TRYON, N.C. (AP) — There’s little doubt Padraig Harrington’s victories at the British Open and PGA Championships mark him as one of the world’s best golfers.
Harrington has started to believe it, too.
Harrington joined Tiger Woods as the only other golfer this decade to win consecutive majors. Harrington thinks he’s closer to adding another Tiger-like trait to his bag – Woods’ unflappable confidence.
“I have traditionally played golf on fear of failure,” Harrington said. “I believe I need to move to a level where I can use confidence as a way to play better.”
Harrington looked confident, calm and relaxed Sunday as he spoke at White Oak Golf & Equestrian Community, where the triple major champion is set to build his first U.S. home.
He spent the past week since winning the PGA Championship decompressing, away from his home country of Ireland and the spotlight that follows his wins. “This was good for me,” Harrington said, grinning.
Harrington, 36, says he’s fueled by the tension that comes from fighting for a title on the back nine, as anyone who watched him take control of the British Open and PGA the past month can attest.
Harrington would like to tee off with the same steadfast belief in victory on the first hole as he has on the 72nd.
“I struggle to play my best golf when there’s no pressure,” he said. “The next level for me is about accepting I’m a three-time major winner, taking the confidence from that and that will help me earlier in tournaments so I don’t have to put myself through the mill.”
Harrington’s approach worked well enough at the year’s final two majors.
He overcame Greg Norman’s three-stroke lead over the final nine holes at Royal Birkdale last month to repeat as British champ. Then Harrington rallied back from one stroke down to defeat Sergio Garcia at Oakland Hills to win the PGA.
“I’ve got a deep-down confidence that I can battle through anything,” Harrington said. “I need to have more flamboyant confidence at the start.”
Harrington accepts that some will wonder if he – or anyone else – would’ve won if Woods, who is out for the season after knee surgery in June, were healthy. “It’s a valid point,” Harrington said. “I’m not going to worry about it, though.”
Harrington wants to work on improving his play, no matter who he faces.
Harrington returns to action Thursday at The Barclays to start the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs. Harrington stood fourth in points after last week with only Woods, Kenny Perry and Phil Mickelson ahead.
A bigger stage for Harrington’s swagger is the Ryder Cup matches next month at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
Harrington was part of the last three winning European squads. This time, he comes in as Europe’s unquestioned star.
“Obviously, I’ve been the No. 1 European player for six years. It is interesting that it has taken these major wins to get that across,” Harrington said.
As far as a leadership role, “that can only come from the other players,” he said. “There’s no doubt, I’ll always make myself available to help anybody else, but in that sense, winning a couple of majors may make people seek advice from me during that week.”
White Oak was developed by several Irish businessmen – some of the course’s caps include the Irish flag – who made Harrington and his family feel at home. Harrington doesn’t expect his worldwide schedule to change that much. He’s just happy to have an American base for wife Caroline and their two children when he’s on the PGA Tour.
Harrington’s next challenge? Ensuring he doesn’t stop challenging himself.
“It’s such a high in my career, it very easily could be the last high. And many players have failed at this point in the past,” he says. “That’s the key. I have to set new goals.”
Count more majors among them. He spent the past few seasons honing his practice schedule to prepare for his sports’ biggest events, much to the worry of many in his native land, who routinely question why one of their most important sports stars doesn’t win more often.
Harrington remembers earlier this year: A delivery man asked what had gone wrong with his play even though he had had four top-5 finishes in nine PGA Tour events prior to the British.
“You can get drawn into it. Winning can bring more pressure if you allow it,” Harrington said. “You just have to get yourself into doing your own thing.”