One of my favourite plays to study in school, if such a thing existed, was Philadelphia Here I Come by Brian Friel. It’s the story of Gar O’Donnell’s complicated relationship with his father SB, the pair incapable of communicating their love for one another, even with Gar’s impending emigration to America about to wedge a dagger deep into their needy hearts.
Now I’d like to think my own dad and I connect on a much deeper level than Gar and SB, but like most of the thirty lads in the classroom back then, I would’ve found it easier to recite the play from first syllable to last than to tell my dad I loved him.
Besides, he knew I loved him, right? We didn’t need to explicitly say it. We’re Irishmen after all. We express our feelings differently, roaring at sport from high stools and wiping unexplainable tears away before anybody sees them.
Whether that’s the product of Catholic repression, who knows, but the ‘amore’ that rolled off the tongue of the Italians twisted cringingly for me and dad like so many of our emotionally beat brethren.
At least, that was until Pádraig Harrington arrived.
As far as relationships go, theirs was definitely a distant one. Harrington played golf around the world. Dad punted on Harrington playing golf around the world, from the betting shop in Leixlip.
They had unwittingly slipped into a nice routine. Dad would devour the sports section of The Irish Times and he’d read of Harrington’s bullishness before the upcoming tournament. Like Harrington, Dad’s an eternal optimist and forgetting the form book, he’d take Harrington’s words to the bank, withdrawing a few shekels to invest in the Dubliner who came good in the rare old times.
I’m sure Mam wished Padraig would stop featuring in the paper but that all changed in Carnoustie in 2007 when Harrington, despite a double-bogey at the 72nd hole that nearly put my old man six feet under, regrouped to beat Sergio Garcia and win The Open.
It was a maiden Major Championship for Harrington, and Dad. Pádraig won the Claret Jug. Dad fitted our house with a new fireplace, compliments of Harrington.
As luck would have it, the hero’s homecoming happened just up the road at Weston Airport where Dad brought me along to meet the first Irish Major winner since Fred Daly in 1947. Or at least I thought that was the idea; to inspire the next generation, get me an autograph and go home. Instead Dad whipped the programme from my hand and muscled his way to the front where he fell into Harrington’s arms and wept inconsolably.
He must’ve really wanted that fireplace.
A year later we travelled to Birkdale where Harrington, and Dad, repeated the trick. It was a virtual procession compared to the Barry Burn fuelled anxiety the year before; Harrington’s 71st hole eagle sealed the crowning.
To this day I’m not sure who appreciated that eagle more, Harrington or Dad.
At Birkdale they both won big. Pádraig retained his Claret Jug and won almost a million. Dad, also handsomely paid, knocked the garage and built an extension known forevermore as ‘The Harrington Wing’ of our humble four-bed semi.
They continued their distant dating for the best part of a decade after, but by the time Harrington notched his last Main tour victory in 2016, Dad’s fickle fortune had found its way to another man, Shane Lowry. But that’s not to say the love doesn’t still run deep.
A couple of years ago on our Irish Golfer podcast, I got to regale Harrington with tales of his number one fan’s affection. I even found my voice quiver as I spoke. Whether that’s because an hour with Harrington remains the highlight of my career, or because talking to the man who made my dad cry where I couldn’t was all too much to take, I’ll let you decide.
As for Harrington: “I like hearing stories like that, they give me a little smile,” he told me. “There’s been some great ones. I heard stories of people who didn’t even know I’d won in Carnoustie for five or six hours after it happened.
“A person we know turned it off after I hit it in the water on 18 and didn’t find out until they were in the pub later. I know someone else who broke the TV. I’d never heard about the fireplace and the wing but there were patios and conservatories!”
Our back and forth lasted for 70 minutes. It was just as well I was the one interviewing and not Dad though. By the time he peeled himself from Harrington’s embrace at Weston, he hadn’t managed a word.
And as I said my appreciative goodbyes to Pádraig on the call, he took me by surprise before he vanished from the screen.
“Wish your Dad well.”
So I did, and best of all, I knew he meant it.