If Padraig Harrington wins a Green Jacket on Sunday, he will have won four of the last seven Major championships. Here, the Irishman talks exclusively about his preparations for Augusta, and going for the Paddy Slam.
After 10 years, do you feel you are getting closer to winning at Augusta?
I do have a fair idea of what to expect from Augusta now. I’d love to tell you I’ve found the secret to winning but... I do think I’m getting closer. I find the golf course is the ultimate test. It is the toughest test in terms of the variety of shots you’re required to hit during the week. You’ve got to be long and straight; but that’s not the end of it. You’ve got to not just be accurate with your irons but you’ve got to hit them the right distances and you’ve got to strike them perfectly, so you can stop them where you’re landing them. And then you’ve got to chip and putt superbly.
What will you practise beforehand?
If there’s two things you need to do well during the week to win, it’s putting well and making the right decisions. The winner this year will do both of these. In the past I haven’t played enough events before the Masters. Hopefully, this time, I will be up and running by the time it starts.
Will there be extra pressure on you this year because of the Paddy Slam?
Well, it’s going to be quite an interesting year for me, because as well as going for three Majors in a row at Augusta, I am going for three Opens in a row at Turnberry and I will be the defending champion at the PGA Championship. That means that in three of my four Majors this year I will have added focus. I’m not going to be able to go under the radar and there will be an extra element of distraction.
How do distractions such as these manifest themselves?
Well, you’ve got to be prepared for the fact that on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday people are going to be asking you if you’re going to win, whereas normally they would only be asking you that if you are up there on the leaderboard on Saturday night. There’s definitely a lot more stress to deal with.
Are you a better player now than you were a year ago?
I’ve got to believe that or else I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. Physically, I’m stronger. The big advantage of having won Majors is that you can believe and trust that what you’re doing is bringing in the results. I know the way I prepared for Majors helped me win them.
Some say Augusta has lost its magic when you compare it to the late 1980s and early ’90s. Do you agree?
I think the course has been improved since I started playing it. My first Masters was in 2000, and that year I consistently hit short irons into many of the holes. I hit a wedge into the 5th, a lob wedge into the 7th, a pitching wedge into 11 and a lob wedge into the 18th. This year I’ll be hitting between a 5 and 7-iron into the 5th, a 6 to 9-iron into the 7th, and a 5-iron into the 11th. And the 18th is such an interesting hole now because so much depends on the drive. I could be hitting anything between a 3-wood to a 7-iron. In the last round last year I didn’t hit a great drive and I had a wood in there; and yet if you hit a drive up and around the corner you can have a short iron. So that is a great change. Suddenly, we’re hitting 4-irons and hybrids into holes; and that is what it’s meant to be like. At the 15th now I’ve got to hit a good drive if I want to hit a wood into the green with my second. In 2000, I could reach it with a 7-iron.
Apparently, they’ve shortened the 7th for this year?
That’s the one hole on the golf course which needed something done to it. The green is so shallow and it’s just very difficult to hit a 7-iron off a downslope into that green.
But people remember players shooting 30 on the back nine at Augusta, and that doesn’t seem to happen anymore. To the outsider, the Masters and the US Open seem to have swapped places in the last decade, and now the Masters looks like a slog for the players?
I’m not sure I agree with that. Back in 2000, they had to put the pins in very tricky positions, because players were coming in with short irons. They put the pins a yard away from the slopes. There is no doubt in my mind that the course is much fairer now.
I much prefer a stern, but fair test than a tricked-up one; and they have got the course now much nearer to what it was like in the late ’80s and early ’90s when I was watching it on the TV.
You’ve said that from the moment last year’s US PGA finished, your thoughts were focused on Augusta; what shots in particular have you been practising?
It’s a tight golf course and you’ve got to drive it straight; so that’s the first thing. But, my main focus will be on chipping into the grain. Every time you chip at Augusta, you seem to be chipping with the grain against you. I’m practising 20-foot chips a lot, because they can be awkward off those lies. And the sand is firmer at Augusta than elsewhere, so that takes a bit of getting used to. And then of course you’ve got to feel comfortable on fast and undulating greens.
You won the Par 3 Tournament in 2003 and 2004, and despite the fact people say no one wins a Green Jacket in the same year they win the Par 3, you continue to play in it. Can we expect more of the same this time around?
Absolutely. I am so looking forward to winning it again, just to prove everybody wrong. My take on that theory is that it is a load of baloney.
Do you still get a tingle down your spine when you go down Magnolia Lane, or does that wear off?
I still get a big kick out of taking new people down Magnolia Lane. As players we have a special entrance we can use, but whenever I’ve got new people with me I make a point of taking them down Magnolia Lane. This year we’ve got my two nephews with us, neither of whom have been before; so that should be fun. I’ve got more of my family going this year than in previous ones. My wife, Caroline, and my eldest son, Patrick, have not been for five years, and they are both coming. Patrick, who is five and a half, is going to caddie for me in the Par 3 Tournament.
If you could win one Major this year, either the Masters or the US Open, which would it be and why?
I’d take the first one, just because it’s the first one. And then, I’d try to go back and persuade you to give me the second one.
Tiger will be back. What are you expecting from him post injury?
Much of the same. I think he’ll come back just where he left off. I don’t think the lay off will be a big issue for him, especially if he can get a couple of events under his belt before Augusta. He’ll be very well prepared, and he wants it more than anyone. He will be relishing getting back out on to the golf course, so we’d better all up our own games.
Do you change anything in your bag specifically for Augusta?
In 2007 I put in my lob wedge (64 degree) instead of my sand wedge (54 degree). And then last year I had my lob instead of my 9-iron. But, I’ve decided my lob is not going to make the trip this year. I practised for three weeks before, with it in, and although I hit lots of great shots with it, I also hit some bad ones. The answer is, I’d love to have the lob wedge in, but to do it, you’d need to have it in every week, and because it isn’t, I’m not going to take it.
You sometimes have a longer-shafted driver at Augusta. Is that going to be the case this year?
No. I’m trying out the new Wilson driver which has put 10 yards on my drives. We’re just tinkering with a few shafts at the moment. It’s nice to have a little bit extra length at Augusta, because you need that there. You know, I wasn’t surprised when Phil Mickelson put two drivers in his bag, because Augusta is one of those courses where I hit driver the whole time. I maybe hit my 3-wood once in 72 holes last year.
Any thoughts on what you’d serve up for a Champions’ Dinner next year?
Well, I have to give a dinner at the US PGA this year. We’re going to start with smoked salmon sandwiches on brown bread, and then have Steak and Guinness pie. So, if that goes down well, I’d repeat that at Augusta should I win.
But you don’t like Guinness?
I don’t mind it in a pie!
The European Revival at Augusta
Padraig Harrington is one of 23 European players at The Masters this year. This is the full list – and how they qualified.
England (10, 17)
# Ross Fisher,
Sergio Garcia, Spain
(5, 13, 14, 16, 17)
Padraig Harrington, Ireland (3, 4, 10, 14, 17)
Miguel Angel Jiménez, Spain (10, 11, 17)
Sweden (10, 11, 17)
# Soren Kjeldsen, Denmark (17)
Bernhard Langer, Germany (1)
Northern Ireland (17)
# Rory McIlroy,
Northern Ireland (17)
José Maria Olazábal, Spain (1)
Sweden (11, 14, 15, 16)
England (12, 17)
#* Reinier Saxton, Holland (7)
Sweden (12, 13, 17)
England (10, 11, 17)
# Oliver Wilson,
Ian Woosnam, Wales (1)
# First Masters. *Amateur.
How they qualified
1: Masters Champion (Lifetime).
2: US Open Champion (Honorary, non-competing after five years).
3. Open Champion (Honorary, non-competing after five years).
4: PGA Champion (Honorary, non-competing after five years).
5: Winners of The Players Championship (2007 and 2008).
6: US Amateur Champion (6A) (Honorary, non-competing after one year), and the runner-up to the US Amateur Champion.
7: British Amateur Champion (Honorary, non-competing after one year).
8: US Amateur Public Links Champion.
9: US Mid-Amateur Champion.
10: The first 16 players, including ties, in the 2008 Masters.
11: The first 8 players, including ties, in the 2008 US Open.
12: The first 4 players, including ties, in the 2008 Open.
13: The first 4 players, including ties, in the 2008 PGA.
14: The 30 leaders on the PGA Tour Money List for 2008.
15: Winners of PGA Tour events that award a full-point allocation for the season-ending Tour Championship, from previous Masters to current Masters.
16: Those qualifying for the season-ending 2008 Tour Championship on the US PGA Tour.
17: The 50 leaders in the World Golf Rankings for 2008.
18: The 50 leaders in the World Golf Rankings in the week prior to the 2009 Masters.
Padraig’s Masters Record
This interview originally appeared in the April issue of Golf World.