ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Padraig Harrington is either going to end up as the greatest player in the history of the game or in a rubber room wearing a white jacket that zips up the back.
That much was obvious after the opening round of the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Harrington returned an opening 7-under 65 to find himself a stroke behind South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel at the top of the leaderboard. It wasn’t a straightforward 65, though. Nothing ever is with Harrington.
The Dubliner has just returned to competitive golf after a six-week break that saw him overhaul his swing. To go into detail here would take up too much of your time and probably send you into your own rubber room. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a simple tune up. He put a brand new engine into his six-foot-one-inch frame.
Why would a guy who’s won three majors make drastic changes to his swing? Good question.
“I was world No. 3 when I won three majors,” Harrington said. “I didn’t think I would get world No. 1. I wanted to improve to try to get there.”
What might baffle most people is that the Dubliner has been trying to make these changes for years. “A lot of this work is coming from two, three years prior to me winning the majors. I just haven’t been able to get to grips with it.”
Then the punch line: “I do feel like it’s coming around now.”
Harrington won his first major in 2007 when he triumphed in the Open Championship at Carnoustie. Four years is a long time to embed swing changes.
Truth is, Harrington is obsessed with mechanics. Always has been. He’s probably tinkered more with his swing than any other player since Nick Faldo.
“A lot of people see the highs and the results of 2007, 2008 and they go, ‘oh, you’ve started changing things.’ I have obsessively changed things since I’m 15 years of age, obsessively changed things with my swing all the time,” Harrington said. “The day I don’t have something to work on, I probably won’t be as excited to get up in the morning to go out and practice. This is what motivates you.”
Harrington might claim to be the most positive person in the world when he’s on the golf course, but he starts every season the same way. Despite his success, the Dubliner starts every year wondering if he can still play.
“I was nervous coming to the course today. I’m thinking, first round of the year, is the game going to be there? What am I going to shoot?
“It’s a great feeling. It’s exactly where you want to be. I got up at 4:45 a.m. today and it might as well have been the middle of the day. I was jumping around the room. That’s a sign I’m ready to go.”
The Irishman says he does want to get to the stage where he doesn’t have butterflies on the first tee.
“If you look at any of the guys who won majors in the 80s, their careers were 20 years and you get burned out. You don’t have the butterflies in the morning.”
Harrington doesn’t want to get to that stage. He wants to get up every morning ready to work on something new.
As always with Harrington, though, he couldn’t help contradicting himself. Thirty minutes of championing strict practice regimes only to cast doubt on that philosophy with his closing remarks.
“Every player out there is working on something to a different degree,” he said. “I’ve seen more guys lose their card by doing too much than guys lose their card by doing too little.”
The rubber room awaits.