"He's waiting to play well to love the game, but he needs to love the game and then wait to play well"

"He's waiting to play well to love the game, but he needs to love the game and then wait to play well"
Pádraig Harrington. Picture: Fran Caffrey  www.golffile.ie

Pádraig Harrington. Picture: Fran Caffrey www.golffile.ie

Ambition is one thing, love is another.

In explaining what he thinks ails John Daly, the former US PGA and Open champion who shot 90 in his company in the second round of the Valspar Championship at Copperhead last Friday, Pádraig Harrington dismissed any notion that the Wild Thing had been a distraction in his own struggle to make the cut.

"He was perfectly fine to play with - very respectful, no issues at all in terms of golf," Harrington told AP's Doug Ferguson. 

Even though he said he was "in the toilet" when Daly got up and down for what he claimed was a "good" octuple bogey 12 at the 16th, Harrington said he could see that far from giving up, the always colourful American was trying hard. Maybe too hard. 

"But he didn't walk in. He didn't stop trying. He tried to hit the right shots on the last two holes. It didn't seem to us he was shooting that score."

For a man who hasn't won on the PGA Tour since he captured the most recent of his three majors at the 2008 US PGA — just a few months after the ailing Tiger Woods' most recent major win — the key to Daly's struggles is a question misplaced priorities.

"He's waiting to play well to love the game, but he needs to love the game and then wait to play well," Harrington said. "It's like he's trying too hard. If I was going to say anything, it's that he tries too hard. He's caring too much. I know that's not what people see."

Writing of the struggles of Harrington [pictured above with Daly in the first round of the 2010 US PGA at Whistling Straits] and Darren Clarke in the Irish Independent this week, Karl MacGinty made the point that "as long as ambition burns inside them" age need not be an issue for golfers of Harrington's or even Clarke's vintage.

It was a point well made and and yet as Harrington explained at the Valspar Championship this week, learning to accept the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is easier if you are doing something you love.

Harrington will often answer reporters' questions as he goes about his business in a practice round. Occasionally, as he prepares to tackle a particularly tricky situation, he might cast a glance in the direction.

"How would you fancy this?" he once asked a scribe at Royal Troon as he attempted to play a high tariff bunker shot from under the face of a cavernous trap.

"I'd love a go at that," came the reply from the only golfer on the property who clearly couldn't care less if he shot 65 or 165 as long as he pulled off one satisfying shot during the round.

When talking at Merion last June as he traipsed into the deep rough in search of a ball, he spoke of his attitude to tough courses.

[Below — As Tiger Woods withdrew to nurse his ailing back and try to get ready for the Masters, Pádraig Harrington was on the range at Bay Hill, working on another drill]

Told by one walking scribe that he'd long ago given up worrying about play well or terribly, it was simply a game to be enjoyed for the hell of it, he nodded and said: "That's a great way to play the game." 

Having watched him admire a high handicap colleague's determination "to go after it" off the tee in a pro-am despite his huge, raking slice, it's clear that Harrington loves what Dr Bob Rotella likes to call "unconscious" golf. 

After all, didn't Clarke claim that it was by going "unconscious" on the good doctor's advice that the won the 2011 Open Championship at Sandwich?

If Harrington continues "to go after it" for the sheer love of the game, he may finally get some reward for his unstinting efforts. Any other attitude would be tantamount to masochism.