Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Harrington sets out Major plan for Grand Slam

Padraig Harrington

It's a wintry Saturday morning and the fields of Rathmichael are covered by a thick, soft blanket of snow, yet the conversation around the table in Padraig Harrington's kitchen has turned to salad days at golf's Majors.

The new year has brought with it the rich promise of adventure. Even the venues for this season's four Major Championships have a magical ring to them.

Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St Andrews and Whistling Straits! Brace yourselves for some real swashbuckling action from these Three Musketeers and their young sidekick d'Artagnan.

Harrington might not have won on Tour since that famous Sunday afternoon at the US PGA Championship in Oakland Hills, when he captured his third Major title in 13 months, but his confidence and ambition have not been dented by the travails of 2009.

Quite the opposite. The Dubliner (38) is determined to convert the ring craft and experience he has gained into further Major Championship history, with the completion of a career Grand Slam especially prominent on his wish list. Just five players in history, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, have won all four Major titles, and Harrington admits he's inspired by the thought of becoming the first European to join that exclusive club.

“Yes, I do think of winning a career Grand Slam. It's definitely a motivating thing,” he admits, adding with a gleam in his eye: “So is the yearly Grand Slam!”

Seriously, Padraig? “Yeah, why not,” he replies with a shrug. “Everything is possible. Every day I go and hit a practice shot, I hope it's the day I find the secret (of the perfect golf swing) and I don't mind saying it.

“I saw an interview with Arnold Palmer when he was 70, coming off the course after a Seniors Tour event, and he told the world he believed he'd found the secret that day. I laughed and though ‘that'll be me. I'll be just like that in another 40 years'.”

These are especially exciting times to be Irish as Harrington targets Major glory and gifted youngster Rory McIlroy rises to the challenge of his first season of full membership on the US PGA Tour.

Neither man has played competitively for the past six weeks. Understandably, McIlroy didn't lift a club as he recovered from a hugely rewarding year which included his first victory as a pro; 13 top-10s on Tour; an impressive showing on the weekend at all four Majors; third place at the US PGA and a runner-up finish behind Lee Westwood in Europe's Race to Dubai. The Holywood youngster flew to his winter training base in Dubai late last week for what he colourfully described as “boot camp” before his return to European Tour action at next week's Abu Dhabi Championship.

As ever, Harrington worked on his game and his physical conditioning right through the winter break, come hail rain or snow. In recent days, he's been doing three ball-striking sessions in the nets in his basement, plus three daily stints in the gym.

His competitive campaign opens at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles in three weeks' time and Harrington will begin the countdown to his new season in earnest when he flies to the Portuguese Algarve on Thursday for a 10-day session with coach Bob Torrance and fitness guru Dr Liam Hennessy.

One of the highlights in the early part of the season will be McIlroy's return to The Masters. One can hardly wait to see this hugely gifted and brilliantly aggressive youngster take on Augusta National once again.

Especially given his performance on Sunday at last year's Masters when McIlroy birdied six of the last 10 holes and played the back nine in a thrilling 31 strokes. However, one should be careful not to burden the 20-year-old with expectations of victory at the Majors.

In boxing terminology, McIlroy's talent gives him a puncher's chance of winning a Major but he's more likely to have to learn how to contend on golf's greatest stage before actually winning one.

--

Darren Clarke at least managed to shake off his final hole blues as he finished in a tie for 28th behind winner South African Charl Schwartzel in yesterday's closing round of The Africa Open at East London.

The Ulsterman shot six birdies and three bogeys for a round of 70, which left him on 12-under for the tournament, eight behind Schwartzel. But he at least managed a par at the last after the final hole cost him four shots over the first three days of the tournament.

Belfast's Michael Hoey slipped into a share of 55th place on seven-under after a final round of level par 73. Clarke and Hoey move on to this week's Johannesburg Open.

Schwartzel, 25, the highest-ranked player in the field, edged out joint overnight leader Thomas Aiken by a stroke and picked up his fourth European Tour title since 2005.

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