A lot can change in a year. Twelve months ago, Pádraig Harrington was having to front up to questions and criticisms of his Ryder Cup captaincy that saw Europe suffer a record-breaking defeat at the hands of Steve Stricker’s USA in Whistling Straits, now he is a dominant force on the Champions Tour with eyes on lifting titles on the DP World and PGA Tours.
Harrington is back at the site of his maiden Champions Tour event at the Constellation Furyk and Friends and after an eye opening first year where it quickly dawned on him that his short game was nowhere near good enough to win on the over fifties circuit, the Dubliner feels like contending regularly has sharpened up his game to a level where he believes he can win on the main tours and even push towards the top-50 in the world again.
The three-time major champion admitted to feeling burned out after 2016 but feels being in contention most weeks on the Champions Tour has helped his mental game, allowing him to focus on the finer margins, rather than chasing technical solutions on the PGA Tour.
“Before the start of this year, like in January, February I was looking at my tournaments and I was thinking I could get back into the top-50 in the world, so my game was strong as regards playing with the juniors,” explained Harrington who is playing his fifth week in a row.
“I could see how my game had turned around and I did expect some really good performances. I would say my first two tournaments last year were outliers rather than anything turning around. This year I would have said those are the ones that were the outliers. I certainly expected to come out and contend. There’s no doubt I sharpened up a bit by being on top of the leaderboard a lot. When you’re up there, you turn up at a PGA Tour event, you finish 20th, you’re six shots behind the lead. So you go home and you think to yourself, God, I’ve got to hit the ball better. You go start working on your technique and things like that.
“You turn up at a Champions Tour event and you lose the tournament and you’re two shots back say. You go, I just wasn’t good with my routine on that 14 tee shot that I missed, my short game isn’t quite as tight as it should be, I should have chipped and putted that hole. So you tend to, when you’re close to winning, you tend to focus on I suppose the finer details that get you playing well whereas when you’re six, eight shots away from winning a tournament, it’s so vast that you start thinking, well, I’ve got to work on this first before I start working on my mental game.
“So I think being on the Champions Tour has helped me not realise, I always realised it, but it has helped me commit more to being — realising that how I’m thinking is much more important than how I’m swinging a golf club.”
The 51-year-old has shown he still has the appetite for competition in the major championships and tour events over the last twelve months with top-10 finishes at the PGA Championship and the two DP World Tour events in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He intends to take up a busier schedule on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour next year with the sole intention of winning again.
“I fully believe I’m going to (win),” said Harrington who finished 17th at the Dunhill Links last week where he was one of nine players to shoot under par in the biblical round two conditions.
“Just a boring average week last week. It was not like anything went I played well on the tough days as I usually would, but physically I hit it further and I’m as good as I can be and what I’m finding is the Champions Tour has really helped me mentally. Really helped me.
“There’s an element of, as I described earlier on, I’m in contention so I’m hitting a lot more shots under pressure and feeling that intensity and I feel that’s really going to help my game. I think I need — there was an element going back last week and playing the regular tour event, it’s a one-off. That’s not easy to go and play one-off events.
“So if I want to win on the regular tour, I have to play a few events. I’m not going to be able to target one event and just turn up. Even when you do target one event, not only are you a little bit out of — you’re in a different pond in that sense. You’re in a different sort of area. Everybody else is talking to you because they haven’t seen you, so it just jumps out as being a different week.
“So if I want to win a regular event, I’m going to have to play a few more. I intend to. I’m going to play 33 events this year, I have no problem with playing events. Hopefully, I’m in three of the main majors next year. Kind of difficult getting into the Masters barring winning a tournament. I just don’t play enough events to get myself back inside the top-50 in the world. It will have to be a win, so we’ll see.”
Harrington can rise to the summit of the Schwab Cup standings with Steven Alker absent.
Senior Open champion Darren Clarke is also in the field.
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