Harrington targets Walton Heath return after neck surgery; US Open Sectional

Harrington targets Walton Heath return after neck surgery; US Open Sectional
Pádraig Harrington hopes to be back for US Open Sectional qualifying at Walton Heath on May 29

Pádraig Harrington hopes to be back for US Open Sectional qualifying at Walton Heath on May 29

Pádraig Harrington will undergo surgery for a trapped nerve in his neck on Wednesday morning but hopes to return in time to try and qualify for the US Open on May 29.

The 45-year-old Dubliner has been struggling for power since injuring his neck during last year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

But after trying every course of treatment possible to avoid going under the knife, he now faces nine weeks on the sidelines after today’s operation at the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

"It is definitely the right choice," Harrington said. "It is a good time because I am not in the Masters. So I will be back for the US Open, if I qualify, and I will fit to play in the Irish Open and The Open. 

"Clearly, the time of the year to be fit is in mid-summer."

Harrington has suffered neck problems in the past but this is a new injury and he has found it impossible to release the trapped nerve between the C6 and C7 vertebrae at the base of his neck.

"This is completely new," he said. "I hurt it at the Olympics. I had all the treatment, but I couldn't get it to settle down, and it just got worse. 

"Normally my neck problems were left sided but this was on the back side of my neck. I pinched a nerve there.

"Two weeks after the Olympics I lost power. I played with Bernd Wiesberger at the Olympics and I was hitting it 20 yards past him. Then I played with him a month later and he was 30 yards past me. Something was amiss.

"At the time I was exasperated, and I put it down to biorhythms and age and things like that, but it never came back." 

He added: "I can't compete that way. It hurt more in the irons. You can do stuff with the driver to be more efficient and get it out there. But with the irons, it's a struggle. In LA it hit a four wood on the ninth 195 yards. When you can't hit your four iron 200 yards in the air, it is a tough ask.  There are guys who are short hitters who deal with that every week but I certainly don't want to be dealing with it." 

Harrington did not opt for surgery without exploring all avenues.

"I've tried everything and it hasn't worked," confessed the three-time major winner, who felt that delaying surgery any longer would jeopardise his chances of recovering in time to play in his home Open at Portstewart and The Open at Royal Birkdale, the scene of his second major win in 2008.

“I’ve tried rest, I've tried physio and I've tried injections," Harrington said. "Obviously, the biggest issue for me is that if I waited any longer, I would miss out on The Open. 

"Assuming all goes well, I will be fit and healthy for Birkdale in July. But I will be targeting the US Open Qualifying as my comeback event.

"It is one of those things. I really had no choice at this stage. I guess I could have battled on, but no matter what, I would have been understrength and losing yards.

"It is bad enough to lose yardage off the tee, but when you are losing that distance with your irons, it's really difficult. I am probably one club shorter with my irons than I should be.

"Clearly, I could battle away. But I can't practice and I can't overdo it. So it’s better that I have surgery now and play tournaments feeling 100 percent healthy, rather than just carrying on for the rest of the year playing 20 events where I am not quite right."

Ranked 157th in the world, Harrington missed last week's Valspar Championship and this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, putting paid to any hopes he had of qualifying for the Masters.

But he still hopes to play around 28 events this year and will resume his season by trying to qualify for the US Open at Walton Heath on May 29.

“It just means I will push my season later into the year [at the Fall Series and further afield],” said Harrington, who still hopes to play another 23 or 24 events this year.

And while he will miss the Shell Houston, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players, he’s looking forward to playing Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament for the first time since 2009.

As for the US Open, which will be played at Erin Hills in Wisconsin from June 15-18, he has opted to play in the 36-hole Sectional Qualifier at Walton Heath rather than one of the US Sectional qualifiers on June 5. 

“It would be easier to go straight to one of the qualifiers in the US the week after The Memorial but as I know the course at Walton Heath, it’s the best option for me,” he said.