There’s a reason why Americans love Jordan Spieth and, though it admittedly took a little time to warm to him, I fully understand why. And it’s not for a second because he’s relatable; he’s not. Not for an average golfer like me anyway, and despite what others might lead you to believe, unless you’re a top-tier professional, he’s not relatable to you either.
Nobody says Rory McIlroy is relatable because he misses a four-footer, nobody says Jon Rahm is relatable because he swears after a bad shot, and nobody says Scottie Scheffler is relatable because he says his prayers. They are all human because they do that from time to time, but most of the time they’ve got a golf club in their hands, they’re closer to super-human than you or I.
No, what makes Spieth so compelling, like Seve Ballesteros before him, are his powers of recovery, the way he goes about his business, and yes, the potential for the house of cards to come tumbling down at any second.
Though I’ve just likened Spieth to Seve, there’s a much more recent figure to compare him to, and for Irish readers, he’s much closer to home.
Padraig Harrington is everything that Jordan Spieth is, just with shamrocks on, or to put it another way, Spieth is Harrington in Stars and Stripes. Quite how this never dawned on me prior to watching the closing stages of Sunday’s Senior PGA Championship, I’ll probably never know, but like one of those optical illusions – once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Though I’ve yet to see Spieth play without the aid of a video lens, I don’t need to see him in the flesh to appreciate the showmanship because I’ve watched Harrington up close many times and the sense of theatre he creates is second to none.
If you didn’t see the final few holes of the Senior PGA Championship, allow me to explain what I mean. Trailing by two, Harrington carries the ball onto the green on the short par-4 16th, unfortunate to run through and up the steep embankment at the back, leaving himself a devilishly quick downhill chip. Or so it seems. But out comes the lob wedge, and he starts taking near full practice swings, before opening the face and slicing underneath the ball which lands, as per Golf Channel’s commentator, “softly as a butterfly,” somehow coming to a halt short of the flag and he’d clean up to reduce the deficit to one.
On the par-3 next, needing to land the ball on a sixpence to get close to the tucked flag, he overshot his landing area by a couple of feet and watched his ball careen over the back and down into the hardpan waste area behind the green. With few options to choose from, he attempts to run a low one up the slope, only to watch it lose momentum near the summit and dive left and disappear into what looked like a horrendous lie. He’d somehow get up and down from there, and thanks to Steve Stricker also making bogey, would remain one back going to the last.
There was nothing particularly spectacular about his closing two-putt birdie at the par-5 18th, apart from a fortuitous bounce that saw his long approach find the putting surface as opposed to greenside rough, but the first playoff hole was as close to classic Harrington as we’re likely to see this year. After slicing his drive way left into the penalty area, he climbed down into the thick grass and attempted to hack it up the fairway, only for the clubhead to get caught in the reeds and the ball scoot right and disappear.
Now he had to take a drop, and playing four, had 287 yards to the pin. His 3-wood flew laser-like at the flag, pitching alongside and running to the back of the green where it found the slope and began to inch its way back to the hole. Earlier on, we’d seen Stewart Cink and several others find that slope and have their ball feed all the way to within six or eight feet, somehow, Harrington’s stopped a good 15-feet past the hole. Though he couldn’t make the putt to extend the playoff – a putt that also would’ve provided the greatest par I’d ever seen – for the previous hour or so, he’d taken us on a wild ride the likes of which very few golfers in the game’s history could provide.
Anybody who’s followed Harrington around a course on more than a handful of occasions will tell you, that’s par for the course. Like Spieth, Harrington is a spectacle. If you’re watching him, buckle up.
When the Irish Open returns to the K Club later this year, and we’ve got McIlroy, Lowry, Power, Hatton and who knows who else, Harrington’s name will be the first one I look for on the tee sheet, and the one I’ll plan to follow most.