Harrington Makes a Major Change

By Mercer BaggsMarch 9, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 Honda ClassicPadraig Harrington is a man meticulous in manner. Some might call him slow, but Harrington would rather refer to himself as deliberate. Having such a demeanor, and an attention for detail, one might think that he does his own handiwork around the house.
Thats not one of my skills, he said. But my skill is know that its not one of my skills.
Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington has never played in more than 12 events during a single season on the PGA Tour.
Fortunately for Harrington, there were no home improvement projects to work on while he sat around his Dublin abode for over two months between his final tournament of 2004 and his first in 2005.
So what does a world-class golfer do with nine weeks off?
I got in the gym ' tried to do as much as I could in the gym during that break. And I did practice, go and see my coach. But mainly I took time off and shot pool, played table tennis, pinball, darts ' everything I could get a hold of. Just chilled out, really, he said.
There was a time, not so long ago, that such layoff would strike fear into Harringtons professional heart. Ever the insecure Irishman, Harrington used to wonder if his talent ' which was built on a foundation of diligence and hard work ' would suddenly just vanish.
But over the years, Harrington has learned such is not the case. When you win eight times in five years on the European Tour, and you establish yourself as a fixture in and around the top 10 in the world ranking, your prowess doesnt simply abandon you (well, not usually).
So with that understanding, Harrington chilled for nine weeks in an effort to store energy for an aggressive run at this seasons major championships ' particularly the first two.
By the time the U.S. Open came around last year, I had only played eight or nine events at that stage, Harrington said. So this year, Ive added an extra three or four (tournaments). So its just to get myself more competitive for (the first two majors).
When Harrington steps foot on the grounds of Pinehurst No. 2 for this years U.S. Open, he will have 10 PGA Tour events under his belt for the season. He will have also played in at least four European Tour events.
Thanks to being a member of the 2004 European Ryder Cup team, Harrington has been afforded the opportunity to compete this season as a PGA Tour member. Hes taken the tour up on that offer and plans on playing in no less than the required 15 tournaments to maintain membership (he played in 12 last year).
To do that, hes added five tournaments to his U.S. schedule and subtracted one. He included the Ford Championship and this weeks Honda Classic on his pre-Masters tournament list (which also includes the WGC-Match Play, The Players Championship and the BellSouth Classic). He also tacked on the Shell Houston Open, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the Wachovia Championship leading up to the U.S. Open (hell also play in the Buick Classic).
The Memorial Tournament, which is two weeks prior to Pinehurst, is the only PGA Tour event Harrington has dropped from his 04 schedule. Instead, hell compete in a couple of European Tour events around that time (he has to play in at least 11 to maintain his status there).
Harrington, who travels with his wife, Caroline, and his 19-month-old son, Patrick, is still in the process of rust shaking as he enters this weeks stop in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He finished runner-up in his 05 debut at the Omega Hong Kong Open, and then tied for eighth at the Carlsberg Malaysian Open.
Stateside, he lost in the second round of the Match Play and tied for 52nd at Doral.
Harrington is well aware that his playing schedule is top heavy. But he doesnt seem too concerned. He has one thing in mind this season: contending for major championships. Hes tried it the other way; now hes giving this a shot.
Im playing more in the early part of the year in order to be more competitive for the majors, yes, he said. I would have thought the schedule I had last year was nice for peaking for the majors, except I hadnt played enough.
Im getting to a point in my career where you are measured by your success in majors. Hopefully, I'm getting to the stage where I can compete from Day 1, all four days, and get myself in a position on Sunday to win.
Harrington has had his share of semi-major success in the majors. He has four top-5 finishes and has been runner-up each of the last two years at The Players Championship.
But he hasnt yet won. And, for that matter, neither has anyone from the European continent since Scotsman Paul Lawrie in the 1999 British Open.
And now that Phil Mickelson no longer wears the Best Player Never to Have Won a Major yoke, that burden seems to fall upon the shoulders of several European players who currently reside in the top 20 in the world; most notably: Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke and Harrington.
I think a lot of the guys that havent won a major that are up in that category are European, Harrington said. I think the Europeans will address that in the next number of years; theres enough good young players coming out that it will happen.
As for his place in that group?
I obviously wouldnt put myself in that league, but thank you for putting me in it, he said in response to a question posed to him at the Match Play Championship, asking if he is currently the best player not to have won a major.
I take it as a compliment, though. Its nice to be considered in that group.
After a decade of playing professionally, Harrington has accomplished enough to where a major title is one of the few glaring omissions from his resume. Another would be a PGA Tour victory.
Hes captured the unofficial 2002 Target World Challenge in California and won the 1997 WGC-World Cup with Paul McGinley at Kiawah Island.
But, in official tour events, he hasnt been able to shed that Runner-up gremlin which apparently travels with him across the Atlantic.
Harrington has finished second three times in the last two seasons on the PGA Tour and 21 times throughout his European Tour career.
That would seem to weigh heavily on the mind of a thinking man like Harrington. And maybe it once did. But when your runner-ups reach the 20s, you start to lose count -- and gain patience. And you start to take satisfaction in the fact that you've once again given yourself a chance to win.
After all, Harrington averages about one win for every three second-place finishes. He already has three silver medals on the PGA Tour, which means its about time for a win -- maybe even at a major.
I'm totally indifferent to it at this stage. I don't get too bothered about the second places; I've got used to them,' he said.
It's just one of those things at this stage; I'm just waiting for it to turn the corner ' to all go my way at some stage.
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