As Padraig Harrington said, these kind of feelings don’t come around too often.
So it’s no surprise that the 45-year-old Harrington is looking to make the most of his return this week to Royal Birkdale, site of his second British Open victory, in 2008. His game plan: limit the stress, limit the pre-tournament work and enter the competition days fresh – much like he did nine years ago.
“I got lucky in 2008; I came into the tournament and I was injured, and it just took a lot of the expectations off,” said Harrington, who entered that 2008 Open as the defending Champion Golfer of the Year, but with a bothersome wrist. “I was able to do all the stuff that you have to do as defending champion and have time to do it. So because I wasn’t playing practice rounds that week, I basically freed up a lot more time. So there was a lot less stress.
“The week turned out to be a grueling, tough week. And I played the least amount of golf. So probably was the freshest guy on the golf course Thursday morning and happy to be there. And certainly the freshest probably come Sunday.”
There certainly are some similarities between this year and 2008 for Harrington. He’s just starting to feel better after neck and elbow injuries, which forced him to miss 13 weeks of action after the Honda Classic. The elbow injury was the result of a freak accident, as Harrington got hit by a golf club while he was giving a lesson.
He returned at the BMW PGA, and missed the cut. But his play has steadily gotten better since. He has made four straight cuts, highlighted by a T-4 last week at the Scottish Open.
“I will always go back to the Shane Lowry quote, I think I’m going to win the week I’m not playing,” Harrington said. “So clearly I think I’m a credible contender on any golf course, but bring me to a links golf course, no doubt about it – it gives me an advantage to be on a links course, for sure.”
But Harrington contends that like 2008, this Irishman will still need to find a stroke of luck. Even if he won’t necessarily call it that.
“Gary Player says, ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get,’ ” Harrington said. “I’m not a believer. I’m not a superstitious person, and I don’t believe it’s actually luck. I used the word ‘luck’ I think to explain it, but I believe it’s circumstances and the nature of the game. On Sunday I hit beautiful 4-iron into the 15th hole. Couldn’t hit a better shot, pitched a yard short of the hole, and it stopped about two inches from going over the back of the green, where I’d have done well to get it back on the green. So I have a 12-foot putt for birdie or I could have made bogey.
“I don’t think it was lucky. I don’t think it was unlucky, I think that’s just the nature of the game. I can’t control that element of it. … When things fall for you, you’ve got to make sure you have a winning week when they fall for you or close to it, but there are a lot of circumstances that happen in golf that are outside the player’s control.”