Friday, 08 August 2014
Flashback: Padraig Harrington can't believe his US PGA luck  (Getty Images)
Flashback: Padraig Harrington can't believe his US PGA luck (Getty Images)

By Nick Totten
At Vahalla Golf Club
 

For decades the trophy cabinets of European golf’s greatest talents all had one thing in common – a piece of silverware notable in its omission – that is, until Padraig Harrington brought about a flurry of US PGA Championship success by finally getting his hands on the illusive Wannamaker Trophy.

Generations of talent from across the pond had been making the annual August pilgrimage to what was formerly known as Glory’s Last Shot, one final go each year at claiming Major Championship silver, but not since Tommy Armour in 1930 had one of Europe’s finest held this particular trophy aloft.

So after some 78 years, it seemed fitting that someone of the pedigree of Harrington would finally break that duck, and in doing so become the first European to ever win back-to-back Major titles after his Open Championship success at Royal Birkdale just three weeks earlier.

His third victory in the previous six Majors was as spectacular as the previous two, once again holding off the advances of Sergio Garcia – who he beat in a play-off at Carnoustie to win a maiden Open title the previous year – as well as home favourite Ben Curtis.

After a back and forth tussle between the three at Oakland Hills, it would all come down to the final green, as Harrington curled in a downhill left-to-right putt from all of 15 feet to cue the kind of emphatic fist pump befitting such a dramatic finish.

The Irishman was one of the form players on the planet at that very moment, solidifying in his eyes his status as Europe’s best player of the time.

“I have probably been the leading player in Europe for close to six years. A couple of times, I might have lost it, but more or less for close to six years,” explained the then 36 year old.

“There's lots of stuff I can work on, and I am maturing as a player. I have always been throughout my career, I have been a learner in the game. I've always applied myself, looked for what would improve my game, found that, and worked on it to improve it and have improved it.”

Harrington might not have added to his Major haul since this triumph in Detroit, but he can take solace in the fact that his trailblazing victory has inspired further success.

Just two years later, and relatively speaking, all of a sudden the US PGA floodgates were open, as Martin Kaymer edged a tense encounter at Whistling Straits, triumphing over Bubba Watson in extra holes.

His victory in Wisconsin continued the meteoric rise of the German through every level of the game, en route to finding himself on top of the sport, with his win in the year’s final Major part of a four win season that eventually saw him win the 2010 Race to Dubai.

His potential had long been heralded, and while none of the golfing world was particularly surprised, the modest Kaymer remained suitably stunned.

"I was nervous in the regular round, but in the play-off it was strange - I felt very calm, very confident," said the man born in Dusseldorf. "It's just amazing. I don't realise what has just happened - I just won my first Major and I am just on Tour for four years. I have goose bumps."

As if that wasn’t enough, and much like the adage concerning the clichéd London bus, after a near 80 year spell without a win all of a sudden the European’s could no’t get enough of the Wannamaker.

Continuing the two year cycle that marked the time between both Harrington and Kaymer’s victories, 2012 saw the US PGA arrive at Kiawah Island, where a young phenom romp to yet another title.

That’s right, Rory McIlroy continued the form he had shown the year before in claiming an eight shot success at the US Open, to match that feat in South Carolina and claim a second Major.

The Northern Irishman was in imperious form over the final 36 holes, carding rounds of 67 and 66 over the weekend to streak clear of the second placed David Lynn.

Much like the German that came before him, McIlroy’s victory would herald the season of his career so far, as he went on to claim the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai later in the year en route to attaining number one status on The Race to Dubai in 2012.

He might not have known that at the time, but he was understandably delighted with his win: “It was a great round of golf - I am speechless,” said the Ulsterman. “The game-plan was just to play solid. I got off to a bit of a shaky start, but settled into it and I thought my putting today was phenomenal.

"It means an awful lot to look at the names on that trophy and put mine alongside them. On 18 I was just taking the whole thing in, but I didn't allow myself to think about it until then.”

All three of the European winners in these past six years have therefore bucked a fairly substantial trend, with history counting very much against them for much of the modern era.

Harrington opened the door, with Kaymer and McIlroy more than happy to follow him through it.

All that remains to be seen is if the two year cycle of triumph will continue this week at Valhalla, a place of myth in Norse mythology, but a venue where European victory in the year’s final Major could become a reality once more.

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