Gauging the mercurial Irishmans readiness to make history this week is confusing business.
Even with his victory at the Irish PGA this past weekend, bookmakers dont particularly favor his chances of winning three consecutive British Open Championships.
Even after breaking his streak of five consecutive missed cuts with a victory at the Irish PGA last weekend, hes a mess.
Im clutching at straws a bit at the moment, trying to find a little key to keep myself occupied, he told assembled media after winning the Irish PGA a sixth time. I wouldnt like to have to play next weeks tournament thinking of such things.
Nobodys quite sure what to expect from Harrington as he seeks to become the first player since Peter Thomson (1954-56) to win three consecutive Open titles, and thats not entirely due to the erratic nature of his game. Its the nature of this thinking mans brain and whether hes experiencing paralysis of analysis.
Still, Harrington sounds as resolute about his approach to golf as he is bewildered by the state of his swing.
After winning back-to-back majors last year, he set out to make his swing even better, though nobodys sure exactly what he was trying to do.
NBC analyst Johnny Miller watched him at the U.S. Open and determined that Harrington had changed his ball flight, going away from the fade that helped him win back-to-back majors and fashioning a draw.
Not so, Harrington said.
I tried to play with a draw when I won the Open in 2007, and the last 18 months, Ive played with a fade, Harrington said. Anytime you saw those hooks, I was aiming left to play a fade. I cant draw the ball to save my life. If I could draw the ball, Id be OK. Thats the reason I stopped trying to draw it, Id make a good swing, trying to draw it, and Id hit it dead-straight right, push it. The last shot I could ever try and play ' this is why Ive been working on my swing ' is to try and draw it. So Ive been trying to fade it. Ive obviously been doing a poor job of it.
A lot of fuss has been made over Harringtons obsessive tinkering with his swing, but he says folks shouldnt worry. He says its all part of a process he has been through his entire career, that, ultimately, he has always come out better in the end. He just doesnt know where the end is this time, even with the Irish PGA victory.
Im a constant thinker, Harrington said. Ive been doing this since 15 years of age. I dont think I would be comfortable unless I was changing something. It will be interesting if I ever do get to the end of the road, and obviously thats a never-ending road, so I wont get there.
Ive always been the type of person where results arent everything in the short term. I know if I keep doing the right things, its worked before, it will work again.
Even Harringtons sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, has cautioned him about thinking too much. Rotella sat him down at The Players Championship in May for a stern chat.
I wasnt yelling or screaming, but every once in a blue moon, Padraig gets a real strong urge to start working on his swing and gets lost and messed up trying to improve it, Rotella said. Ninety-five percent of the time, he thinks about nothing over a shot. He has gone a year-and-a-half without having a swing thought, just seeing the target, reacting and accepting the shot.
Thats how Harrington played a year ago, when he was at the height of his powers.
When Harrington hit a 5-wood from 272 yards to 4 feet to set up an eagle and clinch the British Open at the 71st hole at Royal Birkdale last summer, he looked like he had reached another level. He looked like a legitimate threat to Tiger Woods in majors, once Woods returned from reconstructive knee surgery. The year before, Harrington won the British Open at Carnoustie, and he would follow his Royal Birkdale triumph by winning the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.
Harrington currently holds two major championship titles, but its an unsteady grip.
After he missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month at Bethpage Black, he sounded lost.
I dont have any shape at the moment, Harrington said there. That would be an issue. If I did hit it with a big draw, that would be fine. If I hit it with a big hook, that would be fine. I actually have no shape. Its the old problem, Im aiming at the middle of the fairway, and Ive only got half the fairway to aim at. I hit it left, or hit it right.
'There is temptation to go back to what I played with my first couple years as pro, a draw. Even though I did win the Open with it (in 07), I gave up on it the last 18 months. When you are not playing well, its not easy to hit with no shape. If youre not playing well, youre better off putting more shape into it, then youve got a bigger target to aim at. Thats something for me to look into. Im not very confident because Ive only got half the fairway to aim at because Im not sure what shape is going to come out, a fade or a draw.
While Ben Hogan was determined to dig golfs secret out of the dirt, Harringtons determined to dig it out of the mind.
Harrington spelled it out for the Belfast Telegraph:
Its complicated to explain whats going on. I'm trying to understand the whole process [of playing golf] so that I can control it. I wouldn't be able to accept performing without knowing why. I don't think I'd enjoy winning if I didn't know why I was winning. I think the ultimate satisfaction of winning is understanding how I got there. While I admire sporting achievement, I pay very little respect to somebody who wins without knowing why.
There are loads of people like me. If I was a tech nerd, I'd be the guy who pulls apart his computer to see how it works. Of course, I've no interest in doing that to my computer. With my golf game, however, I want to pull it apart and see what everything does.
Howard Hughes, as a 14-year-old kid, he got his dad to buy him a sports car so he could pull it apart. He spent a month breaking it down bit-by-bit and then putting it all back together. Well, that's me with my golf game.
Golf will see this week how much of his game hes been able to put back together.