The big news in Europe last weekend wasn’t Simon Dyson’s win at the Irish Open, though the Englishman rode the crest of a wave to seize the Irish Open at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club in dramatic fashion; nor was it Rory McIlroy’s Twitter spat with commentator Jay Townsend.
Saturday brought word that Padraig Harrington had parted company with his coach of thirteen years, Bob Torrance.
The circumstances of Harrington and Torrance’s professional union have become the stuff of golfing folklore, mythologised through repetition at three post-major press conferences– more, perhaps, than either could have anticipated when Harrington first ventured to Scotland, reeling from a disappointing showing at his first US Open.
Days spent toiling on the range, building a long game to match the Dubliner’s formidable touch around the greens, segued into months, then years, the two drawn into a nearly intuitive relationship through a ceaseless repetition of swings and drills.
There is coaching as we know it and there’s the kind of symbiosis these two managed to achieve.
It’s for this reason that most of the Europe’s golfing faithful greeted news of the separation with the kind of disbelief and soul-seaching usually reserved for the disintegration of a close friend’s marriage.
“I knew they were having problems, but I didn’t see this coming…”
For his part, Torrance sounded deeply affected, if resigned:
“You cannot make changes at 40 in golf. You can make them in your 20s, but once you get to 40 it’s too late…
“However, I don’t mind a man going for perfection. Once you stop striving for perfection you’d better put the clubs away.””There are no in-betweens. I have nothing to say against him. I’ve had 15 of the happiest years of my life teaching him … he’s like a son to me.”
For Harrington, appearing nearly surprised by the ruthlessness of his own decision, his frustration with the game couldn’t mask his abiding respect for the man instrumental in leading him to three major championships:
“I’m frustrated and I don’t know if I want him standing looking at me. Yet when he’s not standing looking at me I am not happy either. So, it’s been hard…
“At the end of the day that is never going to change. He has shaped and put his mark on my golf swing that will be there for the rest of my life. Everything about it.”
It’s ironic, given the Irishman’s notorious predilection for work on the range, that their split should come over Harrington’s desire to focus his energies elsewhere.
Many have questioned the influence of Bob Rotella, the apparently omnipresent sports psychologist, in the deterioration of the relationship between the 79-year-old Scot and his once loyal charge, casting him as a sinister Yoko Ono to Harrington and Torrance’s Lennon-McCartney.
Regardless of whether or not Rotella took a role in prompting the decision, it’s probably the correct one. The ruthlessness may have been jarring, it may fly in the face of our need to see golf’s sentimental heart revealed at every turn, but with time and form most definitely not on his side, the indulgence of an increasingly passive-aggressive member of his entourage was a luxury Harrington just couldn’t afford.