Optimism is the essential 15th club in the bag of a successful Tour pro. Exhibit "A": Padraig Harrington. Fighting swing changes in 2009, the Irishman played miserably in the first half of the year, missing five straight cuts. What didn't waver was Harrington's self-belief. Finally comfortable with alterations to the swing that brought him three majors, he logged top-10 finishes in his last six Tour starts.
We caught up with Harrington in Dublin as he looked forward to 2010 and took stock of an annus horribilis and not just his own. He may have played poorly and lost money in a bad investment, but at least he didn't become tabloid fodder like Tiger Woods or get scalded for losing the Ryder Cup like Nick Faldo. Like we said, optimism is everything.
You went into 2009 having won three of the previous six majors, but then you started tinkering with your swing. People
thought you were crazy.
Every winter I work on my swing to fix what I wasn't happy with in the season. Any time I've had success it's given me the breathing space to work on things. I was No. 3 in the world and trying to figure out how to improve. I assumed it was a winter thing but it dragged six months into the season. Once I had clarity I put it to bed and I played great. I've made changes before and no one noticed because I wasn't in the spotlight, and I covered it up with a good short game.
What exactly were you working on?
It was a number of things. The sequence of my downswing was out, which basically meant that my hips were late, causing my torso to be late. So I was trying to establish the timing of my downswing. I changed the impact position of my wrists so I'm more pronated than ever. I changed the coil in my backswing I used to come out of my coil. But ultimately it came down to needing to stabilize my hips more so that my upper body is being forced to catch up, to keep accelerating.
Was there a moment in 2009 when you thought, 'I've got it!'
No. What happened in the middle of the year is that I got enough of an idea about things that I left it alone. I stopped working on it and played with what I had for the last three months. The first six months I got immersed in taking all the backward steps, and then I left it alone. The last few months I've been working on it. I'm still refining it at the moment but I don't envision bringing it very far into the 2010 season.
So how much of the turnaround in your results was confidence versus swing changes?
It had nothing to do with swing changes. It was focus, not confidence, a change from working on my swing to just getting the ball in the hole. There's a massive difference between wondering how you're doing it and just doing it.
Discount the Irish PGA basically an office picnic for Irish pros and you're winless since 2008.
That doesn't bother me. This has been going on with me for 20 years. Once I have results I start working on fundamentals. Then I come back to focusing on results when I need them. I tend to win when I've had a barren spell, win for a while, then I take stock of things.
After your first Open win, at Carnoustie, you told me your goal was multiple majors. Now that you have three, what's
It hasn't changed. Four of us have three majors, and then you've got Tiger, so it's a big step to get to four. The focus is to win the two that I haven't got. It's a question of setting myself apart. At the end of your career you'll always be judged on winning majors.
You've said that your father taught you to hit the ball straight, but then you realized that it's all about distance
on Tour. Do you still fight that?
No. If I can keep hitting it the distance I'm hitting it now I'll be competitive for a number of years.
PGA Tour stats say you were 10 yards shorter off the tee in 2009.
Was I? See, I don't look at stats. That's interesting, because I gained length last year. I comfortably hit more fairway woods off the tee than most players. On the hole where driving distance is measured at Torrey Pines, I hit 5-wood. It's suicide to hit driver on that hole. So I wouldn't believe stats. There's no good player out there who has a driving-distance advantage on me. Length is not an issue.
Are the new grooves an issue for you?
I've had my wedges tested at every major since 2000. I've taken grooves to the limit and by doing that I made the USGA aware of what the potential was with grooves, and they've taken action. The new rule is going to make a difference to me. One set of clubs I use passed the groove test so I can use them, and those are the clubs I use in the majors.
You use different clubs for majors than for regular Tour events?
I've carried two sets of irons to every tournament for eight years. Out of two-inch rough, there's a 40-yard difference between how far my 7-iron with sharp grooves and my 7-iron with normal grooves will go. I've gone to every tournament for the past eight years, had a look at the rough, and decided which set of grooves were going to be most effective that week.
Speaking of being in the rough, you felt it necessary recently to respond to rumors that you lost money to both Bernie Madoff and Alan Stanford.
That's part of the territory. If you don't want the things that go with success, then you mightn't want success.
What's the most outlandish thing you've ever read about yourself?
I haven't read anything about myself since I was 18.
You did confirm that you took a financial hit when a company you invested in, U4EA Technologies, went bankrupt.
I confirmed that a company in which I'm a minority shareholder in went into administration.
One report claimed that you and a financier friend together lost 16 million euros ($21.7m). How much of that was yours, and did it make a material difference to your life?
I'll tell you that it made no material difference to my life. I'm quite happy to say that.
How much attention do you pay to business matters?
I read the business pages the way others read the sports pages. A U.K. company manages my finances and does safe, secure stuff. I then take some money and invest it myself in private equity things.
Were you surprised by the revelations about Tiger?
I had no idea what was going on. Selfishly, that kind of surprises me. I'm out on Tour and I don't know what's happening? It's probably a good thing that I'm keeping my head down. Maybe it shows how alienated Tiger is from the rest of the Tour. I always assumed he was heading back to his hotel and playing video games [Laughs]. Little did I know.
You said you have no sympathy for him.
It's a very personal matter, but it's right for it to be in the public domain. If you want everything that goes with being a professional sportsman, well, that's what goes with it. That's part of our life. I don't have sympathy for the fact that he made his choices and he has to live with that and take responsibility for it.
Do you consider him a friend?
Tiger would often say "Paddy's a friend," and I'd say, "Tiger's a friend," but this is surely not the case if I didn't know what was going on. He's very personable and he's one of the guys I look forward to playing with. But I could be going to a game or to a nice restaurant and would often say to another player, "Do you want to go?" But you'd never say it to Tiger you'd assume there's too much hassle in it for him. Because of the demands on him he's alienated from the rest of the players.
How much of an effect do you think this will have on his golf?
It's impossible to tell. [Before the story broke] people had been asking me why Tiger was so grumpy on the course. If this was going on in his life and he was out of balance off the golf course, then he was suffering on the course. So bringing it out into the open won't make it any worse in that sense. I think it was affecting him. He wasn't focused. You need balance and clarity off the course to have it on the course. Putting two and two together and getting five, that's maybe what was causing it during the year. We'll all be watching.
Does it bother you that two of your three majors were won without Tiger in the field?
It doesn't bother me in the slightest. You can only beat those you're playing against. Part of sports is turning up. Tiger's played for 13 years and he's won 14 majors. That's three a year he doesn't win, or 41 majors that have gone to someone else. The statistics say that whether he was in the field or not, he won his one major that year . He wasn't due to win another. I don't lose any sleep over it.
Your scoring average doesn't seem to suffer very much when you're paired with Tiger. Why do you think that is?
I like playing with him, the intensity. I play my best when I'm focused in the zone. Generally, when you're playing with Tiger you're at the top of the leaderboard or it's a big occasion. That adrenalin helps you get into the zone.
You and he were having a great battle last year in the final round of the WGC event at Firestone when you were put on the clock on the 16th tee by rules official John Paramor. You promptly made a triple-bogey eight on that hole.
I'm annoyed that I allowed an outside influence to knock me out of the zone, not in the slightest bit annoyed with John Paramor. It was a real poor mental error. I should have been able to control the situation. I failed miserably that day.
Describe your relationship with Colin Montgomerie, the 2010 European Ryder Cup captain.
If I walked into a room and Monty was sitting at a table, that's the table I would sit at. He would entertain you to high heaven. Good company, super guy. But if he's on the range I have to move away because he talks that's his warm-up. I get no work done. If he came to the range and put his bucket of balls beside me, I'd pick up my bucket and leave. He's the player I've learned most from because he did things so well at times and so badly at times in terms of his mental approach.
Will some members of Monty's team have a different attitude toward him because of the past allegations that he cheated?
I think it would be naive to think he won't have to deal with that between now and the Ryder Cup.
But will there be players on Monty's team who think their captain is a cheat?
I don't know what players are going to think. People have had their highs and lows with him on the course. I think he'll make a very good captain.
How did Nick Faldo do as captain?
Faldo wanted his team to prepare like how he approached a Ryder Cup. His preparation was the same as any other week or any major a very individual preparation. He wanted the 12 players on the team to prepare as they would for a tournament. I thought it was very valid because at Ryder Cups I fight not having enough time. I've got to be in a monkey suit when I'd rather be practicing my putting. It was a valid hypothesis but it didn't work.
We weren't a team. We just lost that element of being together. By making everyone be a team you might scupper two players, but you'd improve 10 and that's the difference. He tried to get 12 individuals to play their best. These are things I hope captains learn going forward. The team is more important. Don't give people the freedom Nick gave us. He tried a strategy he thought would work and we didn't know it wouldn't work until we tried it. If Nick had a winning team we would have said that getting players to their best individually was a great theory. I will lay one criticism: there was no leader in the locker room. I blame myself and Lee Westwood. We were two of the senior guys. We were missing a Monty or a Darren Clarke, that sort of character.
You were just voted Ireland's greatest-ever sportsman. Would you have voted for yourself in that poll?
I'm delighted to receive it but I wouldn't get hung up about not winning. My sport is high profile and I'm in peoples' minds. Let's face it, the greatest Irish athlete is probably a Special Olympian. Is it a popularity contest or an achievement contest?
A year from now, what would you like to say of 2010?
This is a different way of asking me about my goals and you know I don't talk about my goals. The theory every year is to become a better player. I did that in 2009. But other times I want results. I'm much more focused on results this year. It doesn't take a genius to figure out my goals now. One thing is guaranteed: if I get the results you'll see me going back to improving as a player.