From the bunkered archives we bring you this superb 2000 interview with a young 28-year-old Padraig Harrington. He talks of setting goals, his early career in golf and his own personal memories of Brookline.
Interview Jock MacVicar
Photos Getty Images
“If you looked at my 25th goal for the year, you’d say I was mad.” Padraig Harrington most certainly is not mad, and he is not foolhardy enough either to disclose to the world - even bunkered - what the ultimate goal is, or indeed, the nature of most of the other 24.
However, the 28-year-old Dubliner, with the infectious smile and distinctive gait, insists that at the beginning of every year he writes down a series of targets. Some will be met, others will not, and the 25th for the year 2000? Well, as he admitted just before the Murphy’s Irish Open at Ballybunion, “It’s close to impossible.”
Still, Harrington is the sort of person who thrives on challenges and is prepared to sacrifice a great deal to get to where he wants to be in professional golf. Last year he embarked on a fitness regime so intensive that it left him almost too spare. But this is typical Harrington. When he makes up his mind to do something, he does it to the very limit of his capacity.
“Ever since school and college days I’ve always been trying to learn,” he says. “I like to learn. I suppose you could say it is my trait.”
In fact, Harrington’s hunger for knowledge could have led him up an entirely different career path.
As a youngster in Dublin, through his primary and early secondary school years, he was accomplished in many sports. He was the captain of his school gaelic football team and had trials for the Dublin schoolboys’ soccer team as a goalkeeper. He wasn’t too dusty at the hurling either.
I like to learn. I suppose you could say it is my trait. Padraig Harrington
However, golf always had been a possibility. He had a club in his hand at the age of four, and at seven he was given a cut-down set of clubs.
What clinched it for golf was that his father Paddy, a policeman in Dublin, was a founder member of Stackstown Golf Club. This opened the doors wide to the royal and ancient game, and by the time he was 15 Padraig was irreversibly on the other side.
At 13 he had a handicap of 19, at 14 it was down to 14, at 16 he was 1 and at 17 scratch. Many youngsters have a much lower handicap in their early teens, but that was when Harrington was experimenting with other sports. When golf finally was given top billing, his capacity to learn quickly saw him come down from 14 to scratch in three years.
“By the time I turned professional in 1995 I had a handicap of plus 3,” he said. “ I had just played in my third Walker Cup and my intention was to get my tour card then see how far I could go from there.
“Fortunately, I started very well, winning the Spanish Open and Irish PGA Championship the following season. It was a surprise to me. But, yes, I was doing quite nicely. After two and a half years, though, I realised I would have to improve a few things.
“That’s when I went to Bob Torrance. It was during the Loch Lomond tournament. I had known Bob from my amateur days, and I’d also heard a lot of good things about him from other players.
“Bob has been fantastic. He has changed my swing a lot. We pros tend to want the whole solution at the start, but wisely Bob always says, ‘One sip of medicine at a time.’”
Discipline and good, sound sense are key elements in Harrington’s make-up. On leaving school at the age of 18 he did not gamble straightaway on professional golf. Instead, he went to college and at 23 passed his final exams in accountancy.
Like Tiger Woods, who went to Stanford University, and Colin Montgomerie, a graduate of Houston Baptist University, Harrington possesses a nimble and receptive mind, a quality which has helped Woods to the top of the world and Montgomerie to the peak in Europe for seven seasons.
Now this engaging Dubliner is beginning to flourish similarly. He has attained a number of his 25 goals, including winning two tour events, the Spanish Open and this year’s Brazil Sao Paulo 500 Years Open. He also achieved, first, a top-50 place in the world rankings, then a top-40. Today he is in the 30s.
He has played on four occasions in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews and four times in the World Cup, partnering Paul McGinley to a famous victory for the Shamrock at Kiawah Island in 1997.
Padraig Harrington: Fresh memories of Brookline, 1999
More world recognition came in the Ryder Cup at the Country Club, Brookline last September when, somehow, he kept his head amidst the mayhem that followed Justin Leonard’s outrageous putt against Jose Maria Olazabal, to beat Mark O’Meara by one hole.
“The Ryder Cup gave me a lot of confidence,” said Padraig. “The pity was that the team didn’t win because the spirit in the Cup was great.”
As we all know, the match was marred by the loutish behaviour of some of the spectators. Montgomerie suffered so grievously from foul-mouthed hecklers that his father walked off the course before the turn on the final day.
Fortunately for Harrington, he was not a target. An Irishman in Boston wouldn’t be, would he now?
“For the first nine holes I had more support than Mark O’Meara, very loud support,” he recalls with amusement.
As for the captain, Mark James’s subsequent comments in his autobiography, Into the Bear Pit, Harrington voices some concern.
“I didn’t know he was writing a book,” said Padraig. “But it’s written now. It’s done and dusted. However, I don’t think future captains should be allowed to write about behind-the-scenes matters.
“I didn’t know he was writing a book But it’s written now. It’s done and dusted. However, I don’t think future captains should be allowed to write about behind-the-scenes matters. Padraig Harrington on Mark James' Brookline book
“Players won’t feel free to put their points forward if we know it is going to be written about. It will affect how players react if they know it will get into print. They will become more defensive.
“Don’t get me wrong. James was a great captain in Boston. The team spirit was tremendous, and without a doubt that was due to Mark and his two assistants, Sam and Ken .
“Mark would have been a hero if we’d won the match. He tried something that didn’t come off. People will live and die from Mark’s experience.
“He made a brave decision. It wasn’t a cop-out, and we did go into the final day with a four-point lead.
“It was a valiant attempt that didn’t quite come off. But every player had the chance to speak on the singles line-up on Saturday night and, to my knowledge, there were no dissenters.”
When he was maturing as a golfer in Dublin, Harrington was a keen observer of the local golfing talent. Mostly, he learned to become a better player by watching his peers and concentrating on their strong points. He also had broader horizons.
“I admired Seve Ballesteros’s flair and Bernhard Langer’s concentration and patience,” he says.
Now there’s a thing. In golf patience is a key quality, and Padraig had to have it in almost superhuman quantities that fateful morning in May during the Benson and Hedges International Open at the Belfry when the awful news was relayed to him on the practice range by tour official, Andy McFee, that he had broken one of the game’s most basic rules.
Because of a total mix-up involving his two playing partners, Michael Campbell and Jamie Spence, Harrington failed to countersign his first-round card for a 71.
When he was confronted on the practice ground, he was five shots ahead of the field, following a record third round of 64. A first prize of £166,600 and third place in the Order of Merit awaited him were he – as expected – able to hang on to the lead.
But, because Rule 6.6b had been contravened, he was out there and then – no prize-money, no trophy, no Order of Merit or world-ranking points, and no course record.
In similar circumstances, many sports people would have reacted furiously. Can you imagine anyone in football or tennis handling the situation with such understanding, with such dignity? I think not.
Harrington’s stock as an exemplary sportsman rose even higher when he called a shot on himself on the 9th green at Pebble Beach, just as he was about to move on to the leaderboard for the first time in the US Open.
He had a 10-foot putt for a par and, having addressed the ball, it moved its position. Nobody else saw what happened, but the Irishman called the penalty. “Trouble is, these things come in threes – and that’s two,” he commented ruefully at the time.
The galling thing about the Belfry incident was that it was discovered purely by accident, the hotel having asked for a copy of the record card for display purposes.
Immediately afterwards the Belfry people indicated that the record score of 64 would stand. However, it seems it does not.
“The tour hasn’t recognised it,” said Padraig. “And that hurts me more than being disqualified and losing the prize-money and the points.
“I’ve got over all that. But it is annoying that my 64 does not stand. It was done in competitive circumstances. To me, it should be recognised.”
Many will argue that his 64 at the Belfry is his best competitive round Padraig probably remains more proud of the 67 he returned in the third round of the Spanish Open at Club de Campo in 1996.
“Because of all the rain, I had to wait 48 hours holding a three-shot lead,” he explained. “I was under a lot of pressure, but I shot 67. I’ve had 63s at the Lancome Trophy and the Heineken Classic but, because of the circumstances in Spain, I’d rate that my best round.”
Perhaps it is because he is Irish, I wouldn’t know, but, while Harrington prefers parkland courses, he performs better on links.
In Ireland he has both kinds of courses in abundance with great links such as at Portmarnock, Ballybunion, Royal Portrush and Royal County Down and stunning, new inland venues such as Mount Juliet and the K Club.
“I can’t see past Royal Portrush myself,” says Padraig. “And, if it’s a parkland course you’re looking for in Ireland, you can’t beat the Jack Nicklaus-designed Mount Juliet course.
“OK, I’m attached to the place, but, to be honest, it has set the standard for others to follow. The conditions are unbelievable. It is one of Nicklaus’s best.
“Outside Ireland I’d love to go back to Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire to see if it is as good as I remember it when I played it as an amateur. It was just wonderful. Unfortunately, it is not on our tour schedule.”
As for favourite holes, Padraig has so many it would take a whole page to name and describe them. “There’s one that immediately springs to mind because I played it only a few weeks ago – the 5th at Pebble Beach,” he says.
“To put in a hole as good as that on a course with such a reputation – as Jack Nicklaus did – is a tremendous feat. It is an absolute beauty.”
The more you talk with Harrington, the more you realise that here is a young man with a very big future.
When he turned professional, he was not bombarded by the sort of hype that, so far, has stunted the talents of the likes of Justin Rose and Gordon Sherry. Steadily, he
has become a significant figure in world golf. Finishing equal fifth with Lee Westwood in the US Open is, I feel sure, only the start.
“I’d certainly have taken fifth place before going over to the States,” says Padraig. “But the way things worked out I was a bit disappointed. I could have done a little better. I had the chance to finish second on my own.”
Over the next few years he will have the chance of many firsts, the majors included.