Mortality a reality for the living legend that is Pádraig Harrington

Mortality a reality for the living legend that is Pádraig Harrington

Pádraig Harrington

Pádraig Harrington might have done it all in the game but he knows he has another 22 years to go before he can ride off gracefully into the sunset.

As five-time winner Tom Watson prepares to say goodbye to The Open at St Andrews this week, Harrington must desperately search inside himself for the key that will unlock a dream win at the Home of Golf.

With two Claret Jugs and three Majors on his CV, the truth is that the 43-year old has achieved everything he ever dreamt of doing in the game.

He almost wishes he was like old footballers, who are quickly ushered into retirement the minute the “lose a yard of pace.”

But the Dubliner also knows that the “pace” excuse is just a cover up for players have done everything they had to do.

Living up to everyone’s expectations, including his won, is tough. 

But Harrington admits that he’ll still have butterflies as he chases major No 4 on the most iconic course in the game where Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods have raised that old Claret Jug to the heavens.

“I still love playing golf,” Harrington said. “But I can’t play the same way I played 7 or 8 years ago; that’s the nature if the game — I’m a different person. 

“There’s no innocence in me whatsoever. 

“You dream, but it’s a different kind of thing. When it comes to golf I’d be much more cynical than I was as a kid, wandering around thinking I was going to find all the answers.”

Harrington knows he can never know all the answers but that doesn’t stop him trying to find them.

Footballers like Barça’ s Xavi Hernandez or Juventus’ Andrea Pirlo have had to say goodbye this year and head for cash rich retirement in Qatar or the MLS.     

But there’s no real hiding place for golfer as they wind down their career.

Carnoustie 2007 - Pádraig Harrington ends a 60-year wait for an Irish major victory.  Picture courtesy: David Cannon

Harrington explained: “Just think of any of the guys that have won Majors… Faldo, Woosie, Lyle, Seve, Olazabal, you just pick any of them. Once they achieve their goal it’s hard to keep going. 

“Pick guys in another sport  — after 19 years of a career you’d be allowed to retire gracefully.

“People would just say ‘ah, he lost a yard of pace’. Instead of trying to analyse to the Nth degree. 

“How many times have you heard that to describe a guy who’s allowed retire, go out to the States or something like that?  Unfortunately with golf you don’t get that excuse.”

Harrington has no intention of retiring just yet and still craves the edge that will get him the zone coming down the stretch

Serena Williams said she didn’t need to Wimbledon again, Harrington is in a similar position but after 20 years as a pro, he’s had his best years.

“The difference is I want to win but I don’t have to win,” he said. “The deep down need is much more internal, not that you’re trying. 

“When you look at soccer players, it isn’t a yard of pace, it’s about genuinely achieving what they set out to do. They are all starting17-18 years of age. 

“There will always be an exception. Sometimes you might find that Woosie’s career was that bit longer as he took longer to get there. If you start at 16 in pro golf, you could be finished at 36. 

“If you start at 20 you could be finished at 40. That has to be taken into consideration, the intensity that someone is playing at. 

“Golf is unique in that you tend to see the player as he is tapering off.  It’s a very long hard road. You can name every single one of them. Very hard to find one that sustains it and passed it, and is competitive in the limelight.”    

Still, there will be butterflies in Harrington’s stomach as he heads out on Thursday with China’s Wenchong Liang and Scotland’s Marc Warren

Looking ahead  he said: “I’ll be waiting and nervous and excited and I’ll be wanting to perform and play. The great thing with me is that I know, if I can get myself in the hunt, I actually get better.”

The Old Course is a place where he has won two Alfred Dunhill Links titles and while the current soft conditions will bring back memories of those wins, there are still holed that frighten him to death.

He said: “I am still scared of my life of the tee shot on the 14th and the tee shot on the 17th. 

It’s hard to make the fairway now  if the wind is into you on the 14th — it’s 18 yards wide with out of bounds down the right. That’s a tough hole. 

“The 17th is much tougher now. With the new back tee, if it is any way cold you can’t afford to mishit it in any way down the right hand side. Whereas off the front tee, it was three wood and nine iron at times. 

“Length is a factor. It makes the course easier if you hit it long but if you hit it straight it's not an issue either. It's just easier if you hit it long, you can carry the trouble.”

Putting is always the great equaliser at St Andrews and that’s an area where Harrington can still proceed the goods under the kosh.

His game has been poor since he won the Honda Classic but he also knows he can produce some magic when the heat is on.

“I still hold out hope that it is possible to find it,” he said of his game. “The Honda gives me hope that it is possible to find it and it can work at short notice, but I do need to find some peace out there. 

“It’s completely internal. It’s completely in my own thinking, without a doubt.”