It might be an opening round starting a day later than he’s used to but after an exhausting week at the Ryder Cup and a lengthy run-in to this one, Padraig Harrington can finally let his clubs do the talking again as he makes his PGA Champions Tour debut.
Fifty years in the making, Harrington lines out in the Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS in Jacksonville before next week’s SAS Championship in North Carolina – two tastes of senior tour action for a three-time Major winner still more than capable of mixing it with the big boys.
A 20-1 chance with PaddyPower to deliver the goods on debut, Harrington’s odds have perhaps been hurt by a revelation that he tweaked his neck on the eve of the tournament but with one more sleep to put that right, he’ll be hoping to be able to swing freely today coming up against a stacked field that includes Phil Mickelson, host Jim Furyk and Whistling Straits foe, Steve Stricker.
One thing’s certain, Harrington will have no shortage of advice to lean on as he takes his first plunge into the over-50’s circuit. Normally the one dishing out the lessons, he’s found himself under the wing, so to speak, of players he once revered, and although this is far from the intimidating rookie experience he endured as a fledgling pro, he’s appreciated the words of wisdom from his one-time great rivals as he begins the next chapter of his illustrious golfing career.
“It’s really nice to meet some of the old guys,” Harrington said. “They would have been the guys that I put up on a pedestal, they were the guys I competed against, they were the guys I was afraid to play against, they were the guys I had to mentally get my head around; how can I compete against a Retief Goosen and Ernie Els and Monty when I was a rookie. Obviously they’re the guys now I go to and ask what it’s about, which is interesting.
“When I was a rookie in 1996 I certainly didn’t go to them and ask what it was all about. I had the protection — there was probably 14 Irish guys on Tour and as we used to say, Des Smyth was like dad on Tour. If there was ever a problem, he was the one who sorted it out.
“As a rookie on the Champions Tour, people seem to be a lot more giving, a lot more understanding. People want to give you advice and help you out. It doesn’t feel like being a rookie on the regular Tour where you really are out of your depth. This is a lot more comfortable. So, so far, so good.”
Exactly what Harrington’s been trying to glean would’ve been anyone’s guess given the Dubliner has seen it all during his 25-years on Tour. A wily student of the game – perhaps a professor of it at this stage – Harrington has been playing close attention to the standards set on the Champions Tour from week-to-week and he’s leaving no stone unturned in finding out what he has to do to meet them.
“I’ve asked questions because you’re always trying to see how the hell are you shooting 16 under par every week. That’s a big number for three rounds,” Harrington said.
“So you’re asking questions what the golf course is like, what’s the length of the course, what’s the pace of the greens, what are the pin positions. Just generally just being inquisitive trying to find out.
“There wouldn’t be a player on that Champions Tour that I haven’t asked what their experience is like, what they think. You know, maybe even Phil [Mickelson] more so just in the sense that he’s gone out there, come back.”
Indeed, one of Harrington’s biggest fears was if he left the main tour for these pasture’s new, that there might be no coming back.
“I still want to be competitive with the regular guys,” he added. “I probably spent the last 10 years trying to be competitive at that level and I wonder how coming out here, does it make me better, will it make me sharper, will it make me shoot lower scores, feel more confident and more comfortable on the course.
“That could be a good thing going back to the regular Tour, but obviously going back and playing against a substantially tougher golf course setup, that could be difficult once you’ve gone here. Maybe you can never go back, I’m just not sure.
“It’s still something I’m exploring and I suppose ultimately, and this is what most of the players said, it’s up to me to find my feet, whether I think I can go back and forth or whether I’m fully committed to being here.”
One thing’s for sure, Harrington will know an awful lot more after the next two weeks. He tees off in the company of host Furyk and Mickelson in the marquee group out at 14.50 (Irish) this afternoon.
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