Monday, August 11, 2008

Want to know what it takes to be a champion?
As part of Padraig Harrington's team of coaches, I've been fortunate to watch him develop into a world-class player. I remember being at his house in Ireland, on one of those Irish winter days when it's 40 degrees and raining sideways. Padraig was hitting balls into a net inside when he came across something he liked.
"I've got to go outside and hit balls," Harrington said. Harrington_300 I looked at another friend and we said to each other, "There's no way we're going out there." So next thing you know, Padraig grabs a jacket and hat and goes outside to hit balls. Amazed, we watched him through the window hit ball after ball in the driving rain.
That's how you become a champion, by doing the stuff the other guys won't do. Padraig works hard to understand how to get better. Tiger does the same thing, and now we're seeing someone else going about his business and getting the job done. Ten years ago, no one would have predicted that Padraig would be the second- or third-best player in the world. Sure, he's a great athlete, but hard work has gotten him to the top.
In many ways, I thought the PGA Championship played out a lot like the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Oakland Hills was a test of mental fortitude with the rain delays and the bad weather. At the start of the day on Sunday, everybody was looking at Phil and Sergio. But Padraig is amazing. He just grinds away and grinds away and never gives up. Look at how he played 18. He puts his drive in the bunker, then hits his second shot a little heavy and it ends up in the deep rough. The guys on TV are wondering if he's going to be able to get a club on it, and Padraig hits it to 20 feet and drains the putt to win the championship.
The funny thing is that on Friday reporters were saying that Harrington still had a British Open hangover. Even he admitted to being a little tired and not hitting it as well as he would have liked. But he followed up a 74 on Friday with two 66s on the weekend. I didn't see anybody else do that. He's not the kind of guy to be cocky, but I think on Sunday he was thinking, "I've done this before, I've been in this position before, and I'm capable of winning no matter what." Was he ever.
(Photo: Fred Vuich/SI)

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