The Defending Open Champion Talks

Published:

The Open Championship In Association With Nikon

Padraig Harrington bids for three successive Open titles at Turnberry next week. Here he gives an intriguing insight into golf's greatest tournament, the course, major championships...and his recent poor form.

Q (What do you think of Turnberry?)

Padraig Harrington:  It looks like a very good golf course to go and play, and if you can stay out of the bunkers on the front nine you can get a good score going. Assuming the weather is good I think it is a golf course that most players would like.

There's a number of doglegs and you're going to have to be able to move the ball into the wind at times, because that wind will be across those doglegs.  I think the ability to shape the ball and hit the ball straight off the tee will be a big thing.

If you hit those bunkers, you are looking at penalties as those bunkers are severe.  It's essentially a question of drive the ball well and play normal golf from there on.

Q.  So it plays to your strength.

Padraig Harrington:  I think links golf plays to my strength.  Does this golf course play to my strength?  Generally, you know, the two I've won are probably two of the toughest courses on the links rota.  I don't think it would be considered as tough as those two.

So while it suits me being a links, I wouldn't look forward to a shootout, that's for sure.  I'd prefer a tough test that week.  So I am hoping for some wind and conditions that would be conducive to patience and good mental thinking throughout the week.

Q.  I know that last year, you started out in absolutely horrendous weather conditions early in the morning in the first round.  You know, are you saying then that you would prefer it to be really, really tough to kind of separate the men from the boys, as it were?

Padraig Harrington:  Obviously I don't want to particularly get the wrong side of the draw as happened at Bethpage. It happened at Birkdale too,  so it was surprising to win from the wrong side.

But I do like at least some of the conditions during the week at a major tournament to be quite difficult or nearly close to extreme, because it does limit the amount of people who can cope with that, and that's one of my strengths.  It's not that I can't play in the nicest weather, but it brings more people into the contest if you get a nice sunny day.

If you get four nice, sunny days, it brings more people in.  But if you throw in at least one windy day and maybe one miserable day, it certainly brings it down maybe to only 50 per cent of the field that would compete in that.

I was always brought up with the theory that on a bad day, 50 per cent of the players want to be there but maybe only half are capable of competing in those weather condition so you're only competing against a quarter of the field.  Now obviously as professionals, it doesn't work quite that way, but it does take some players out of it.  The tougher the conditions, the more I’m looking forward to the event.

Q.  Your performances over the last couple of months have been very disappointing.  Is it fair to ask whether your confidence in yourself, belief in yourself, are taking a bit of a hammering and might impinge on your performance at Turnberry?

Padraig Harrington:  There's no doubt it could impinge on my performance at Turnberry.  My confidence in myself has not taken a hammering at all.  I'm still very upbeat and very focused on what I'm doing and very positive and optimistic.  But yes, my confidence on the golf course, when I'm out there playing, has not been the best, because of my recent results.

But when I'm off the golf course and I'm thinking about it and I'm working on it, I'm preparing for The Open, I'm in good spirits and ensuring that I do everything that I can to prepare in the best possible way.

But definitely on the golf course, I can do with some positive results and feedback.  It would give me a little bit of a boost when I'm out there, and there's no question that form can go like that; when results are happening for you, good things happen for you out on the golf course, and when you're going against you, you seem to find a way of making the worst of the situation.

On the golf course, my attitude has been good, and I'm very careful to work on that.  There's no point in compounding errors.  Obviously I could now do with some concrete results.

Over the years, I've made very sure to focus on process rather than results, but when you have a lean span of results over a period of time, you definitely get a little bit more conscious of the results.  In terms of giving myself the best possible chance of winning at The Open, I could do with a good next couple of good weeks.

Q.  People keep asking me and maybe one or two people say it to you, as well what, is wrong with Padraig; is it because of the swing changes he has been working on are the root cause of his problems, why isn't he leaving well enough alone?  Have people been saying that to you and wondering that to you?

Padraig Harrington:  Obviously some people are commenting and some are trying to avoid the subject.  But people who are close to me I'll talk to, whether it be Ronan or Bob Rotella.

Essentially I did make a change in my swing at the start of the year.  I've been trying to do it for 2 1/2 years to be honest at different times.  Now, I'm not focused on it, because I’ve got to the bottom of what it was and how to correct it and I'm a great believer that once you know what you want to do, it will slowly develop into your game.If I had the time, I would actually force it into my game but I'm happy to allow that to develop. 

Because I was working so much on that area of things, I now realise that I actually need to fix something in that my backswing has not been as good as it was in the past ‑‑ and I say "fix," because it's not a change.

At the moment, I do need to fix something.  There's no doubt about that.  I think that we have it spot‑on and Bob Torrance is coming over and I'm going to be doing a good bit more work on it the next couple of weeks.  But definitely I'm looking to fix something that will work better with what I changed.

What I'm trying to say is the thing I'm trying to change is totally at the back of my mind.  It's something that's now kind of put away till next winter and I'm back to checking on things that maybe I've covered in the past.  And now I just need to fix a little bit of my backswing in order to be in a better position to benefit from what I changed during the winter.

Q.  You've got a chance to be the first since Peter Thomson in the mid '50s to win The Open three times, leaving a mark on history; is that something that motivates you?

Padraig Harrington:  Yes, the history of three in a row, I think it would be very special for it to happen.  But again, I am realistic about these things and am looking at it in an overall context.

I want to compete in many majors going forward.  I want to win more majors.  The idea that it has to be the next one is not how I go about things.  If I compete in the next five Opens, I’ll try to get myself right in there, and win two of them, it doesn't have to be this year.  I'd rather win two over five years than one this year for the three.  I know three would be very special and it would be remarkable in terms of it not having been done since Peter Thomson.

But, there's no point in me focusing on that.  If it happens, I'll be singing from the rooftops.  But there's no point in focusing on the extra one tournament.  I'm better off taking this as a process.  I've got a number of Open chances, probably another ten where I'll be competitive, and I’ll concentrate on winning as many of those as I can rather than trying to win the next one.

You know, I think it does pile on the pressure.  But, I am aware of it and trying to keep it as reasonably in its context as I can.

Q.  I'm wondering if in some ways, it's easier to win a major than a regular tournament?

Padraig Harrington:  Definitely.

Q.  You've made it look that way recently.

Padraig Harrington:  Definitely.  Every time I look at it, I think, wow, I can only describe that a regular tournament is a bit of a sprint. Everybody starts out, and if you're not 3‑ or 4‑under par after nine holes, you're feeling like you're on the back foot.  Whereas at a major, one of the hardest things is you actually want to pace yourself during the week.

The key is probably not to get off to too slow a start, which I have certainly got a few times.  But it certainly isn't about getting a bad start.  It's irrelevant as we saw last week.  You want to be in the tournament all the way through constantly knowing that if you can keep within touch, you can get in contention.  It can come down to just playing really good golf for nine holes.  As long as you've done nicely for the first 63 holes, as long as you've held your head, held your patience for those 63 holes, you are in position. 

There's no doubt, there's a few players that can win a major.  I feel a lot more comfortable in that situation.  You know and I know it's tough going into a major; if you're game is not on, it can be a tough week.  It can look like you haven't performed at all.  You can miss a putt and finish way down in the field.

But if your game is on, certainly for me, there's a certain level of patience and acceptance that I know I'm going to be there or thereabouts at the end of the week and not feeling like I'm forced into anything early on.

It feels very steady and patient.  The best way I can describe it is that playing in a regular event can be like a 100‑metre sprint.  Playing a major is more like a marathon.  You just know that you're there for the long haul, and it's about hanging in there and waiting for your opportunity.

You could turn up at a major, and if you've shot a decent first round, it's more important that you've shot a decent first round, you could be six shots behind and yet not even need to consider the guy who is leading the tournament.  If you shot 70 on a lot of the major golf courses, and somebody shot 64, say, for example, it wouldn't bother you at all.  You're thinking, well, he's going to come back.

Q.  Playing with Greg Norman last round last year, were you in any way tempted to watch him more than you normally would a playing partner when in contention for a major because of what he was trying for?

Padraig Harrington:  Yes.  I was very aware of what was happening to Greg Norman last year.  And one of my keys going into the last round was not to get drawn in.  You know, it would have been a great story if Greg went and won and got his swansong in the majors and would have been richly deserved.  I would have been thrilled for him if it wasn't my major, and that was the attitude I had going out there.

I had to convince myself not to get carried away with the hype and excitement of Greg Norman winning a major at 53 years of age, or was it 54 years.  I had to be very professional in my attitude going out there and be very hard on my attitude that, you know, this wasn't going to be his day.  I wasn't going to get drawn into the public feeling that this is an unbelievable story, and I had to make sure I wasn't drawn into that story.

I would say I probably did watch him more.  I could actually tell you nearly every shot he hit right now.  I did watch him, and he hit the ball great.  He did hit the ball fantastic.  You know, he really hit it.   You know, physically and mentally, he can still compete with anybody at his age.  There's no problem with his physical strength and probably because he's such a good ball‑striker, he hit the golf ball as long as anybody that week.

He had the capability and it comes down to motivation - as it does with a lot of great players - towards the end of their career.  You know, do they want to put themselves out there, and I think Greg did that week.  Things were happening in his life that he was that happy place and wanted to go and play golf.  Obviously most weeks Greg is more interested in living his life and running his business than maybe he was in golf like he would have been 30 years ago.

Most professionals last about 20 years before they start tailing off and going into other things.

Q.  Question again on slightly different players than yourself.  The Masters and the U.S. Open this year have proved that Tiger Woods has no divine right to tee it up every time he tees it up in a major.  Do you think he will do it at Turnberry and do you think at some stage he will overtake Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 titles?

Padraig Harrington:  I do believe he will overtake Jack Nicklaus's record.  I do believe that.  That's a record, and they are there to be beaten.  All records are going to be changed.

If Tiger Woods set that record 30 years ago and Jack Nicklaus was in his prime now, Jack would beat the record, as in Jack Nicklaus would beat his record  if he started out now, because he would find a way of doing it.  As in, all you're basically looking at is each generation produces somebody who is most likely to beat whatever record is there.  Jack did it in his time.  Tiger is going to do it in his time.

So you can't compare the two of them because they never played against each other.  You can be assured Jack would have found a way to win tournaments.  It doesn't matter who was in the event.  He probably would have gone on to have been the greatest player of his era, as would Tiger Woods.

So if you teed the two of them up together, would they both find a way of winning tournaments?  We'll never know who is the best.  All I know is that if Tiger beats Jack Nicklaus's record, somebody will beat it in time.

Q.  What about Turnberry?

Padraig Harrington:  All would I say about Tiger's record, where he's been the best player for the last number of years, you know, he's been playing majors since '97 so this would be his 12th year, anyway.  So, he's getting on 50 majors or close to it.

So his success rate is one in three, which is incredibly successful, but you've got to understand that every year there's four majors, so most years, he averages less than two, and he's still got another two to go this year.   I wouldn't write him off because he has not won the first two.  All I'm saying is that he wins slightly over one major a year on average and that is a fantastic achievement and a fantastic thing going forward.  But even like if you looked at it on purely statistical front, he obviously has not had a divine right to win every major for the last 12 years because plenty of other guys have won them.

Q.  When Lucas Glover and Ricky Barnes, God help us, and David Duval  can fight it out to finish the U.S. Open, does that show us it's more difficult for Tiger Woods or Mickelson or Padraig Harrington every time they play, it's getting more and more difficult, isn't it?

Padraig Harrington:  I don't think it's changed over the course of the last 40 years.  Nicklaus will tell you he won 18 majors and he probably played in more than a hundred.

So, it's like I was saying about trying to win three Opens.  It's about winning more than your fair share of majors over time.  Tiger is probably the only player in the game who can turn up at a major knowing that if he plays his golf, he can win.  Most other players have to turn up at a major, concentrate on playing their golf, and then, get in the mix and see if they can win.

Even Tiger can't do that on demand.  He's confident enough that he can turn up and if he plays his best golf, he will win.  But he's obviously trying to play his best golf to a man, and if he does, there's going to be plenty of other players that are going to compete and be there.

I think Lucas Glover is a fine player and is reaching his potential by winning a major, rather than winning it out of the blue.  Time will tell whether Lucas wins more majors, but I think essentially when it comes to a major, even for the very best players, like you only have to look at Phil Mickelson.  He's won 50 tournaments or close to it on the U.S. Tour, three of them majors.  It's not so easy to win them on demand.  There's more pressure involved so it is a question of winning more than your fair share over a career, I think as Tiger will do and as we all hope to do.

Q.  Do you think Rory McIlroy could tee it up at Turnberry and come out on top at the end of the day?

Padraig Harrington:  I actually do believe Rory could.  I think Rory has got the physical ability even though he is only 20.  He's working on the other end of the game to make him the complete player.  But if Rory turned up and had a good week on the greens, which he has had many times in his career, yes, I think he is well capable of winning a major.

You know, I don't think it would be so much out of the blue.  I would say to Rory, rather than looking at whether he can win the next major, can he win one of next ten Opens.  That would be what I would say, and you've got to think there's a yes to that.  If this is one of many Majors he's going to play in and he has a long career, he'll have a chance of winning this one as well as winning more Majors going forward.

Q.  Wouldn't he and all of the other British and Irish players have a better chance of winning on a links course where The Open is always played, rather  than on a parkland course where all the other majors are played?

Padraig Harrington:  That argument, we have said surely we have brought up playing links golf and all of the guys from GB&I should be well at home and even some of the Europeans at home in that.  But Paul Lawrie was the only standout for a number of years.

I think the links golf depends on the weather of the week much more so than the golf course.  If you get a windy golf course that requires a lot of imagination, it suits the guys who are brought up playing that.  If you get a sunny week with light wind, that means that you are actually better off hitting the ball in the air, trying to stop it on these greens.  And that's where you will see more of the high-ball, U.S.-performance players doing better.

So it's more the conditions than the actual golf course itself, if there's any slight advantage.  As I said earlier that I would not mind throwing in some awkward conditions although, if there are awkward conditions, it would hurt me at times as much as anybody, as it did last week.  I started out in pretty difficult conditions at Bethpage and I didn't perform.  I'm not saying that I have a given right to perform in bad conditions, but I know I have a little bit of an advantage and I'll take any advantage I can get, and that's certainly one of them.

Q.  How much does looking forward to The Open next month give you a lift psychologically, and how closely are you trying to recreate your preparations the last two years to go forward to Turnberry?

Padraig Harrington:  Well, I try and create my preparations the exact same for this Open as I did for all of my majors over the last three years now.  I will not try and create last year's, because I won't try and reinjure myself the week before Turnberry.

Q.  It helps. 

Padraig Harrington:  Well, beware of the injured golfer.  It certainly helped me last year.  There's no doubt being injured Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and essentially having to rest helped on what was a very demanding physical week in terms of the conditions, and definitely I was still strong and fresh on that Sunday afternoon. 

When you look at the way I played the last nine holes, I think 20 players could have won if they shot my back nine and I shot theirs over the last nine holes.  And I've got to say, I was obviously physically and mentally strong going into that because I didn't practice on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

So I am going to do my work and prepare like all majors, and I will play some practice rounds.  I am looking forward to it.  But I know the preparation I do for The Open, how I perform in the next two weeks, are crucial, particularly playing the Irish PGA the week before on a links golf course.  And I think actually the French Open is probably the closest golf course we play on The European Tour.  It can play very close to a links course.  It can play very, very hard and fast, and actually will have a lot of similarities, a lot of water on the course, to playing an Open golf course.

I have a good run‑up to the event.  All I need to make sure is that I have a little fix put into my swing that's definitely needed.  Once that's in there, I'm assuming I'll be right on track.  I know I have improved over the course of the last six months.

It's interesting, the last six months have been the worst in terms of performance I've had since I turned pro, and yet there are two or three things in that period of time that have been really bothering me that have been taking a lot of time and energy in my practice and some of my performance that I found that will definitely help me going forward.  It may be the most productive time I've had off the golf course and the worst time I've had on the golf course since I've turned pro.

Q.  Can you tell us what uses your family have been putting in your Claret Jug replica?

Padraig Harrington:  Well, I think they have got used to them at this stage.  We have them on display all right still on the breakfast table and I've got a couple of little miniature ones, as well.  The school kids made one and sent one on to my son, Paddy, so there's two of them, actually.

No, they have not done anything, no ladybirds have gone in there.  I think Ciaran thinks they are part of the furniture; he's my youngest son.  If we take them down, he will probably be more distracted by that than the fact that they are sitting there.

Nothing strange has really happened this year to the Claret Jug.  It's been just a regular year with the Claret Jugs.  Isn't that nice to be able to say that.

Q.  Have you got the very large Wannamaker Trophy on the breakfast table, as well?

Padraig Harrington:  I haven't got that on the breakfast table.  I think that would dominate it.  Not that The Open trophy doesn't dominate the breakfast table, but the size ‑‑ I actually have it, it is out on display.  It sits in the entrance hallway of the house on the little stand there at the moment.  It sits there and kind of takes over that area.

The great thing about them is that they are great to look at.  Every time you walk by them, they just bring a little bit of that back to you that you've gone and done something very special.

Q.  You went from having one major to three majors very, very quickly, a span of three weeks or so.  How do you think that changed the way you prepare and the way people look at you?

Padraig Harrington:  It certainly changed the way people look at me.  It didn't change anything about me or the way I prepare.

You know, all the way through my career, at different points and I'm sure this is the same with lots of people.  You have success, and when you have that success, people think you've changed as a player.  But to gain that success is the work you've done for the previous period of time, could be your whole career, could be the last year, that has gradually got you there.

It's never a big step, even though in the public eye it's a massive step.  It's a massive jump.  And winning a first major and then backing it up by winning a second and then winning a third major- they all were massive leaps.

But essentially if you're drawing a graph or plotting a graph, the graph is reasonably smooth and thankfully it's always going up for me.  I've only had two blips or sort of downward spirals, or maybe two or three, but if you actually graph it out over a period of time, it's reasonably smooth improvement going along.

The results are the ones that people judge you by, and they think you are a totally different player.  You go and win a major on a Sunday, on the Sunday evening, everybody thinks you're a major winner, but you're surely not a better golfer than you were the previous Monday when you didn't have a major, say.

So it's just the player has to concentrate on what he's doing and his process and let the results take care of themselves.  The results are important and they will judge you, they will mark your career, and that's what you will be judged by.  But you can't get caught up in the fact that it doesn't change you as a person if you win an event, even though it does change what people think.

Q.  I wonder if I could ask you, has the second child had a huge, different impact on the dynamic of the family?  I know when ours came along, at about two, it's a lot more stress on the wife and a lot more things have to be done.  I wonder if your life has changed significantly.

Padraig Harrington:  No, no.  My wife manages a very good household, and is determined to keep many of the pressures and stress of a normal working family away from my golf.  I get to travel.  When the oldest one is out of school, they come to tournaments.  We generally make sure there's plenty for them to do, plenty of people around.

My youngest one, actually he spent two hours hitting shots with me the other night.  So between the two of them, the second one now is like can't get enough of golf.  He's dragging me out to the practice range at 1 1/2 years of age.

No, definitely not a negative.

Q.  And are you and Bob Rotella working on anything specifically leading up to The Open?

Padraig Harrington:  You know, the great thing about Bob Rotella – and I've been working with him ten years, is that he never tells you anything differently.  He's like Bob Torrance, it's incredible.  The two of them don't change their minds.  It's the same story all the time.  There's nothing new.  What they told you ten years ago is still relevant today, and it's a question of you listening to that and working on that.

So there is nothing new.  Now, Bob did have to have a sitdown with me as I said earlier in the year.  And actually at the time it was Ronan and Caroline had a minor intervention with him to make sure that I was focused on competing rather than actually focused on changes in my swing.  And we set a time straight out to finish the work on my swing and start getting back to concentrating on succeeding.

In fairness I started that a few weeks ago.  Even though the performances haven't shown up, I started working on the competitive element of it, and I will continue to do that going into The Open.  What I did win the last three, I don't need to change that preparation.  I need to stick with it, and that's my intention.

Obviously I need to show a little bit of form for my own confidence and things like that, but I've never been ‑‑ like I'm incredibly positive about my game and where it's going.  Maybe not as confident as I would be in the short term, but I'm very positive about the long term prospects.

Q.  Do you think you're going to win The Open this year?

Padraig Harrington:  I've got to tell myself that in my head, yes.  That's one of the things you've got to do.  What I do between now and then is to get my preparation right so that I feel as comfortable as possible when I tee it up on Thursday.

And I've got to say, I didn't feel that way at Bethpage, so it doesn't always go to plan, but you know, I felt good walking to the first tee at Bethpage and that's the sort of thing I want to have going into The Open.  That's what I've had the last two, and a half years in majors is that peace on a Wednesday evening that you feel like you've done all you can and you're ready to go.