Padraig Harrington: Now He’s Done It

Between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Padraig Harrington, an inveterate swing tinkerer, decided to make some extensive, but well ordered changes. Frequently a risky proposition, it has been a long time coming around.

So much so that now, on the brink of the final selection for Europe’s Ryder Cup team, Harrington languishes at 27th on the European Ryder Cup points list and 19th on the World Ryder Cup points list. He would have had to been in the top 5 on either list to lock up a spot. Here are the two lists:

European Ryder Cup points list

  • Rory McIlroy
  • Justin Rose
  • Graeme McDowell
  • Paul Lawrie
  • Francisco Molinari

World Ryder Cup points list (Highest ranked players not on the above list)

  • Luke Donald
  • Lee Westwood
  • Sergio Garcia
  • Peter Hanson
  • Martin Kaymer

His only hope now is for Captain Jose Maria Olazabal to make him one of the two captain’s picks. At the current time Ian Poulter is the next player on the World list and seems a lock as a pick due to his T3 at the PGA Championship and inspirational presence in previous Ryder Cups. Long-hitting Andrew Colsaerts from Belgium is next on the World list, but he would be a Ryder Cup rookie. That would seem to create a glimmer of an opening for Harrington.

On the one hand, he is way outside the cutoffs for determining the top 10 players. But on the other, he had T4 in the U.S. Open, a T19 at the PGA Championship and he hasn’t missed a cut since The Players Championship back in May.

And now…and now…he’s managed to wrangle the first round lead in the first of The Playoffs tournaments, The Barclays played at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York.

He shot a 7-under par 64 (with one bogey), he hit all but one fairway, he hit all but two greens, he had an astonishing 4.152 Strokes Gained – Putting (placing him 2nd in the field) and he only had 26 putts. And he was one-for-one saving par from greenside bunkers.

This is the last week for European players to accumulate points towards the two lists, but Harrington is so far back even if he won The Barclays, it wouldn’t be enough. Or would it?

He’s been such a strong fixture on the European Ryder Cup teams that speculation has run wild in the media about how Olazabal could leave him off, and how he could possibly pick him from so far down the list of other deserving players. But experience counts for so much in the Ryder Cup.

So finally, in answer to what Harrington would have to do this week to get the pick, Olazabal had a clipped response. “He would have to win.”

So how did Harrington pull off such a great start? It began with getting his mind right.

I think the biggest difficulty  — maybe not the difficulty but the most interesting thing was it’s very hard to go out and play this course without thinking you’re playing a U.S. Open.  Certainly early on in my round I was making pars and very happy.

Troy Matteson I was playing with made a birdie and an eagle early on, and it definitely helped me cross that divide between thinking I’m at a U.S. Open and level par is going to be the winning total this week, whereas this is much more of a sprint.  It’s the FedEx Playoffs.  You’re going to need to be 12‑under par at the end of the week, or who knows, but it ain’t going to be level par.

Was he relying on a pick to get in?

I can’t make — there’s no possible way I can make it in on the rankings.  This [tournament] doesn’t count in terms of rankings.  If I won this week there would be enough points that I would have automatically got in, but it doesn’t count for points.

So it could come down to his relationship with Olazabal.

You know, I don’t know where I sit.  Or maybe I do.  (Laughter.)

I kind of feel it’s not something — I’m not really going to get into and discuss because I’m either going to do one of two things:  I’m either going to look like I’m pleading or I’m going to look like I’m incriminating myself, one or the other.  As I keep saying to people, you over here have this thing called the Fifth.  I’m going to plead the Fifth.  I’m not going to build myself up or I’m not going to tear myself down.  At the end of the day, it’s up to him.

In the 2003 Seve Cup, a European Tour match play event, Harrington called for a penalty on Olazabal. He accused him of fixing ball marks on the green that weren’t ball marks.

The only thing you can fix on the green is ball marks, not spike marks, not heel prints or anything else. Who knows what the truth was; sometimes fixing an old ball mark creates a situation where you get a twofer on a spike mark.

The etiquette is that if you have any doubt about whether it’s a ball mark, you call your opponent over to concur with you before you touch the green. But most players are certain, can’t imagine that anyone would doubt them and go ahead and fix it. The problem is that certainty is in the eye of the beholder. In this instance, Harrington disagreed. Olazabal was incensed that his integrity was being called into question. But he conceded the hole, lost the match and his team lost the Cup.

Would he consider this when it came to the pick?

You know, I was very supportive of José when he got the captaincy.  I truly believe that he’s interested in winning the Ryder Cup.  And I know in my own situation, I’d be putting — I do believe José would do this.  From the character that he is, I believe he would put winning way above anything that’s personal.

The Ryder Cup means so much to Europe, particularly to José as a European player.  Nobody, bar Seve, would understand in his mind what it means to Europe.

He really didn’t want to discuss the Ryder Cup because he felt that it was what it was and any discussion along those lines diminished the tournament he was actually playing in, The Barclays. If he spoke positively about his chances, he could be viewed as overreaching and begging for a pick. If he spoke negatively about his chances, he could be seen as using false modesty to gain an edge.

See, every time I talk about this, I’m playing it down.

Look, it’s a tough situation I’m in.  I didn’t play enough — not playing in the bigger events outside of those four majors hurt my cause.  Not doing anything — playing solid but — that’s the way it is.  Look, at the end of the day, we’ll see how we get on this week.  I’m going to keep playing well and see what happens.  I’d dearly love to play in the Ryder Cup.  I’ve played four out of six Ryder Cups.  See, I’m starting to plead now.

Why is all of this relevant? Because the essence of mastery is to come to the table with a calm, clear and present mind. It’s the only way that you can pay attention to the most important things: the target and your shot to that target. Holding those images in your mind’s eye on each shot is hard enough.

We’ll see if Harrington can manage it with all these extraneous issues on his mind. He’s trying very hard not to have to think about it. But the media isn’t helping.

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