Padraig Harrington arrives at his 16th Open Championship this week in the midst of a modest renaissance. The Dubliner recorded near-misses in each of the season’s opening major championships and has failed to break par only once in his last 12 competitive rounds.
With players, fans and meteorologists alike united in predicting a difficult weekend on the Lancashire coast, the 40-year-old, a famously resilient competitor, is among the few players relishing the prospect of rain.
Just not for four consecutive rounds.
“I would like some of the golf to be tough this week. But I know myself, if you have 72 holes of a rainy tournament, it’s nearly last man standing at that stage, and that’s really difficult for everybody.
“I would certainly like to see 18 holes, if not 36 holes, of difficult conditions because that will cut enough of the field out, and hopefully I won’t be one of those.”
Asked to offer his verdict on what is fast becoming the dominant meme of the week’s pre-tournament coverage, the “democratisation” of professional golf, Harrington cast about for a few moments before volunteering this little nugget of insight.
“I think golfers are evolving. I think when I came out on Tour in ’96 you kind of felt like you had to learn how to win and maybe lose a few tournaments before you were allowed a win…
“I think in recent times that feeling of patience and the feeling of a tournament being like a marathon has gone away. It tends to be a sprint from Thursday morning. If you’re not three‑, four‑under par after nine holes you feel like you’re out of the tournament… Guys are turning up now at regular events and they’re just hoping to hit their week. And if they hit their week, they run with it and they shoot the 20‑under par and win.
“So you’re seeing more of that coming into majors. Guys are turning up and if it’s their week, they can win any week. Rather than the attitude of – ‘I’ve got to be there all the time and serve my apprenticeship before I win’. Guys just turn up; if it’s my week, I can beat anybody.”
In case you’ve missed every one of the several hundred articles to mention it, the previous 15 major championships have yielded 15 different major champions.
Harrington, whose USPGA victory in 2008 kick-started the streak, is at a loss to predict whether that run will be extended through this week’s Open Championship, but he remains in little doubt as to the qualities Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s will demand of a prospective champion.
“I think that possibly the biggest challenge on the golf course is the tee shots. If you hit 60 fairways you’re going to be doing very nicely. I think any major, though, the biggest challenge and the biggest challenge for myself would be managing my game mentally and obviously putting well. I think those are the two big things you want to do every major tournament. It generally comes down to those things at the end of the week..
You know, I thought Olympic was very generous off the tee. The rough wasn’t too heavy. You could get away with missing it. I was very comfortable. Here, it’s quite a bit different. You miss a fairway here, ‘depends‑‑ an element of luck is involved. If you miss it slightly and go into one of those bunkers, well, they might as well have red stakes around the bunker, because you’re coming out sideways. It’s like hazards all the way around.”
Straight hitting, resilience, determination. Egad – it sounds like a USGA event!