Putting a nightmare for Padraig Harrington
Less than five years ago, Padraig Harrington was on such a roll, it looked as if he could win the Lotto without even buying a ticket. These days, he's more likely to pick all the right numbers and get a puncture on the way to the shop.
There probably could have been no worse venue than Quail Hollow last week to try out a long putter for the first time in competition.
Rarely, if ever, have the pampered stars on the US circuit endured such badly scarred putting surfaces as those in Charlotte, where harsh weather and, reputedly, a gaffe by Tour agronomy staff took a heavy toll.
Making the decision to switch to the controversial belly putter was tough enough for Harrington, given his role as playing ambassador for the R&A and his outspoken support of the upcoming ban on so-called 'anchoring'.
Trying to bed in this new method on such bumpy and unpredictable greens was a recipe for disaster, and the Dubliner duly plumbed new depths as a professional, finishing tied 155th and last with Greg Owen (on 11-over).
Despite his nightmare at Quail Hollow, it would make no sense at all for Harrington (41) to abandon the anchoring experiment this week, even if TPC Sawgrass is not his happy hunting ground.
There have been several key moments in Harrington's head-spinning descent from Major championship heaven to golfing hell:
2009: SHORT BUT NOT SWEET
Harrington opened 2009 in a career-high third place in the world but his form dipped alarmingly in the first six months of the year on foot of swing changes made over the winter.
As he missed six cuts in seven events up to that year's British Open, seasoned observers wondered aloud why he had shortened his swing. Harrington strenuously denied this was the case, even when his coach Bob Torrance mentioned it to him at Turnberry. Still, after six hours of remedial work with Torrance on the Monday of British Open week, Harrington's season turned around.
2010: OUT OF HIS GROOVE
A new rule banning square or box-grooves massively impacted on Harrington. The grooves on his wedges used be so sharp, they'd almost cut your finger; he was able to achieve spin and exercise uncanny control over his ball even from deep rough.
Requiring Harrington to play with the 'softer' V-grooves was like asking Picasso to use crayons.
"That change cost me at least a shot a round," admits the player.
2011: HARDEST CUT OF ALL
Few imagined Harrington would ever break up with Torrance, his coach since 1997. Yet that fateful day came one July Saturday in Killarney.
Harrington, who had spiralled out of the world's elite top 50 the previous month, missed the cut by four strokes at the Irish Open, but friction had been growing for some time between the player and his coach over the direction he should go with his swing.
The following month, Harrington linked up with English coach Pete Cowen.
Within a couple of months, Harrington was hitting the ball further and with more confidence... but, ironically, as he made big strides with his long game, serious issues began to emerge with his putting.
2012: WHAT'S MY LINE?
Harrington continued plummeting down the rankings as he struggled to trust his reading of the line of his putts. He arrived at Augusta in 96th place in the world and with an order from wife Caroline to ask Bernhard Langer for advice after suffering 'the heebeejeebies' on the greens.
Whatever Langer said, he turned things around with an eighth-place finish at the Masters and then tied fourth at the US Open. Had he made birdie and not bogey at the final hole, he would have forced a play-off with Webb Simpson ... yet his putting had become too erratic for Harrington to build on that performance.
Unable to play in elite, dollar-rich, limited-field events because of his ranking, he failed to qualify for the Ryder Cup, breaking a string of six successive appearances.
2013: DEATH BY 1,000 PUTTS
Harrington's frustrations mounted as he hit the ball "better and longer than I ever have" but struggled to tuck away the shortest of putts.
He is currently 166th in Greens in Regulation on the PGA Tour.
For months, he has blamed his putting ills on a lack of trust in his reading of putts ... yet the belly putter solves problems with twitchy wrists and hands, and not the eye. By using it, he is publicly acknowledging the yips.
This is the turning of a new page for him. Forget Quail Hollow. Starting with Sawgrass, the weeks ahead probably will determine if he's entering the final chapter of a great career.