Padraig Harrington has had success at the Masters, but never gotten over the hump to claim a green jacket of his own. In 14 total appearances, he has four top-10s, the highest being two fifth-place finishes in 2002 and 2008. One of the best thinkers and talkers in the game, Harrington spoke to Golf.com before this year’s Masters about what shot scares him most at Augusta National, Tiger’s woes in 2015 and how he came up with the Happy Gilmore practice routine.
Golf.com: What shot at Augusta National is particularly intimidating?
Padraig: There are a lot of big, tough golf shots on the course. Every hole has a difficulty in it to some extent. The one that carries most weight is if you have to hit the pitch into 15. Sometime you have to hit a hybrid into 15 and hit off that downslope. But there are a lot of shots out there. It changes from day to day depending on the pin position; it can completely alter how a hole is played. If the pin is in the front of the 8th green, you’ll see a lot of eagles and guys are devastated if there don’t make a birdie on it. If they put it back right, you’ll see guys take a lot of sixes on the hole without doing much wrong. It’s hard to get your third shot anywhere close. It’s a tough hole to even make a five.
Golf.com: Is that difficulty what sets it apart from other top-level courses?
Padraig: I think, for us, it’s the ultimate test of golf. It asks us to hit big shots, and the difference between a good shot and a bad shot is not between birdie and bogey but instead eagle to double-bogey. It puts a lot of pressure on guys. If you’re in the lead with nine holes to go, you’re likely to shoot under par on the back nine. It’s a different test. It’s not about grinding; you’re forced to hit the shots. If the pin is on the right hand side of six, you’re forced to hit it in close. There’s nowhere else to hit it. And there’s a lot of those shots on the golf course. You have to man up and hit them.
Golf.com: Players say the ins and outs of Augusta have to be experienced and can’t be learned any other way. Why is that?
Padraig: It’s the course you need to play tournament golf on ahead of any other course. It changes so much from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to the week of the tournament. Then it changes every week of the tournament where they set the pins. Unfortunately for any rookie, it’s such an outside chance of anyone who’s a rookie, really knowing the golf course. You can’t cover every option in practice. Even then, it’s not close enough because the course plays differently in the tournament. It’s the one course we play like this. Like when we go to Chambers Bay, no one has ever played it in a tournament, so if it’s your first or 20th U.S. Open, there’s a marginal advantage. In terms of the golf course, the Masters is unique since we go back to the same venue, and that plays in the hands of players who have played the tournament for at least 3 or 4 years.
Golf.com: Paul McGinley said Tiger being at the Masters will help take the pressure off Rory McIlroy in his bid for the career grand slam. Do you agree?
Padraig: I think I would agree with that. I think Rory is pretty much at saturation point when it comes to hype, stress and focus. I don’t think he can add to that, but I certainly think Tiger could take away from it.
Golf.com: You’ve ran the gamut of peaks and valleys in your career. Can you imagine how Tiger is feeling at this stage his career?
Padraig: You can never tell what’s in someone else’s head. It might be my own taste, but for me I’m a very optimistic person. Put me out and no matter how bad I play today, if you put me on the range tomorrow, I’ll be happy. That’s who I am. I don’t struggle with that sort of stuff. Who knows how he feels about what’s in his head or what he’s going through. He’s the only one who could tell us this. When you’re an optimist, you can really get through anything. I always get up in the morning and go up, and for a lot of years I thought I was going to find the secret, and now I don’t think I’ll find it, but I still enjoy getting up and getting better. People can tell you things, but at the end of the day, it’s got to become a truth for you. That’s why these things, people think they can present a quick fix. But the likelihood is you will stumble through a few different things, you dig it out of the dirt, once you’ve done that off you go with a truth to believe in.
Golf.com: Have you always been this optimist who can find good in all situations? That’s got to be useful on the golf course.
Padraig: I’m pretty good that way. I never stop believing. I’m a very optimistic person. From experience, I know it’s never over. I won a couple of months ago in Indonesia, and over the last 10 holes, it didn’t look like I was going to win. Those things are good to see happen because it gives you the belief you don’t have to do everything perfect in order to be successful.
Golf.com: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of helping your swing? Is it the Happy Gilmore?
Padraig: I don’t keep secrets about what I’m doing. If someone asks me what I’m doing, I tell them. And maybe this comes with experience, but I don’t have an insight that’s better than anybody else’s. If I know something that works for me, I can go tell the world because at the end of the day, they’re the ones who have to go out and do it. I’m not embarrassed to do anything on the range though. That’s just the way it is. You’ve got to find out what works for you.
Golf.com: How do you get to the point where you realize swinging like that will help you?
Padraig: I’ve always been able to do a Happy Gilmore. I get a lot more speed from it, and that’s originally why I did it, for a bit of fun. I can hit it 20-30 yards further. As it turns out, mechanically, I do a lot of good things in my Happy Gilmore than we’d like to see in my normal swing. My coach loves my Happy Gilmore because it gets my shoulders in the right position. That’s why we do it.