The sun is setting at the Ritz-Carlton. The range has cleared. Legendary golf dads and their families have dispersed into the Orlando night; they’re off to dinner, even Tiger Woods and his son Charlie. All is quiet at the PNC Championship. Except for one man, alone on the putting green.
I approach Padraig Harrington cautiously, the way you might greet a friend in the midst of meditation. There’s a reason both putting and meditating are called “practice,” after all. But there’s no sneaking up on him; we’re the only two people in the entire practice area.
I’m worried that I’m interrupting him and that he’ll be unwilling to chat. That dissipates immediately; Harrington always has something to say.
What follows is a lightly edited version of our conversation, which appears in the March issue of GOLF.
Dylan Dethier: What has you excited about starting a new golf season?
Padraig Harrington: I’m excited about improving myself. Last season, I got lapped at a couple of Champions Tour events, and I hit it way past everybody! So I’m going, ‘I’m getting beat. Why is that?’ It’s a matter of getting back to the stuff I was good at when I was good. Being mentally strong and — well, really, that was it.
DD: How do you keep yourself motivated?
PH: You’ve got to find a different way of doing it. When you’re young, you’ve got the whole thing in front of you, and that keeps you going. When you’re old, you’ve got to find a different way of turning the wheel.
DD: Is that why you’re out here putting till sunset?
PH: I still enjoy it. I still enjoy practicing. I still get up every morning believing I’m going to find the secret. I go to bed thinking I’m going to find the secret. I look at these guys in the gym and I think, ‘Yeah, I’ve done that.’ When I was a young man, I did the weight gain. Did the weight loss. Whatever you think is new, I’ve done it 10 years ago. I still can do the practice because I like that. But a lot of the stuff that goes with it? A little less, a little less.
DD: Does Bryson DeChambeau remind you of yourself?
PH: [Long pause] In a sense, yes. I always felt I had to find every little edge to beat the guy next to me. If he does x, and I already can beat him at y, and then I match him at x, I’m okay. My confidence came from being ahead of the curve. Bryson’s, too. With him, it might go back to the one-plane swing. Think of it like this: If you have two pros coming out who are equally talented players, the one with the funky swing is more likely to make it than the one with the perfect golf swing.
DD: Why is that?
PH: Because the guy who’s a good player with a funky swing is always trying, and moving, and working. If you’ve got a perfect swing and you’re a good ball striker, when you miss a green it’s like, what do you blame? When you don’t get your card, when you don’t win the tournament, what do you blame? Great swingers are maybe the ones who will find pro golf the hardest. But if you go out there and you find somebody who’s a bit of a scrambler, who’s scrappy, who in his head has so much to get better at? A bad day doesn’t hurt him. He’s been dealing with that all his life. He’s been being himself all his life.
I bring it up with Bryson because with the one-plane swing, Bryson was setting himself up to be himself. And that’s the easier way to become a professional. Collin Morikawa has it too. He’s a short-ball hitter, relative to the Tour. And that’s the little chip on his shoulder. He’s going to beat you by being a better iron player, a better golfer, better mentally. That’s what’s giving him his edge.
DD: On the spectrum of pure ball striker to scrapper, where do you rate yourself?
PH: Definitely a scrapper. I hit the ball better now than at any stage in my career—way better. But my consistency, I’ve lost some of that.
DD: I saw you on the tee earlier, making a backswing holding a ball instead of a club, and then on the downswing you threw the ball to the ground, hard. What was that about?
PH: If I throw a couple balls, it’s the closest thing I’ve found to the tension of swinging a golf club.
DD: Do other people do that?
PH: No, I made that one up. I think it could be a speed drill, but I don’t know. I went to see Tom House — he’s a baseball coach, but he started working with Tom Brady, Drew Brees, all the quarterbacks. I went to see him as well, for shoulder care and speed work. I would do throwing drills with weighted balls, so this is an extension of that. I had a rain delay at Jack’s event [The Memorial] last year. Two hours later, when we came back, I didn’t hit any shots. I just threw a few balls and I felt fine.
DD: You’ve been making videos, Paddy’s Golf Tips, on social media the last few years. Do you do them out of the goodness of your heart? Make money off them?
PH: I put them on Instagram and YouTube, but I’ve never looked to see if I could make a cent. It’s more to get my opinion out. I became aware that all the coaching on Instagram was for real elite players. But, like, telling a 14-handicap, a 50-year-old, to “lay the club down”? That’s not going to happen.
DD: What do you like about teaching?
PH: You’re always learning. I’ll speak with kids, or with professional teams in other sports, and I’m learning. Say I go meet with a rugby kicker. Whatever I’m telling him, it’s really a matter of reminding myself.
DD: These are things you already know.
PH: And have forgotten! As a kid, you might think this stuff is proprietary, but everybody’s taught it before. You can’t reinvent the wheel.
DD: You’re going to grasp it in your own way, anyway. Is that what you mean?
PH: Often you hear the same thing from a coach. After a year, you’ll think he’s telling you something new, and he’ll say, “Look, I was telling you this the whole time. You just weren’t ready to hear it.”
DD: Sounds like a parent. “I’ve been telling him this forever, but when you say it he listens.”
PH: Everybody should be allocated somebody else’s son to teach. We’d all learn something.[As his caddie takes his clubs into the locker room, Harrington walks to the parking lot, putter in hand.]
DD: You taking the putter with you?
PH: I take my putter to the hotel a lot now. I was outside of a leading player’s hotel room, talking to his coach, and I saw there was a putting mat inside. I thought, Why aren’t I doing that? Check your alignment, hit a few putts. He was one of the world’s best putters.