all the options and you’re more likely to pick the right option, and execute it better when you’re in optimistic frame of mind."
He can think of no better example of this than Seve in the good old days.
"Seve Ballesteros in his hey-day, used to hit in the trees, he’d bounce down to that ball so excited he was going to the hit the greatest shot of all time. I played with him later in his career, and if he hit one in the trees and he’d have 10 practice swings before leaving the tee, trying to work out why he hit it there.
"Look at players today when they struggle, they start mimicking ‘oh I did this’ or ‘I did that’ but when they’re playing great they just want to hit the next shot.
"The child-like attitude is to run down there and look forward to the next shot, the adult attitude is: What do I do wrong? How did I hit it there?’"
If you don't satisfy your inner child at Peter Pan this Christmas, give a golfer hope and inspiration with a ticket for "An Evening with Pádraig Harrington."