Rubenstein: Padraig Harrington is always changing
Published on Monday, May. 27, 2013 11:25AM EDT Last updated on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 11:27AM EST
Tiger Woods has done it three times. Nick Faldo and Nick Price have done it. Aaron Baddeley has done it. Mike Weir has done it. Players are doing it all the time. But nobody does it more – on a daily basis, he says – than three-time major champion Padraig Harrington. If you’re lucky enough to be in Los Angeles this week to watch the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club – the “Riv” to locals – catch the Irishman’s act. It’s available every day on the stage known as the range.
Harrington will be trying to change his swing. He says it’s who he is. It keeps him engaged. He wants to remain excited, even when he hits 70, and he’s not talking about a score.
“You know, I saw Arnold Palmer when he was 70 years of age being interviewed after a Champions Tour event, and he came off the golf course absolutely brimming smile from one ear to the other, saying he’d found the secret,” Harrington said two weeks ago during the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
“I want to be that man,” Harrington continued. “I want to be 70 years of age out playing golf and just loving it, just the excitement of it all. The possibility of it getting better is far more interesting to me than the realization that it’s never going to get better than this.”
Ah, the secret. What golfer isn’t seeking the secret? But it’s doubtful that anybody openly admits to seeking it by making changes so regularly and incessantly. Changes take time to seep into the swing so that the golfer can trust them, right? Woods is always talking about the “process” of integrating changes, and that it takes time to bring swing changes from the range to practice rounds, to tournament rounds, to weekends, to contending in tournaments, to winning tournaments, and on to winning majors.
Well, that’s his point of view, and who’s to argue with the guy who has won 14 majors? Then again, I think of Paul Azinger. I remember encountering him on the range early in the week of the 2003 Canadian Open. This was at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, Ont. Azinger was working on some swing changes. We got to talking.
“I do this for a living,” Azinger, the 1993 PGA Championship winner, told me when I asked him how long he was willing to wait for swing changes to solidify. “I need to see improvement in three swings.”
That’s what I call rapid growth, whether or not it lasts. Our conversation didn’t go on for long, but I remember wondering whether Azinger’s three-swing change model was realistic. I did like the idea. Shouldn’t a capable teacher be able to pick something out that a golfer is doing wrong and help him quickly? But would it last? That’s the question.
It’s the question for most players, anyway. Harrington, however, goes from swing thought to another. If something doesn’t work, goodbye to that. For him, a change truly is as good as a rest. Changing gives him energy.
At the Waste Management tournament, Harrington wasted no time in answering a question as to whether he has changed his swing since last year. That, by the way, was a year in which he tied for fourth in the U.S. Open and for eighth at the Masters. But he didn’t win on the PGA or European Tours. He hasn’t won on either tour since he took the 2008 PGA Championship. He also won the Open that summer, a year after he won the 2007 Open.
“Gonna be a long answer,” Harrington said as he launched into his response to the question in Phoenix as to whether he’s changed his swing since last year.
It was a long answer. His answer lasted 1,800 words. Really. But he doesn’t think of what he does as changing. How can it be “changing” if he does the same thing every day? Yes, that same thing is “changing,” but, well, this can get complicated.
“Probably last year, I, probably late last year I came to the conclusion, you know, I didn’t actually change, because what I do every day is keep trying to evolve, and that’s what I do,” Harrington said. “Every day I change is being me. People’s perception of me changed because they assumed that because I won and peaked in 2007 and 2008, they assumed I was at a level I wanted to be at or had what I wanted, and they assumed why would you keep trying to change. But the only thing I know is changing. It gets me out of my bed in the morning and gets me motivated. I’m 41 years of age and I think I’m a kid, and the reason I think I’m a kid is I think I’m going to find the secret every day.”
Maybe Harrington has found the secret, after all. He’s excited every day about working on his game. He hit eight bags of balls on the range before his first round in Phoenix. It would surprise nobody if he did the same at Riviera this week.
“About the only thing ‑‑ my physio and trainer are the only ones that have stayed constant over those years,” Harrington said. “This winter I started working with eye people. I’m always looking to what’s the next thing to do. This year I will find something in my game and say that’s not quite right, and we will endeavor to change it.”
Harrington is worth following. Find him on the range. Follow him on the course. You won’t find him worth following on Twitter unless he changes things up there. He does have a Twitter account, @padraig_h, but he’s tweeted only four times, although he still has 11,823 followers. Go figure. But his website padraigharrington.com is worth a look.
He said there that his coach Pete Cowen would be with him at Riviera this week, and that he needed work on his wedge play. Harrington was confident he’d get things sorted out.
Of course he would. He’s always willing to change. After all, it’s who he is. And from my point of view, he’s one of the most entertaining and interesting golfers in the game.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein