by Golf Monthly Ė October 2008
In the absence of Tiger Woods from the world stage, no-one has laid down a marker quite like Padraig Harrington. The Open and USPGA Champion has, quite simply, taken the golf world by storm.
When you won at Oakland Hills you became the first European since Tommy Armour in 1930 to win the USPGA, the first European ever to win the Open and the PGA in the same year and youíre the first European ever to win consecutive Majors in the same year. Which of these records mean the most?
Obviously things like that will take time to sink in. At the moment, Iím just enjoying the PGA win for the PGA win. If the three you said there, I really do like the fact that no other European has won two Majors consecutively. I obviously hold a lot of European players who I grew up watching in high esteem. To believe that I achieved something that they hadnít is very special.
Do you feel like youíre ready to challenge the worldís best golfer?
It is a big step to move up now and start competing on a different level. Iím world no 3, Iíve got Phil and Tiger ahead of me. I donít necessarily pay attention to what theyíre doing. I pay attention more to what Iím doing. Do I believe I can improve as a player? YesÖ it is a long way to catch Tiger at the top. But I know that the only way of focusing on doing that is by focusing on me, what Iím doing, controlling of what I can do. I canít control Tiger or Phil. So I just pay attention to what Iím doing and continually try and strive to improve. Thatís the only thing I can ask of myself.
The way the draw worked out at the PGA, do you feel that events at Carnoustie in 2007 gave you an edge? And were you engaged in a matchplay situation towards the finish?
My caddie warned me of that on 16. Up to that, yes I was engaged in a matchplay situation, because Sergio was in the lead, I was chasing. I did tell myself all along that even when he had a here-shot lead or a two-shot lead, that just one hole could change that around. So most of the time, I was trying to stay patient and hang in there, trying to take my chances. I had one eye on Sergio and had to be disciplined to try and not focus on him too much. It is difficult in that situation because you donít want to necessarily get involved in somebody elseís game that you have no control over.
Do you think your game is at the stage now where opponents are intimidated by you when the pressure is this intense?
I donít know how other people are going to feel. I know I love the idea of the back nine of a Major on a Sunday. I love it so much that Iím actually disappointed Iím seven months away from the next major and I donít what Iím going to do. Iíve really focused hard on the Majors the last two years. My whole schedule is built around MajorsÖ. A Major feels like a marathon. I feel like I can be patient and take my time. And I love knowing that itís going to come down to the back nine; itís going to come down to who can do it under pressure in the last nine holes.
If we go back two years to when you were trying to win your first Major at Winged Foot, were you the same player in terms of commitment and attitude that you are now? And if youíre different, what did it take to change that?
I walked off the 18th hole on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot, Bob Rotella was there. And I said to Bob, ďNow I know Iíll win a MajorĒ, So Winged Foot was pivotal. Even though I finished with three bogeys, I played awesome for first 15 holesÖ I played the golf; and sometimes I questioned whether I would play the golf in those situations. Yeah, Iíve known in the past that the tougher things get, the more Iím going to hole putts; but I questioned whether I had the consistency and I did at Winged FootÖ.Yes, I lost. In many ways, I dodged a bullet because there were some more high-profile losers that day. People didnít really know that Iíd bogeyed the last three holes and probably pushed too hard on the 17th, thinking that I needed to get back after making my first bogey of the day on the 16th. But I walked away knowing I could win a Major. Sometimes youíve got to lose them to know you can win.
What about the Open and that 5-wood on the 71st hole?
The 5 wood is my favourite club! My caddie did ask if I wanted to think of laying up, so I asked him the situation and he told me I was two ahead. I was anxious that Greg (Norman) could make eagle and if I laid up and made par then all of a sudden Iíve got just a one-shot lead going down 18 and that is not comfortable in any shape or form. SO I wanted to take it on and I just felt that I could make birdie if I hit the 5-wood. I managed to convince myself that he down slope would be an advantage because the ball was going to come out low Ė you can do that sort of thing when you are leading a tournament!
Did you know immediately that you had probably won the Open?
Once I hit it, it was perfect. As soon as the ball was in the air my caddie said, ďGood shotĒ, which is totally out of character Ė normally he waits until the ball has stopped before he says anything. SO obviously he was very comfortable with that we had taken, but it was a very worrying shotÖuntil it finished 3ft away!
Tiger Woods won the US Open on the one leg and now you have won the Open with a wrist injury that nearly forced you to pull out just days before. Is it ďbeware the injured golferĒ?
It helped me having the injury, it took all the pressure, stress and expectation away from me being defending champion, it was a great distraction to have. I was really worried on the Wednesday bit it was very different to Tigerís injury; mine didnít impair me on the course at all. Golfers are fickle though, little things can set us off, change our mindsets, our moods and have a huge effect on our golf and it was a big, big plus to have my distraction.
And there was another distraction too...
Yes, the weather forced me to play one shot at a time and stay with my own game. I need something to keep me focused; I need a little bit of tension because I struggle when I relax. When we started out on Thursday the rain was a brutal as youíve ever seen from tee to green, and then on the final two day sit was as tough as Iíve ever seen on the greens, thanks to the wind.
How different was it walking up 18 on Sunday at Birkdale compared to Carnoustie?
Well, I said to my caddie the first three years he was with me that itís very special when you get to the weekend at the Open coming down the 18th because the stands are full and everybody applauds. Then I never mad e the weekend the first three years! Then last year we didnít enjoy the 18th, even in the play-off. But this time when the crowd stated clapping we looked at each other, laughed, and he said, ďDo you know, itís a great experience to come down the 18th at the Open Championship on the weekend when the stands are full and theyíre cheering, and itís even more special when youíre winning the Open.Ē Knowing I had won, is, I suppose, as good as it gets Ė the only experiences that would beat that is actually holing a putt to win the Open in a dramatic sense.
A second year as Open champion Ė what will you do differently?
When I won last year I was at my first tournament afterwards, the Bridgestone, I was kind of saying to my caddie, ďDo you think I can get away with signing Paddy?Ē you know the one Ėname word as a signature. I got at least five days of lectures after that about signing my fill name! I donít think that winning the second one will get me down to the one name yet, The only other thing is a slight aversion to flash photography Ė it gives me a headache.
Whatís the focus now?
To keep getting into contention in Majors, thatís what itís all about for me. If I can get a 50% hit rate and get into contention twice a year, then all you need to do is maybe hit one out of four of those and youíre winning a Major every second year.