Not surprisingly Rory ran out of gas last week playing his fourth consecutive tournament in amongst a hectic schedule of meetings, meetings and more meetings, all with one item on the agenda. Golf has been centre stage over the last wee while, not necessarily for the reasons many of us like but tour life does go on, for the time being anyway and for some there were ambitions fulfilled and for others dreams dashed.
Haotong Li won in Munich to end almost five years in the wilderness with thoughts of quitting the game never far away. Xander Schauffele profited from a final hole double bogey by rookie Sahith Theegala and edged home by two shots. In Gee Chung won her third major while yet again Lexi Thompson was found wanting when holding a lead during the back nine on a championship Sunday.My spirits unashamedly soared, however, when Padraig Harrington squeaked home by a shot from Steve Stricker to win his first senior major, the US Senior Open. At 50 years of age Harrington’s thirst for knowledge and improvement is undimmed and he’s proud to have this major title and USGA gold medal to put alongside his other three major wins from his regular tour days.
A six-shot advantage with nine holes to play soon shrank to one ahead with three to play but grit and nerve have never been in short supply as far as the Irishman is concerned. Three stout closing pars saw the job done and, as ever, Padraig was quick to heap praise on others apart from himself. Firstly, he recounted how his caddy and brother-in-law Ronan Flood kept his mind from sabotaging him:-
“As tough as the day is coming down the stretch with a one-shot lead he kept reminding me, ‘would you want to be anywhere else?’ The reason I’m on the Champions Tour and the reason I’m out here is I want to win. I want to win the big events. I want to win the majors on the Champions Tour.”Whilst congratulating the USGA (United States Golf Association) on the course set up at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he couldn’t resist a side swipe at LIV Golf who are currently causing such mayhem in the sport.
“The USGA gave us a real test. It’s fantastic to go there and play real golf.”
And there in those final two words Padraig reveals what he thinks of the LIV Golf Invitational series which, incidently, is currently playing its second event, and first stateside, at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Oregon. Padraig, intent on leaving the sport in a better place for future generations than when he joined the paid ranks is fearful that the opportunity to turn pro, nurture one’s game and develop as a player in one’s home environment will be gone for ever.
“Really I’m distraught about it,” he said. “For the young guys coming up I just don’t see the pathway any more to get into the top 100, which is what you’ve got to do. Get into the top 100 and you can play the majors, play the best events and test yourself without necessarily throwing yourself into the deep end.”
Hopefully, Padraig, and indeed all young and aspiring players will have been reassured by this week’s announcement of a strengthened alliance between the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour which, amongst other things, maps out a clear pathway from lower-tier tours to the upper ones. Importantly, from 2023 onwards, this will include PGA tour cards for the top ten players on the DP World order of merit, in addition to those already exempt.Padraig has always been about giving others a helping hand and then letting their own hard work give them a chance to shine. Way back in 2006 I went to do my first ever broadcasting work at a PGA Tour event in New Orleans. It was the first international sporting event of any description held in the city since Hurricane Katrina had hit in September 2005.
Very green and very unsure of myself I was dispatched on one of the practice days to get a number of interviews with players of my choosing. I wandered out to the almost deserted practice range and saw a solitary guy working hard at the far end of the range. As I got closer I realised it was Padraig and I stationed myself at a discreet distance to watch. At that moment he decided to change clubs and as he turned to his bag he spotted me.
He instantly downed tools, came over and said, “Maureen, what are you doing here?” I said, “Padraig, I hardly know!”
With that he interrogated me, found out it was my first gig in America and insisted on doing an interview for me right there and then. He made sure the complicated looking recording device I’d been furnished with was working properly and away he went, waxing lyrical about this and that. He gave me his time, his attention and, very importantly, validation with the other players who didn’t yet know me at that stage. And, of course, his insights on the course and the tournament were pure gold for me.
Fourteen months later Harrington won the Open at Carnoustie, the first of three major titles in the space of thirteen months. It was a truly golden period which heralded a waterfall of success for Irish players in majors. Anything you can do…………was the mantra amongst the players.
After his US PGA Championship win in 2008 Padraig had a fallow period with no wins for a number of years. A broadcasting colleague of mine was lamenting that he felt he was finished and stated the Dubliner would never win again on either of the main tours. Of course, I supported Padraig with both head and heart and a deal was struck for a rather nice bottle of red. After five years I relented and settled the debt. Then, lo and behold, in 2015 my countryman triumphed in the Honda Classic in a play-off over Daniel Berger.
Joy all round in the Madill camp and a very nice couple of reds with which to toast the winner – one of the really good guys in the game. And time now again to raise a glass of something to Padraig. Slainte!