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Lesson Learned?

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece looks back at a disaster for Padraig Harrington under the watchful eyes of Faldo

Posted Aug 27, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

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On the assumption that Padraig Harrington gets back to normal scoring in this week's Barclays Tournament in the US, it may be time to close the book on events at Firestone and Hazeltine National, where he ran up eights in successive weeks.  Then again, it may be appropriate to have one last look at Harrington disasters.

From my perspective, I thought Nick Faldo displayed remarkable restraint in his CBS observations about the 16th in the Bridgestone Invitational and the eighth hole of the PGA Championship.  Because the truth is that Faldo had quite a tale to tell about high scoring from Harrington.  It happened when he was the Irishman's playing partner, with Diego Borrego, for the first two rounds of the Benson and Hedges International at The Oxfordshire on May 16th and 17th 1996.

As it happened, this was only a matter of days after Harrington had gained the breakthrough victory of his fledgling career on the European Tour, with a four-stroke win in the Spanish Open at Club de Campo, Madrid.  As the Dubliner later remembered the opening day at The Oxfordshire: "I was thrilled to be out there with Faldo, looking at his mental approach to the round. How he was always trying to hit the right shot and how disciplined he was."

That, incidentally, was only a month after the Englishman had gained the sixth major of his career, by coming from six down against Greg Norman to win the Masters by an astonishing five strokes. 

Aware of prying eyes, Harrington spent some time with his coach, Howard Bennett, on the Thursday night.  Ideally, he wanted to get back to the way he had been thinking in Spain the previous week, especially with the objective of making the halfway cut.  He probably needed to be one or two strokes better than his opening 75.  Either way, he felt the need to put that sort of pressure on himself.

Harrington takes up the story:  "Unlike Thursday, we started on the 10th and I covered my first seven holes in one over par which meant I was four over for the tournament at that stage.  Still, there was no need to panic.  Minutes later, however, I was thinking very differently, simply because I happened to send a really good drive down the middle of the (par-five) 17th fairway.  Ironically, there would have been no problem had I pushed it into a bunker as I did on Thursday, when I made a comfortable par."

He went on: "With 250 yards downwind to the flag, I felt I could hit a three wood and reach the green comfortably. It never crossed my mind that 240 of those yards happened to be over water and that it might be more prudent to lay up.  Anyway I hit it and the ball flight wasn't high enough to make the carry.  Water!  I took a drop, leaving myself a shot of 220 yards. This time I hit a three iron and again it finished in the water.  And I hit another three iron.  Water again.

"After that, I decided to lay up with a six iron which carried the water before bouncing back into it. By the time I found dry land with a second six iron, I didn't know how many balls had gone.  So I asked John (his caddie, John O'Reilly) to count the balls I had left, then I subtracted those from the original figure and learned it was four."  He had run up a wretched 13.

Not surprisingly, he viewed the 17th as an awkward sort of hole.  Played as a three-shotter, he figured it was only a two iron, four iron and wedge, but it was designed to tempt players into going for the green.  Players who weren't thinking clearly.  "Though I obviously wish it hadn't happened, I don't remember being embarrassed," he said.  "The fact that I was playing with Faldo certainly didn't bother me.  These things happen in golf.  All I could think of afterwards was that it had been a difficult week and I was tired and delighted at the prospect of going home."

But that wasn't quite the end of it.  On the following morning, the golf page of the London Times carried a graphic of Harrington's 13, detailing how four shots had found a watery grave.  In the belief that it could prove to be a very useful reminder, he cut it out and hung it prominently, over the mantlepiece at home.

A lesson learned?  Clearly not.  Which proves that in the field of human endeavour, the thinking of an accomplished professional golfer can sometimes become as scrambled as a modest, club hacker.

-Dermot Gilleece

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