The world and his mother appears fascinated with Padraig Harrington’s swing ahead of this week’s U.S. Open at Bethpage on Long Island, but one man isn’t worried – Harrington himself.
The triple Major winner made it four missed cuts from five events when he crashed out of the weather hit St. Jude Classic in Memphis on Saturday.
Those who claim to know better are adamant that Harrington’s constant search for the perfect swing is costing him dearly as he prepares to tee it up with Tiger Woods for the first two rounds some 32 miles from Manhattan this week.
But a determined Harrington has words of comfort for his legions of Irish fans as he prepares for the second Major of the season on Thursday -- he’s a better golfer now than ever before.
The results may suggest otherwise after a litany of missed cuts cost the Dubliner his place in the world’s top 10 after another winter spent tinkering with his swing.
The tinkering is now over and the real golf can begin over the next three Majors and the next 10 weeks of the 2009 season as he defends his British Open and U.S. PGA titles.
“I think I’m in a far better position than I was this time last year,” Harrington told Star Sunday.
“I’m even in a better position than I was this time at the end of August last year when I had just won two majors. I think I’m a far better player now than I was then.
“Sometimes when you work on your weaknesses, your strengths do get weak a little. I’m right back on track. I’m very comfortable with what I did and where I’m going.
“Obviously I’d like to turn around as quick as possible but I’m doing the right things. I’ve got to stay patient. I’ve got to be accepting of this. I’m very, very comfortable where I am and where I’m going, let’s say.”
Not for the first time in recent weeks, Harrington is happy to explain where this constant search for perfection comes from and talk about the impact on his game in the short and long term.
He added, “Well, you know, it’s all about the process in my world. And definitely, you know, over the last couple of years I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of my swing.
“Since I won the two Majors last year, I got a little bit deeper into it, trying to figure something out, and I have been very much concentrating on that for the last eight months.
“For about two and a half years I’ve been tinkering with it but certainly the last eight months I’ve been heavily focused on it.
Obviously, when you see the results, the results have been quite lean certainly in the last five months.
“I’ve got to get back to working on my scoring. I’m comfortable with what I’ve been doing technically. While I haven’t got it in my swing like I would want it, I’m comfortable what it is and what I need to do to sort it out.
“That kind of can be put a little bit on the back boiler there. I can concentrate back on my scoring, just getting myself ready for these tournaments, making sure my short game, which is my strength, is as sharp as ever.”
Others may be fretting over his lack of success in recent tournaments, not least the Irish Open when he missed the cut despite a gallant effort on the Friday, but Harrington refuses to lose faith in his ability.
“Obviously, I just have got to be patient and let it happen and wait for the results, which ultimately are the judge to turn around,” he stressed.
“As a player, sometimes you’ve got to go by order of things to judge where you’re going in your game and not necessarily short-term results.
“In the next three months I’ve got three Majors in just over two and a half months now, and that is going to distinguish what sort of year I’ve had, getting ready to play them.”
Harrington can’t wait to get back to Bethpage, one of the most demanding courses on the US circuit. He knows it is time to make a stand for his hopes of success this year.
“It really is now starting to get into the beef of the season,” admitted Stackstown’s finest.
“Any player really wants to play well from now on to the end of August. My goal is to peak through these three months.
“I haven’t had such a great start to the year. I’ve been kind of focused on other things. Now I’ve got to get down to business and hopefully through the U.S. Open, the Open and the PGA, I’ll be back to my top performances.”
As he has discovered three times now in the past two years, the big stages do suit Harrington. Carnoustie, Birkdale and Oakland Hills have all witnessed his victory roll and Bethpage is a course he likes.
“I do like the idea of the Majors,” he admitted. “They do seem to be easier to win in some ways. They’re a bit like playing -- they feel like you’re in a marathon rather than a sprint.
“A regular event, it feels like a quick dash. If you don’t get off to a good start, you feel you’re a little bit behind. Whereas in a major championship, you know it’s going to come down to the last nine holes on Sunday.
“It’s all about getting yourself in position. So I’ll be looking forward to being in top form and really getting my game peaked and ready for it.
“Obviously I played the last time at Bethpage in 2002 and had a reasonably good run that week. I think it was my first time on the Saturday that I was in the last group of a major. It was all part of the building process.
“I haven’t done anything out of the ordinary this year. I haven’t gone to see it. I have prepared for this major like I would for all other majors as I’m concentrating on getting my buildup right.
“I do expect to be ready to go when I get there. On Thursday I have to be ready, and I do expect to be ready.”
By Monday afternoon, when he spoke to Karl McGinty of the Irish Independent on the practice ground at Bethpage, Harrington was again sticking to his guns.
“The three Majors I won came as a result of exactly the same process which has me where I am now. I wouldn’t have won the three Majors but for stopping and changing things,” Harrington told McGinty.
“If I was happy with finishing 11th in my first year on Tour or satisfied with getting into the world top-20 for the first time, I wouldn’t have won those three Majors.
“There’s a lot more focus on me now. There are fewer places to hide. That’s been the only difference with this swing change process. It’s more in the public eye that it would have been in the past.”
Coach: Padraig Can Win Open
Padriag Harrington has been told to carry on regardless by a man who believes he can win the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black – his coach Bob Torrance.
The Scottish legend is unconcerned that his man missed his fifth cut of the year at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis on Saturday.
In fact he’s confident that the player he guided to a double British Open triumph and a U.S. PGA crown can add America’s greatest prize to his trophy cabinet this week.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Padraig won the U.S. Open. He could bounce back this week,” Torrance told “The Hub” on Setanta’s sports network.
“One of Padraig’s strongest points is upstairs, he’s a very good thinker. I’ve always said to Padraig, if you’re playing well, it’s easy to think well. If you’re not playing well it’s not so easy to think well.”
Torrance has spent enormous time working with Harrington as he seeks to perfect his swing, a search for perfection that has been criticised in some quarters.
The Scot, however, understands perfectly why Harrington is looking for an extra lift off the tee.
“If you’re driving the ball poorly your short game has to be 150 percent,” added Torrance. “If you’re driving the ball well it makes an incredible difference on these tough golf courses.
“I think the drive is the most important shot in golf. If you can hit a drive 320 yards it must make the game a lot easier. You’ll never make golf easy that’s for sure. It’s the most difficult game man ever invented.”