Padraig Harrington became the first European to defend The Open since 1906- but that was just half the story...
Words by Jock Howard, Golf World - Sept 08
When the fat lady started to sing (or rather the chubby chap started to say ' Champion Golfer of the Year is...' both Bobs were in tears. Bob One (Rotella - Padraig's mind guru) was describing his man's second shot into the penultimate hole as "the greatest shot in Open history". Bob Two (Torrance - Padraig's coach) was slightly more prosaic. "He's got big b***s," said Sam's dad. "He works harder than anyone I've ever had, dawn 'til dusk, and if you don't work at this game you go down the dunny (toilet)."
Caroline (Padraig's wife) smiled and hugged Ronan (her sister's husband and her husband's caddie). Patrick (Padraig's - five-year-old son) who last year wanted to put ladybirds in the Claret Jug, gave his brother (Ciaran - eight months) a bear hug. It was half affectionate and said ' Our dad has just done something pretty special', and half squeeze which said 'Just you remember you are my little brother'.
The only guy who seemed to have kept his emotions in check was the guy who all the fuss was about. Padraig Harrington had become the first European since 1906 to successfully defend the Claret Jug.
"I liked being Open Champion so much I didn't want to give it back," the 36-year-old said. "There is a different satisfaction in winning this year. Last year my emotions were everywhere and I was on top of the world. But this year gives me more satisfaction. I feel more accomplished."
As the final pair came down that fenzied final fairway, Harrington had the presence of mind to put an arm around unlikely playing partner Greg Norman. "Greg," he said, "I am sorry you aren't the story being told. It would have been a fantastic story; the icing on the cale." And he meant every word of it.
"The problem was I wanted to win as well," he said later in a packed press conference. "I talked to Ronan, my caddie, about what a great player Greg is. You'd be happy to drive like that at any age, let alone 53. He was a real gentleman."
Harrington is also a real gentleman. He is adored by public and press alike because he gives of himself and his time so generously. He posed for pictures with some mad Irish fans, long after the tv coverage finished. No request too much. No interview too long. Indeed, his manager, Adrian Mitchell, and his sponsors, Wilson, often worry he gives too much of himself, and try to pull him away, for fear his game will suffer. But Padraig knows best.
Even so that memorable Sunday, he was chatting late into the evening with journalists, long after Patrick and Ciaran had gone to bed, long after the Royal & Ancient press officer had announced the official end to his interview. And Caroline, his wife, is no better. She was giving radio interviews on the left of the 16th fairway while everything was coming to a climax.
"Is this easier or harder than last year Caroline?" "Oh much harder," she said smiling. "Last year we came from behind. It's much tougher to be in front."
Even his victory speech was perfect. "I'd had a bad hole yesterday, and walking to the green this guy says 'Come on Paddy, I've got to go back to my plumbing on Monday'. I saw him again today and he said 'Come on Paddy, you're a Scouser now'."
Harrington saw him again that night, because the plumber got past the media centre security and got him to sign his ticket.
Padriag has spent the last year mortified that he forgot to mention Dave Richardson, his physiotherapist, in last year's speech. He was pleased he remembered this time around.
Beware the injured golfer. All week, Harrington used his wrist injury to deflect the pressure on him as defending champion. Tiger Woods won the second Major of the year on one leg. Harrington won the third one with one arm. It doesn't bear thinking about what the winner of the USPGA Championship this month in Michigan will be suffering from.
"My injury was different to Tiger's," Padraig said afterwards. "He was injured during the championship and it impaired his ability to perform. But, there is no doubt my injury helped me."
As well as being extraordinarily nice, Harrington is also slightly bonkers, in a soft, Irish sort of way. Otherwise you can't explain the fact that he was the only player in short sleeves in the final round. "I thought it was cold," he said, "but I was comfortable swinging in a shirt and I didn't want to change the feeling. I definitely did need to put a sweater on."
Harrington is now officially the third best player in the world, begind Woods and Mickelson. A year ago he was sixth in the world and felt a bit uncomfortable. "The fact that I feel more comfortable in third proves how much better a player I am now."