The Open: Padraig Harrington set to come off the ropes again
Published 17/07/2014 | 09:16
Ulster boxer Wayne McCullough chillingly once told me of getting hit so hard during a title fight against Jose Luis Bueno at the Point Depot he was knocked all the way back to his hotel room.
One moment he's in the ring, the next he's sitting on the end of his bed. It's several hours earlier. He can see himself clearly in the mirror as he makes final preparations before leaving for the fight.
All's quiet. Then, suddenly, he's back amid the bedlam, facing Bueno. Watching the video later on, McCullough estimated he was 'away' for several seconds. During that time, he still maintained his defence, bobbing and weaving, surviving entirely on instinct.
McCullough is one of the bravest, most resilient men it's been my pleasure to meet. So is Padraig Harrington. Great fighters come in many guises and the Dubliner is one who simply refuses to go down, who always seems to come up smiling after countless hammer blows.
Harrington has taken enough stinging jabs and bruising hooks in the past six years to break all but the stoutest heart but you'll never hear this guy cry 'no mas', while caddie Ronan Flood knows he'll only ever need that towel for cleaning the clubs.
Dr Bob Rotella is awed by the 42-year-old's fighting spirit, insisting it gives him every confidence that Harrington will be back and can win again at the Majors. Who knows, maybe even pick up a third Claret Jug this week at Hoylake?
"Padraig's tougher than nails, no question about that," said Rotella, one of the most famous mind coaches in world sport and author of 'Golf is Not a Game of Perfect'.
"The ability to rebound is a big part of every sport," he added. "Padraig's so upbeat, he can deal with anything, no matter what. I remember 10 or 12 years ago some reporter told me Tiger was the toughest character he'd ever seen and I said no, Tiger's really confident and really good but we'll find out how tough he is if he ever goes through a real struggle. You don't find out if a guy's tough if every week he's in the top five. To be a great sportsman, you've got to go through it, and if you go through it, can you handle it?"
Harrington's certainly been "through it" since winning his third Major title in 13 months at the 2008 US PGA in Detroit, winning just the Asian Tour's Johor Open in October 2010 and finishing first of four at the 36-hole PGA Grand Slam in 2012.
Initially, a couple of ill-starred swing changes played their part. However, the banning of box grooves in January 2010, which affected Harrington's 'Picasso touch' with his wedges and, in more recent years, a lengthy battle with the yips truly consigned him to purgatory and 234th place in the world rankings.
Having to watch the Masters and US Open on TV for the first time in 14 years was painful for the Dubliner. These days, instead of trying to add to his haul of 23 professional victories, Harrington more often finds himself fighting grimly for survival.
Still, this week at Hoylake, the relentless fighter inside allowed 100/1 shot Harrington a measure of quiet assurance that he can make the ring craft he's displayed as a two-time Open champion tell on the links.
"No doubt, I have somewhat of an advantage when it comes to links golf," he said. "A lot depends on the weather. It'd suit me if it was a really tough week, certainly I'd want a couple of days to be difficult days. I know I can read the lies in the rough a lot better than some of the guys and have a fair idea how to manage my way around the golf course on a difficult, windy day."