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European Open has mixed memories for home favourite Harrington

By Karl MacGinty

Published 05/07/2007

Padraig Harrington lines up a putt on the seventh green during yesterday's Pro-Am at the K Club
Padraig Harrington lines up a putt on the seventh green during yesterday's Pro-Am at the K Club

It's your first golf tournament as a professional and you miss the cut. Then, as you gird yourself for Q-School, a respected pro says you've no hope of making it on Tour.

Padraig Harrington doesn't remember his round scores at the inaugural European Open at The K Club in 1995.

Just for the record he shot 77, 73.

But he's not forgotten that slight.

The Dubliner insists it didn't inspire him to become one of the world's top-10 golfers or the biggest earner in Irish sport.

He's gone laughing all the way to the bank with more than €22.3m in prize-money and 18 victories since 1996.

Throw in equipment deals, endorsements and other off-course income and you probably can double that amount.

In 2006 alone, Golf Digest estimated Harrington's total income at $$12.56m, placing him 14th in the world and second only to Sergio Garcia in Europe.

Not bad for a no-hoper.

"I got an invite to the 1995 Smurfit European Open. It was my first tournament as a professional. I really found it difficult and missed the cut. I didn't play in the pro-am on the Wednesday and didn't have the pace of the greens in the tournament. That cost me.

" While I was disappointed, I didn't have much time to think about it. Q-School was coming up so I just got on with the next tournament.

" One professional said he couldn't understand what I thought I was doing that I'd never make it as pro. It wasn't said to me personally but obviously it came back to me.

"I don't want to say who it was. He didn't know that I heard it and I believe it wasn't said maliciously or anything like that. He's a nice guy.

"It probably looked like that to him at the time and maybe I didn't look as if I'd be making a big impact as a pro.

"It didn't harden my resolve or anything like that but it made me wise to the fact that whenever I look at anybody else, I don't try and judge them too hard because, from one week to the next, you never really know."

Nowadays, Harrington's an automatic favourite for any tournament on home soil, especially this week's Smurfit-Kappa European Open after May's ground-breaking victory at The Irish Open.

Undeterred by the pressure, the Dubliner admits he has set his heart on making history on The Smurfit Course by becoming the first player to win The Irish and European Opens in the same season.

"I want the double. I'm laughing because I thought winning the Irish Open would get the monkey off my back but, if anything, the level of expectation has risen. People want me to do the double and I want to do it as well.

Though he's had 30 second places in his career, even clinching the European Order of Merit last November with his runner-up spot at Valderrama, Harrington is no longer prepared to settle for second-best at The Majors.

Yet he reckons this all-or-nothing policy might have contributed to his frustration at Oakmont a couple of weeks back when he missed the cut at The US Open.

Harrington's trademark smile vanished on Friday in Pittsburgh as he dropped nine shots in a nightmarish four-hole spell from nine through 12, racking up a triple-bogey, bogey, double-bogey and then another triple-bogey.

"No question about it, I got frustrated. You expect to make bogeys at the US Open but you hope to make birdies to offset them. Gee whiz, to go 33 holes without a birdie at Oakmont really made it tough.

"I'm a proud person. I never want to miss a cut. I always want to be there at the weekend in a Major. Handling conditions like those is always going to make you a better player and you don't get too many chances to do it.

" However, I wouldn't take second place in a Major anymore. If someone offered it me at the start of the week, I'd say no.

"I think I'm playing better golf than I've ever played. Unfortunately, I've never been the best person in the world when I've been confident and that does me a lot of damage at times.

"That's a little issue I have with my own game at the moment. I've been getting a little ahead of myself. There's been too much of that in the last couple of weeks. I'm trying to win tournaments on the first day, trying to shoot too low a score."

The set-up at Oakmont was controversial with Des Smyth panning it as "stupid" last week. So what did Harrington really think? Was the US Open unfair?

"There was one shot on the golf course I was incapable of hitting, as I had to play to a spot that wasn't great. That was the day they'd the pin on the right hand side of nine.

"However, if I'd hit a driver off the tee, which I didn't think was the play, I'd have had a wedge in and then could have stopped it.

"But when I chipped it out (of the rough), I was hitting six iron in. I hit the best shot I could, straight at the pin, and it went off the green.

"If I walk away feeling there's only one shot I couldn't have played in 36 holes, that's

ot a bad golf course.

"I don't feel Oakmont was too tough. I actually prefer to play a difficult golf course set up fairly than an average course set-up unfairly."

Harrington agrees that losing by one shot to Michael Campbell at The K Club in 2002 was probably his all-time low point at the European Open.

The Kiwi had been five ahead with four to play but Harrington was only two down playing 18 and appeared to have a great chance when Campbell hit his approach into the water.

However, Harrington pulled an ambitious 6-iron into the lake and lost out by one.

"I'm a professional golfer. I have to accept the fact that I can hit a shot in the water.

"That doesn't hurt me. If I was to get upset about that, I'd never be able to play this game.

"I'm going to have my good and bad days - I actually played great that day. It probably was my worst moment at the European Open but it doesn't stand out in my memory.

"You'd never have a good day again if you thought about things that way."

Nobody's more surprised than Harrington by his success. After graduating from Q-School with his European Tour card, he set out for his first full season in 2006 expecting only a modest career as a journeyman pro.

Instead, the young Dubliner would grind out his first tournament victory in the season's 10th event, The Peugeot Spanish Open.

"I certainly can't believe where I've got to in the world. I probably got lucky with my start. That's the most important thing.

"Making the cut in my first tournament was big. I putted unbelievably that week. It was important to win so early in 1996.

"There's been a lot of talented players who never managed to get up and running and it has made all the difference to them.

"I think the gap between an amateur and a pro is not as big as people make out.

"There's so many good amateurs who're capable of being pros but don't get close, while many average amateurs have become very good professionals.

" It's all down to your self-confidence.

"Different people take to the professional life. If they become comfortable and they like it, it's a great life.

"If you are young free and single with no mortgage, playing professional golf is great. It's a lot more to do with your application rather than anything else."

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