Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Changing man Padraig Harrington chasing more glory

Padraig Harrington

It's easy to dismiss Padraig Harrington as golf's greatest tinkerman, a latter-day Dr Frankenstein of the fairways. It's also unfair.

Harrington is besotted with the nuts and bolts of golf, admitting that he likes nothing better than to strip down his swing like a high-performance engine, then put it all back together.

Yet the 39-year-old's voracious appetite for practice and his determination to make use of bio-mechanics, computer technology and medical science in the pursuit of perfection should keep him in the frame at the Majors well into his 40s.

With each passing season, Harrington is building a dossier which insiders believe will one day help the Dubliner produce the definitive golf anthology, like Ben Hogan's renowned 'Five Lessons: the Modern Fundamentals of Golf', only for the 21st century.

For example, last year Harrington wore a cardiac monitor and every day he measured the specific gravity of his urine on a refractometer. The data was used by fitness guru Dr Liam Hennessy to compile a comprehensive picture of Harrington's physical stress levels, helping him to determine his ideal diet, the optimum amount of practice he can do and how much rest is required for him to turn up at the Majors at a physical peak.

Harrington stunned observers last Friday when he revealed the raft of changes he set in train over the winter, leading one to ask: “Why don't you just stand up there and hit the ball?”. “Because that's not me,” he replied. “I can do that with my putting stroke because I've always swung it on a nice path without having to worry about it and it's the same with my chipping.

“Yet even when I was a kid, I always had moving parts in my swing. I've always had to develop it. If I stood up there and tried to swing naturally, I'd have good rhythm and hit good shots but only for a limited period. My putting and chipping are not to be tinkered with, whereas the long game is.”

The word 'tinkering', defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “working in an amateurish or desultory way,” couldn't be less appropriate.

Every change Harrington made this winter was put in place to correct specific shortcomings identified in his game in 2010, a year he describes as “the most frustrating of my career”. Yet Harrington concedes his greatest problems since becoming a three-time Major champion in 2008 have been in the mind department, especially when it comes to dealing with great expectations.

He said: “Expectations were high in nearly every tournament last year. It's hard to play with those high expectations at times and I just didn't deliver.

“Then you try harder and put more pressure on yourself and that doesn't help.” This is Dr Bob Rotella's department. The American sports psychologist is also helping Harrington address his failure in 2010 to bring good form from practice into competition.

At this week's Abu Dhabi Championship, Harrington begins the process of putting a winter's work into competitive effect — a process which he says will take up to six weeks before the changes are fully bedded in.

Harrington, through the appliance of science, once again becomes a Major contender.