Harrington’s putting coach tells us about his short game approach

Harrington won two major championships in 2008.
Robert Beck/SI

Remember all those putts that Padraig Harrington holed on the final nine of the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills? Meet Dr. Paul Hurrion, a bio-mechanics expert who is Harrington’s putting coach. In the world of golf instruction, he’s become the next big thing. He serves as a putting guru for half a dozen other European tour players and also has his own signature line of putters available from GEL Golf.

I thought I might learn something about Harrington or putting, or both, so I called his office in London. Here are some highlights of our conversation:

SI: I’m surprised there aren’t more guys like you who analyze putting, considering what a big part of the game it is.

Paul Hurrion: “It’s a very good thing for me. I don’t want to point a finger at the PGA, but in the UK, our PGA manual was maybe two inches thick on how to teach golf — 200-plus pages on golf and you’re lucky if there are four pages on putting. It has changed a little, but there hasn’t been a systematic approach with grip and posture and alignment. It’s more about feeling comfortable, and comfortable isn’t always optimal.”

SI: How did a former cricket player like yourself get into analyzing putting?

Hurrion: “I’ve always liked golf. I played mostly cricket and other athletics, but I had a bad injury so I started playing more golf. I got down to scratch about the time I got my Ph. D. I was interested in how the ball reacts to the putter face. We developed software so we can analyze movements. You know how you see a ball hit with a driver in super slow-motion, and the ball compresses and the face caves? I did the same thing with a wedge and sand irons, and when I did it with a putter, I went, geez, hold on a second. I had to check to make sure the camera was correct. The ball was on the putter face for a second. I did a study for Yes Golf when they came out with their C-grooved putter. Grooves do work; they have an impact. But how you’re holding the club has far more influence over the ball than the grooves, or even the putter. I’d say it’s 90-percent user, 10-percent club.”

SI: So if I’m putting poorly it’s my fault.

Hurrion: “No question. Professional golfers are great at disassociating. It’s not them. It’s always the putter or the green or the spike marks. But when you look at the numbers, it comes down to you, I’m afraid.”

SI: What did you think of those putts Padraig holed on the last three holes of the PGA? Two of them were pretty difficult. If he misses those, Sergio Garcia still wins.

Hurrion: “Definitely. I think Padraig one-putted eight greens on the back nine, had 26 putts for the round. That’s what we have worked to do, take the manipulation out of his stroke. If you’ve got any manipulation on that stroke, whether it’s body or hands, it’s not good. When it comes down to that moment of impact, about half a millisecond, there’s not much room for error, I’m afraid.

“That back nine, once he got that look in his eyes, he was clearly in the zone, totally focused on what he was doing. We just worked so diligently on setup and posture and the club fitting him. He’s not thinking about that, he’s solely into reading the putts, trusting the line and letting it go. The great testament to me was last year at Carnoustie. He never even went on the putting green during the week. He was so happy with his putting he was like, leave it alone, just hit a couple of putts and go to the tee.”

SI: How’d you get together?

Hurrion: “At Valderrama in 2001. I had some footage of him. We were introduced through a mutual friend. I was a relative unknown. I didn’t have a pedigree or anything. I just said, this is what we’re seeing. He was interested, and in January, Padraig came over for a day and away we went.”

SI: He seems to have a mechanical approach to the game.

Hurrion: “Yes, he leaves no stone unturned in his approach.”

SI: What was his putting stroke like before you met?

Hurrion: “It was very good. He was very high on the stats in Europe. He was a good putter. People said, how can you improve on Padraig, he’s one of the best out there? Well, you take the manipulation out of the stroke. If you do that, you’ve got a chance to repeat the stroke. He had a lot of moving body parts. It mimics his full swing as well, rocking back on the heels. One of first things we did was make his stance wider, to give him a stable base. That was a quick fix to reduce manipulation. It’s not the end-answer because the wider you go, the lower the sternum gets and the less fluid the stroke becomes. You have to fix the body physically.”

SI: You mean work out?

Hurrion: “Absolutely, no question.”

SI: You need to work out to putt?

Hurrion: “Yeah, it’s a strength exercise. You’ve only got to look at Tiger and see how still he stands over a ball.”

SI: That makes sense, but you’re the first guy I’ve ever heard say that.

Hurrion: “I’m coming at it from a physics standpoint of how can you repeat something. It takes half a millisecond, and if your hips are rocking and rolling, it’s very tough. You need strength to stay still.”

SI: How long before Padraig’s stroke got to where you wanted it?

Hurrion: “It’s a work in progress. There’s more to come. You never stop. The moment you stop, everyone goes by you. He can still get better.”

SI: How much better can he putt than he did at the PGA?

Hurrion: “I’ve got my homework to do. Padraig sent me a list of all the putts he wants me to look at from the PGA. I record everything and then I can analyze it later. He wants me to look at good ones and bad ones. He wants me to create a database that we can always refer back to.”

SI: Like the putts at 16 and 18?

Hurrion: “The one at 16 was very impressive. It kept his momentum going.”

SI: SO he really approaches the game from a scientific standpoint?

Hurrion: “I describe it as a business standpoint. If you run a business, you ask, what do I need to improve and succeed? You analyze everything and figure it out. Everyone plays their little part, and if they all keep improving, you end up being successful. Padraig has worked incredibly hard to get everything he’s gotten.”

SI: So what’s it like to play a small part in winning three major championships?

Hurrion: “It’s very satisfying. There are more to come, no question. The great thing to me is, Padraig will still keep working.”