Struggling Harrington still smiling on eve of Open

Struggling Harrington still smiling on eve of Open

Published Jul. 14, 2009 12:59 a.m. ET

Is that a smile on Padraig Harrington's face?

Can't be, not with this list of lowlights to his 2009 PGA Tour season:

  • In 12 stroke-play events, he has missed six cuts.

  • He has yet to record a top-10.

  • He hasn't broken par in his past 15 rounds.

  • He has missed three consecutive cuts in which he's a cumulative 24 over.

    But confounding as it is, that is a smile on the Irishman's face. Just what in the name of Harry Vardon is going on here? If you go back to late last year, Harrington has missed the cut in eight of 15 tournaments.

    Forget about just wiping away that smile; shouldn't Harrington at least scowl?

    Instead, Harrington, 37, slouched against the clubhouse door at Bethpage Black, where he had just missed the cut in the U.S. Open, and let out a long sigh of relief. "Such is life. You can't do anything about it. You have to stay patient."

    Bob Rotella, Harrington's sports psychologist, would be proud. What came next, however, was vintage Harrington — a curl of the lips, a spark in the eyes and words that revealed once again what sits at the foundation of this three-time major champion.

    On the eve of his attempt to win a third consecutive British Open — something that has been accomplished only once since 1882 — Harrington is struggling, yes, but so, too, is he smiling.

    "The game is fascinating," the Irishman said. "What I love about the game is how it goes — the ups and downs of it and how a player has to just keep on the level path."

    Of course, the way to such a level path is via the fairway. Harrington has hit only 52.8 percent of his fairways this season to rank 179th. True, he hit only 59.3 percent in 2008 and 57.5 in 2007, but Harrington acknowledged there's a difference this time.

    Whereas in recent years he was playing a shape to his tee ball, now he hasn't a clue as to where it's headed. A draw? A fade? What jumps off the clubface is a surprise.

    "I'm aiming at the middle of the fairways, (but) I've only got half the fairway," Harrington said. "If I hit a bad one, then obviously I start poking and prodding."

    He was amused when told that during NBC's telecast of the U.S. Open, Johnny Miller suggested that Harrington stop hitting a draw and go back to his fade.

    "(Funny), I favored the draw when I won the (British) Open in 2007," he said. "The last 18 months (including the 2008 British Open victory), I've played with a fade."

    In other words, the draw that Miller saw at Bethpage wasn't a draw at all.

    "I can't draw the ball to save my life," Harrington said. "If I could draw the ball, I'd be OK. That's the reason I stopped trying to draw it; when I make a good swing and try and draw it, I hit it dead-straight right. I push it."

    What is at the heart of a world-class player's comfort zone is the ability to rely on a particular shape on command. Be it left-to-right or right-to-left —and Harrington has (like many others) used both.

    Harrington doesn't have it at the moment, but where so many of his colleagues would be perplexed, he is motivated to rediscover it.

    "I've done this 10 times in the last 10 years," he said.

    So why such scrutiny this time? Harrington suggested that past searches to fine-tune his swing came while good numbers were still being put up.

    "(But) with poor results, people put two and two together and they come up with something else."

    If that "something else" is an assessment that Harrington is lost and confused, demoralized and at a dead end, well, they apparently don't have a good feel for what paved the way to victories at Carnoustie and Birkdale and will carry Harrington into Turnberry.

    A relentless quest to get better.

    It was why, for example, following a pedestrian first round at the U.S. Open, Harrington did not go to the range to square away his driver.

    Instead, "I spent three hours on the putting green, and I do believe I got to the bottom of an issue I've had for a long time," he said.

    Harrington delivered the words with a smile. It's as if the hunt is as invigorating as the kill. But there also is this: he embraces perspective.

    "I wouldn't swap my year last year for anything," Harrington said.

    "As my caddie (Ronan Flood) pointed out to me as we walked off the last green (at the U.S. Open), I'm the only player walking around with two major trophies at the moment. So, I can't feel too bad."

    The smile reinforced that sentiment.

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