Padraig Harrington: Introspective thoughts on winning

Padraig Harrington won the Honda Classic in a 2-hole playoff over rookie, Daniel Berger. Afterward, he had a long, rambling interview — he’s very smart, thoughtful and willing — that touched on so many parts of his day. But the ones I’m most interested in are the ones having to do with the introspective part of the game. Aside from being quite twinkling-eyed charming, he’s nothing if not introspective.

For example, in regulation he put his tee shot in the water on the par-3 17th and made double bogey. In the playoff, not only did he know he had to do better, he knew from experience that he was wired to do better: 

You know, I never have trouble hitting a big shot at a big time.  Sometimes I struggle with, like I have the lead and I’m trying not to bail out on 17 when I was playing it.  I just was making sure not to hit it left and I did make a bad swing [and put it in the water].

I’m a better player when I have a lot of clarity.  So when I came back to [the 17th] in real time, I had to hit the shot.  There’s no choice.  I’m good at that:  When my back’s to the wall I tend to hit the shot.  You know, you could see that today, the last nine holes, whereas when I got to 9‑under par, I should have been able to go away from the field at that stage.

He looked back on when he was most successful in the game and how his game has sort of devolved.

I’m clearly trying to manage my emotions.  You know, the good thing is I won a couple of times in Asia.  I won just five tournaments ago in Indonesia.  I won the Grand Slam event.  When I got myself in contention, I was converting.

There was a time I used to finish second a lot.  Now I just don’t get myself in that position enough.  But it was all about getting into the last nine holes, even when I came to the last nine today, my caddie said to me: Going into the back nine, you’re four behind, would you have taken this at the start of the week?  I said, absolutely.  Any chance coming down the stretch, it’s just where you want to be.

And this same do-or-die ability came up in the area of his putting as well:

As I said today, it was all duck or no dinner.  Standing over putts today, I knew, I’ve got to hole it.  I had no choice.

Especially like on 14 when Patrick [Reed] holed before me, it gives you a certain clarity when you see that and you know, well, I’ve got to do it.  I’ve been good in that type of situation in the past.  Because I have good memories of those sort of things, I don’t mind the sort of nerves and things like that.  I handled the bad shot on 17 and got up there and I played 18 [and made birdie to make the playoff].

I’m good at recovering and hitting the shots when the pressure is on, but I just need to manage it when it’s not on.

He wasn’t playing particularly well on Sunday, so he was relieved when the sun went down and he was able to reboot:

You know, it was a big break for me.  When I won in Indonesia five weeks ago, again we had a rain delay in the last round when things were not going well for me and momentum changed when I came back out.

That’s all I was thinking about overnight.  I says, look, it has not gone well for me and now I’m the one chasing.  The other guys are going to feel a little bit of pressure because they are leading.  The shoe is on a different foot so basically I knew I could come out and challenge today.

I like to be — I’m a better player when I’m attacking from behind.  I tend to have better focus and be a bit more aggressive.

In order to get into the playoff, he had to make a 16-footer for par:

You know, you don’t let yourself get away with yourself at that moment.  The worst thing you can do is get excited because you got into a playoff.  The job is only half‑done at that stage.

Yeah, I was not allowing my emotions to get away with me.  To be honest, all day I was pretty good.  I never once considered how important this win is to me.  You know, I’m playing on exemptions — not exemptions, invites.  I got an invite this week.  That changes everything for the three years.  I’m back at the Masters.  There’s lots of things that this does, World Ranking points, but I never considered that all day.

I was very much in the moment all day, which is good. There’s no doubt, the big advantage for me this week if I’m going to look to anything is the fact that we were called off after seven holes yesterday.  Things were not going well for me.  And I knew coming back out today, that I was the challenger, and for other guys were leading, it’s a tough golf course to lead on.

And we find out that maybe the reason that he’s so introspective is that he’s working with Dr. Bob Rotella, the renowned sports psychologist:

Bob took me aside to make sure I’m doing what I said I’m doing, the right stuff.  And it wasn’t a question of — I’ve always been doing the right stuff. As much as people make assumptions, they see me doing stuff out there and think I’m doing one thing and I’m usually doing the opposite most of the time.  I’m doing the correct stuff.  I’m just struggling to do it.

I was putting so much pressure on myself to get it right and to live up to my mental focus, say, of 2008, that, you know what, I couldn’t live up to it.  You know, Bob was there, ensuring that I wasn’t getting distracted and sticking to the plan, and as I said, I did find some peace last Saturday.

It was interesting, I had a bad day on the golf course last Saturday, and we were out early and we were tired.  I was sitting around, and I was thinking about, you know, I was tired and I heard one or two players say, “No, I’m finished for the day, heading home.  They wouldn’t go down to the range.”

I really wanted to leave.  I said:  No, I’ll go down to the range, and I found something down there.  Again, nothing to do with my technique.  I found something to do with my focus, and I got a little bit of peace, and probably for 50 percent of the time this week, I had peace out on the golf scores and I hit plenty of really nice golf shots.  I hit plenty of poor ones, but I definitely was in a better place.

And he had an interesting perspective on putting. His ideas have a lot to do with the transformation process: step into the role you aspire to and then let the doing follow:

I came out here today, and one of the things that helped change my putting around was if I had a 10‑foot putt to win on the 18th green, actually a 15‑footer as it turned out today, I wouldn’t want anybody else to putt it.  So as much as I was struggling, I still would choose myself to read that putt and hit that putt.

That gives me confidence, and my wife reminded me of that this morning, actually, before I went out; that, you know, just if I had a choice, I would pick me.  I wouldn’t pick anybody else to hit the putt.  I stood over the putts — I wasn’t confident, but, you know, I wasn’t getting in my way.  It wasn’t like, oh, this is it.  I just, okay, hit the best putt you can, run it at the hole and thankfully a few of them did run into the hole.

This is just a sample from the mind of the latest winner on the PGA Tour. Personally, I’m very pleased that he managed to lock up his card for two years. I had begun to think of what the Tour would be like without one of its most charming fixtures.

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