In this week's Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Padraig Harrington discusses his drive to create history in his 50s, his Senior Open near miss and his desire to continue giving back to the game of golf.
I feel like I have been playing very well this year but not really bringing it to the Tour. I’ve noticed that when I go back and forth between Tours, I lose the flow. You have got to play consistently in one place, I think. You can’t just be jumping in and playing one event.
I had this with Majors back in the day. I would be playing in Europe, and after a long time of being eligible I took my card in the States purely because every time I went to a Major it felt unusual, something different. Clearly, to play your best golf you don’t need to be going to events and feeling like that.
Familiarity is very important and is fundamental for the mind. The flow could be just as simple as meeting the same players, managers, officials and everyone around the Tour. You get comfortable in your environment and that can help you a lot on the golf course. The more you play the more you get into a comfort zone, good things happen and you have more patience.
So, my new strategy is to play a series of events in a row on the same Tour and see if that enables things to flow with my game. That will hopefully give me the chance of bringing my best golf to the course. The way I have played, every part of my game has been good at some stage but not necessarily all in the one week. Some weeks I have been driving it well and the others it has been my approach play or my putting. Hopefully playing a few more DP World Tour events will help that. My next five events are actually going to be in Europe on the DP World Tour. I have given up playing in three PGA TOUR Champions events to play this week at the D+D REAL Czech Masters and then the Omega European Masters. Hopefully that gives me the flow that enables me to deliver my best which hopefully puts me in contention.
I haven’t been to Prague for a few years. Whenever you get to go to capital cities and stay there it is brilliant. Prague is a beautiful city. My family are going to travel with me and when your family starts coming to a tournament it says that it’s a really nice venue. The Albatross Golf Resort has some interesting risk and reward holes, making it an exciting course.
Qualifying for the DP World Tour Championship is among my goals, too. It is certainly on my provisional schedule. I obviously don’t play as many events in Europe as I used to, but I am going to play the next five DP World Tour events and then I’ve got four in the US on the Champions Tour. The Race to Dubai final, the DP World Tour Championship, would be a nice one to be involved in as well, having not played in it since 2016.
The chance to create history is certainly a driving factor for me and I am always trying to do something that adds to my CV. Clearly, being the oldest winner on the DP World Tour is something that I have my eye on. Miguel Ángel Jiménez holds that position. When I have done as well as I have in my career, winning three Majors and other things, there’s not a lot left to achieve. I couldn’t tell you about my best performance in the Majors that I didn’t win.
People have discussed the potential for me to make a Ryder Cup playing return, but I think I am a long way out of Ryder Cup qualification. I just don’t think it is realistic with two events left in the qualification process. I don’t even think a win would get me in, maybe a dominant win this week or a win and another good performance in the final event in Switzerland might. I felt I needed to have two big weeks at the Genesis Scottish Open and The Open to state my case for the Ryder Cup. I started out well at the Scottish Open, but I just didn’t finish well at the weekend at Renaissance after getting myself into a good position after two days. It was the same again at The Open, where I just didn’t push on over the weekend. I made the two cuts, but they just weren’t strong enough performances. I think I am substantially out of the reckoning at the moment.
There are a lot of good players already there and Luke looks like he is going to have a very strong team. Players have come nicely into form. It was a young enough team when I captained in Whistling Straits but players are now coming through, some of which were in the team two years ago, and they are hitting some nice form. Same too goes for the established players. There are several players who would be rookies if they make the team, and they are all good players. I think Europe looks very strong and Luke is spoilt for choice if anything.
The Senior Open was a goal I came close to achieving, but unfortunately, I didn’t get it done. I don’t know whether it was good or bad that it was such tough conditions at the Senior Open. I had a very bad start at Royal Porthcawl on the first day, which I think might have been tiredness. I put a lot of intensity into my tournaments and it wears down on you. I started poorly but stayed patient and stuck in there, gradually pulling my way back into the tournament all the way to the last hole, with a putt to win on the 72nd hole.
I had an interesting shot in the second hole of the play-off. I was trying to hit a three quarter nine iron. It was very much downwind; I think I had 195 yards. I got caught up in the moment and hit a normal nine iron, which pitched pin high and went long. These are the sort of things that can happen in golf, and then I hit a poor chip. But there you go. I had almost forgotten about that. Golf is like that, normally things can be pretty miserable, but you put up with them for the one glorious Sunday when you win.
Even though I had a terrible start, I was still able to get myself into a winning position, which breeds a lot of confidence. I understand that I am a big fish in a small pond when it comes to the Champions Tour, especially four-round tournaments like the Senior Open, when you are not under as much pressure to hole every putt as you know at the end of the week you are still going to have a chance of winning. When you go to a regular tournament, you feel like you can’t take too many body blows, but that is not always true. You’d be surprised how many bad shots you can get away with in a tournament - I have won hitting the ball out of bounds, yet when you start a tournament, you feel like you can’t afford to make any mistakes like that. So, I’m hoping to take that confidence into the rest of the season.
My pursuit of always elevating and analysing my game has been a personal obsession of mine. It’s something that has helped me be competitive for so long. When you look at most players, they seem to be the products of their environment. I grew up with no practice ground on a very windy and tricky golf course, so I spent my whole golfing career playing and practising chipping because that is all you could do. When you went to amateur tournaments there weren’t ranges – there were sometimes practice areas where you picked up your own balls. But when you got on Tour there were these beautiful driving ranges, beautiful golf balls. It is something I never had in my younger days so I have always tried to hit more balls than most. Now that I do have the facilities, I probably have overused them if anything over the years, but it is also what keeps me going. When I get up in the morning and start hitting shots, I am thinking about the potential of what could be and the opportunity on offer. It really does free my mind up, the minute I start hitting shots in practice – it’s something I enjoy doing. I am probably slightly different now - I practise hard at home but I try to taper that off at golf tournaments. I am just not physically able to practice and hit as many balls as I would have done back in my day.
Having said that, I am driving it longer than I ever have. When I analyse my distance off the tee now that I am in my 50s, I am at the same relative position I was all the way through my career. I don’t think I have ever walked off a golf course feeling it was too long for me. I am still in that same position now and I have kept my standing, so to speak. I am sure if you went through the stats I sit in the same position as I would have 15 years ago but that is obviously quite a bit longer because of the way the game has gone. It is obviously unusual for somebody to keep that position relative to the field as you are getting older. I have gained length and certainly gained against the curve of age, but probably just held myself steady against the field.
It’s only as you get older that you get more access to the stories and realise that there was a lot to learn, and I like to try and share as much as I can. It feels like there is nothing I know that somebody else hasn’t tried. There is nothing new in this game of golf but there are plenty of reminders. If I can help a young person gain from my experience so they don’t have to go through it, then I am happy to do that.
As a kid growing up, I didn’t have a standout sporting hero. Golf wasn’t really on the TV when I was young, but the player I admired the most was probably Bernhard Langer. I always liked the fact that he was a true professional, got the most out of his game and still does today. He hasn’t let me down in that respect. I had a lot of role models around me growing up. I wanted to beat my brothers, beat my Dad and be better than everybody near me. I was very good at staying and competing in my area, performing and then progressing from there.
Looking back, I would have played and talked a bit with Christy O’Connor Senior, so he would be one that I sought advice from. Joe Carr would have been a great resource, but I didn’t know him when I was young. I wouldn’t have understood so much back then though. Maybe I didn’t ask the questions when I was young, so I am happy to offer my help to others now, whether that’s to Irish players or players from around the world.
I suppose it is also easier to do when you get to my age, because you don’t see the other players as your rivals. I think I am a little bit more patient and maybe this comes now that I am on the PGA TOUR Champions where I play against players who were my rivals but now, they are no longer my rivals. They are actually the people who most understand the times we went through. They certainly become more of a friend to you than they were back in the day when you were competitors. You realise later on that there is plenty for everybody in professional golf. You go out there and try your best to beat the hell out of the other guy when you’re on the course.
I think the most important thing is that you’ve just got to find your own path. I have two sons, the eldest is 19 and the youngest is 15. The younger one has only just started playing, largely as an interest and as a social aspiration. They are enjoying it at that level. It is a tough one. Just because I play doesn’t mean that your kids follow it up but they both seem to enjoy the game, just like your success doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t have success.