Sunday, July 22, 2007

Responding to His Biggest Challenge

Sports of The Times
July 23, 2007

Carnoustie, Scotland

Padraig Harrington had splashed two golf balls into the Barry Burn on the 72nd hole of this 136th British Open at Carnoustie. But after the clutch shot of his life, a wedge from about 50 yards to 4 feet, he holed that putt to salvage a double-bogey 6. Having wasted a one-stroke lead and maybe blown the tournament, some golfers would have frowned and moped off the green. Harrington, however, saw his 3-year-old son, Paddy, running toward him, and he smiled as if seeing little Paddy was all that mattered.

Soon Harrington, a 35-year-old Irish pro, was in the scorer’s room watching television as Sergio García, coming down the final hole, needed only a par 4 to win. Outside, Harington’s wife, Caroline, sat in a golf cart with little Paddy, a radio earphone in her left ear, and she listened as García played the final hole.

“Three-iron,” she said quietly. Moments later, “It’s in the left bunker,” but with a sad smile, she added, “He’s Spanish, he’ll get it up and down.” If he did, García would win. But now she said, “It’s seven and a half feet past.” After a few minutes, as a groan erupted back near the green, she said, “He missed.” And she closed her eyes.

Her husband and García would be in a playoff, and Caroline, five months pregnant with their second child, said, “I wasn’t nervous before, but I am now.”

Just then, Harrington emerged from the scorer’s room. He kissed his wife, then she turned and said, “Paddy, do you want to give Daddy a kiss?” Paddy soon was up on the practice green, running around as his father swung a driver to loosen up for the four-hole playoff that would begin on the first hole, then move to the 16th, 17th and 18th holes.

Between swings, Harrington turned to Bob Rotella, his golf psychologist. Lifting his arms, Harrington said, “Any time you see my hands like this, I’m raising the claret jug.”

And about 45 minutes later, Harrington was raising the claret jug. With a 7-iron to 8 feet and a birdie putt on the first hole, he grabbed a two-stroke lead on García, who had bunkered his approach. After each parred the next two holes, they returned to the hole Jean Van de Velde butchered in the 1999 Open with a triple-bogey 7 that wasted his three-stroke lead before Paul Lawrie won a four-hole playoff.

Harrington played the hole more carefully this time, using a hybrid club off the tee, an iron short off the Barry Burn and a pitch to about 35 feet left of the cup.

But García, on the green in two and about 20 feet away, would force an extra hole if he holed his birdie putt unless Harrington made his putt.

Harrington’s putt, moving faster than he planned, slid 3 feet past the cup. García’s putt missed, then he tapped in for par. But if Harrington missed his bogey putt, the playoff would continue. Slowly, he lined it up, hunched over the ball, then stroked it into the heart of the cup. And soon little Paddy was running up to his father, who picked him up and hugged him.

As Harrington waited for the claret jug ceremony, he hugged Caroline, then talked with Rotella.

“When I made that pitch shot,” he told Rotella, referring to the wedge that positioned the tying 4-foot putt on the 72nd hole, “everything I ever needed to know about myself, I just found out.”

That pitch shot (and the 4-foot putt, of course) for a 6 instead of a triple-bogey 7 was the difference.

“If he makes 7 there, that makes it easier for Sergio to play the 72nd hole, and a 7 would have taken Andrés Romero into a possible playoff,” Caroline said, referring to a little-known 26-year-old Argentine who shot 67 with 10 birdies. “But the thing about Padraig is that he never gives up.”

Harrington earned an accountancy degree in Dublin and wasn’t thinking of turning pro until he realized that all the other amateur golfers he was beating were turning pro.

Slowly, he developed into one of Europe’s best golfers, its Vardon Trophy winner last year as its No. 1 player, and a four-time Ryder Cup team member who arrived at Carnoustie as the No. 10-ranked golfer in the world. He has won twice on the PGA Tour and 12 times elsewhere in the world, including last year’s Phoenix Dunlop in Japan, where he stunned Tiger Woods in a playoff.

“I thought if I did well, maybe I’d make a comfortable living on the tour,” he said in the interview room with little Paddy sitting next to him. “I couldn’t really believe I did as well as I did. And it was fairy tale stuff. I won after 10 weeks.

“But it’s been a long road. I don’t know if I ever believed I was going to do it, but I tried, especially this week, to convince myself I was going to do it.”

As the British Open champion, Padraig Harrington convinced everyone in golf that he could do it.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


Web Site Hit Counters
High Speed Internet Services