By Fred Albers, Special to PGATOUR.COM
What will you remember about the 2009 season? That was the simple question we asked PGATOUR.COM staffers and writers, who responded with a series of short essays. As we finish up November, we'll post several each day.
Eleven minutes. 660 seconds. That's how long it took for the golf gods to send a thunderbolt of a message to Padraig Harrington, reminding the Irishman how cruel the game can be.
Luck of the Irish? Not on this Sunday afternoon in Chaska, Minn.
Harrington was defending his PGA Championship at Hazeltine National. Admittedly, his swing was not perfect all week but he had a simple game plan.
"If I can just be within two shots of the lead with nine holes to play, well anything can happen over nine holes of golf. I would take those chances," said Harrington after finishing Wednesday's practice round.
He had his chance in the final round. Coming to the eighth hole, Harrington was just one shot off the lead.
That 176-yard par 3 has water down the right hand side with bunkers on the left and in windy conditions, it played as the third hardest hole on the course that day, with a stroke average of 3.41. Just as Harrington began his downswing with a 6-iron, he felt a gust of wind.
"I changed my mind in the middle of the swing. I wasn't committed. I thought I could squeeze it in there and it just missed," lamented Harrington. The ball landed in the water on the right, just 6 feet from being perfect.
But Harrington's troubles did not stop there.
He dropped 100 yards from the flag and hit an equally bad shot to the left hand side, so bad it made fellow competitor Henrik Stenson have to hopscotch out of the way to keep from being hit. From there, in the deep grass, Harrington thinned his fourth shot back into the water. After a drop, he chunked a chip into the bunker. His seventh found the green and one putt latter, Harrington carded an 8. One stroke shy of par squared.
He had come to the eighth hole one shot off the lead and walked away in 12th place. Harrington managed a birdie at the 11th hole but made two bogeys coming home to shoot 78 and tie for 10th, eight shots behind Y.E. Yang.
It was the single worst moment of Padraig Harrington's season, and yet I remember it as his best.
Some golfers avoid any questions following a disastrous hole and a disappointing tournament, but when I hesitantly asked Harrington if he would take a couple minutes for the PGA TOUR Network on SIRIUS XM Radio, he answered in his lilting Irish brogue, "Why wouldn't I be having the time to talk with you? The mistakes were all on me."
Harrington then patiently explained every shot as he reconstructed his snowman.
"It's a hard tee shot and then it's a really hard third after hitting into the water," he said. "I just pulled it. The chip? I have been working on technique with my chipping and was too involved with mechanics than the shot itself. These things happen."
"Things" happened to Harrington too frequently in 2009. He also carded an 8 at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational the week before. In fact, Harrington went 13 straight events with a double bogey or worse on his card.
During that entire tribulation, he never once lost his patience with the gallery or the media. He answered questions with honesty and dignity.
"I hit the bad shots," he'd say. "It's on no one else but me. Why not talk about it?"
The glory of the game does not lie solely in the victory alone, but also in the daily struggles.
Harrington absorbed the worst the game could spit at him and still maintained that quirky smile on his face.
It was my memorable moment from 2009.
Fred Albers, part of the on-course crew for the PGA TOUR Network, maintains his honesty and dignity whenever he covers a TOUR event.