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Padraig Harrington : The Academic Approach

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece on how Padraig's brainy background helped his golf

Posted Jul 07, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

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               Crisis! What crisis?  Those of us of a certain age remember this as a catchphrase of a certain Irish politician of the not-so-recent past.  Now, with the defence of his Open title almost upon him, it seems to be the repeated response by Padraig Harrington to questions and concerns about his golf game.               
               Firstly, it may be appropriate to clarify what precisely he's been up to.  Last autumn, as the winner of three out of the last six major championships, he and his coach, Bob Torrance, had a state-of-his-game summit during which they decided he should try and improve his impact position so as to achieve greater consistency in the execution of his shots.

               Linked to the same adjustment would be an attempt to get greater extension on his follow-through - a move made famous by Ben Hogan who is positively idolised by Torrance.   The promise for Harrington was that the changes would enable him to hit an average shot even if his concentration was poor.  And to us mortals, it illustrates the extent to which great players have to focus on seemingly minor details, to remain at the top of their craft.

               Given Harrington's achievements, especially over the last two years, it hardly seems right to be critical of attempted technical changes, certainly not at this stage of the process.

               It may help our understanding of his motives, however, if we consider Harrington the accountant.  In this context, it is interesting to reflect on November 2006, when, two days after beating no less a figure than Tiger Woods in a play-off for the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Japan, he was at the Royal Dublin Society's headquarters in Ballsbridge on the south side of his native city, for a rather special ceremony.   Suitably attired in a fetching, pancake hat and robes incorporating two shades of blue separated by a narrow green stripe, he was conferred with an honorary fellowship by Dublin Business School, in association with Liverpool's John Moores University.

                This was Harrington the accountant, not in his customary role as a highly successful campaigner on the world's golf circuits.  And he takes the view that his accountancy studies were crucial in shaping his character as a competitor at the highest level of his chosen sporting pursuit.      
                When he was 23, Harrington passed the finals of the ACCA examination in the Dublin Business College, making him a certified accountant.  Not having done his articles, he wouldn't be entitled to practice as a fully-fledged accountant until he had acquired about three years' work experience.  Still, his qualification is recognised world-wide.

                "I started accountancy when I was 18 because with no idea what I wanted to do when I left school, it struck me as a good, general business degree," he explained.  "And essentially that's what it is.  That's how I view it.  Half the course would have to do with what people would term accountancy and the other half would tend to be mostly business stuff including business law. 

                 "It could be said that my academic pursuit eased the stress on my sporting ambitions, and vice versa.  The accountancy was also important in giving me the discipline to manage my time properly.   Nobody likes doing exams and it takes a bit of effort and commitment to get through them, even with other options in your life.  I believe that this was one of the most rewarding things I got from the process, the organisational discipline to manage things and to commit to something and see it through to a satisfactory conclusion.  That was the most important element of it."

                 Golf is often described as a metaphor for life in the way it mirrors the very essence of a player's character, even to the extreme where individuals who happen to be dishonest in their normal, day-to-day behaviour, are likely to cheat with club in hand.  Let me emphasise that Harrington's respect for the rules is legendary, but I have often felt that he plays the game like an accountant, in his quiet deliberation and meticulous attention to detail.

                 So, to what extent has accountancy influenced his golf?  "While it wouldn't help my strategy on a golf course, it would certainly help me mentally," he acknowledged.  "I feel I'm a stronger person because of it.  Like anybody else who has done a degree, there's a certain sense of achievement.  I believe that shows in your character."
                 Then crucially, he added:  "Instead of getting something 90 per cent or 95 per cent good, my attitude is, let's make it 100 per cent.  I can't settle for mediocrity, which often creates problems for me."   And currently, it could be said that it's creating problems for his many admirers in the sporting world.
- Dermot Gilleece


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