Northern Trust Open interview: Padraig Harrington

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February 12, 2013

MORE INTERVIEWS: Northern Trust Open transcripts

MARK STEVENS:  Like to welcome Padraig Harrington. You're going to make your seventh consecutive start here at the Northern Trust Open this week. If you want to talk about, you just got done playing the course, if you want to talk about the course and the setup and then we'll have a few questions.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: We come here every year, the golf course is always in top shape. That's what we've come to expect and that's what we've got again this year. It's a very nice setup out there. It's reasonably firm at the moment.

Obviously we are all looking for it to warm up a little bit to help us out, but the golf course is firm enough that you can play it in a bit of a wind, and so it's playing very nice indeed.

Q. As you look at this event and your history here, has this course changed much over the years, or do you as a player, when you go back to a particular course, do you see a sense of consistency in a place when you go back?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You know, they have put in one or two tee boxes, but it has not changed the integrity of the golf course. It plays the same as it would have played the first time I played it. I think we're probably going for me back to 2004, maybe 2005. Yeah, it's one of the courses ‑‑ it's obviously one of the favorite golf courses of the year. It's probably, if it's not the best regular golf course, it's right at the top of the list. It is consistent from year‑to‑year. We do know what to expect.

So you know, there is a lot of familiarity, and you do need to know the golf course, even though I think my best score ever on this course was the very first round I played in competitive play, but I will say that there is a lot of local knowledge on the golf course. You've got to know where you can and can't miss some of these greens, because a lot of the difficulty, especially on the weekend, is down to the pin positions and the speed and the slope in the greens.

Q. You said last week about Pebble and this course that these courses suit you but maybe you haven't been ready for them; can you explain what that means?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: It's very early in the season, for me, anyways, and a lot of the guys. The condition that these golf courses, really it's like playing at home a lot of the times. The ball goes about the same distance, and so poa annua greens, I grew up playing poa annua greens, so there's a familiarity to it all.

But when it's early season, you just make mental errors; at times you miss‑club, you do a few silly things that maybe in the middle of the season, you wouldn't do or your wedges are or dialed in in the middle of the season. There's a lot of issues at the start of the year.

You know, you could hit the ball great, but just mentally you're not quite a hundred percent sharp, or you could have worked on something that you're just trying to get it looked into your game. There's lots of things going on for all the players at this time of the year. We are all settling into a season and trying to find our rhythm for that season. I look at these two golf courses, I wish they came later on in the year, because as I said, this one in particular, is a fantastic golf course. It's a joy to play.

I think we'd love to play golf courses like this all the time.

Q. I know they have talked about bringing a U.S. Open back here some day, and the problem I guess is more logistics than the golf course itself; but if they did, what types of things would they have to do to this course?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: We play this with more rough than we play it ‑‑ this is very close to a tournament golf course when you play it like out of season. Like if you came here in a month's time, it's very close to being a tournament course. They don't have to do a lot to this golf course to make it exactly like tournament play.

For the U.S. Open, I don't think they need to do much. Obviously gets a lot warmer in the summer so the ball travels a lot further. There's a back tee on No. 2, which it's kind of unthinkable that we could use it this week, but if it was a U.S. Open, it would definitely be used because we would be hitting the ball further at that time in that heat.

There are a few things like that that the tee boxes that are there would get more use and we would not be pushed up on them. The same would be on No. 12, let's say. But outside of that, you know, the greens here are so small, so difficult; if they are firm and fast, you're going to have a tough time full stop. And if they put a little bit more rough in I don't think we would enjoy it as much.

I would rather see the setup for this week exactly the way it is. I wouldn't change anything. And as I said, it's well capable of ‑‑ you know the sign of a good golf course when you could dictate what score you wanted here. If they turned around this week and said, you know what, guys, we are going to have a couple under par win this tournament, they could manage that on this golf course. Now, I don't think the players would like it.

We like the way it is. But you know, the golf course has that ability; that we are not always in control of the course here. The course is big enough and strong enough that it can dictate the scores to the players at times.

Q. You said that this is early in the year for you. At what point do you start thinking about getting ready for the Masters, and how does that process begin?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: August. (Laughter) well, that's true. The finish you finish the PGA, you're getting ready for the Masters. You want to be ready.

I hope to be ready on the ‑‑ well, actually the Thursday morning of the Masters. I would assume my final preparation is pretty much done the Wednesday afternoon when I finish up in the par 3 competition. I hope I don't have much to do on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; so the Valero Texas Open a big week for me the week before to make sure that I'm ready and don't have to find anything the week of the Masters.

But I suppose what you're kind of asking me is, at this stage, yeah, you're trying to get enough tournaments under your belt that by the time the Masters comes around, you don't feel like you've left anything to chance; that, you know, you've played enough without over playing. I don't think you really overplay by the Masters, but you certainly could underplay with the idea that you want to be strong all the way through the year.

At times, you can play too little because you've got one eye maybe on August or something like that, but I certainly have the experience that I've played too many events before the Masters, and I've quite a busy schedule this year before the Masters and it should keep me in good stead for it.

Q. You talk about playing the Valero Texas Open in particular; when you play a tournament the week before the Masters, as a player, you go out to win obviously every week, but is it a preparatory thing for you, or is it ‑‑ what's your mentality?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I think you'll find that the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of the tournament the week before, you're thinking about the Masters. Thursday morning, you tee it up, you're only thinking about that tournament. And until you feel like you can't win that tournament, you're only thinking about that tournament.

The minute you feel like you're out of contention to win, then definitely your mind will wander back to the Masters. You know, whatever that means; if it's on the Sunday and you're well out of contention and you're hitting the shots you want to be hitting the following week, you might be doing more practice than necessarily you would be.

But if you've got a chance of winning, you've got to take that chance. There's no tournament on the TOUR that you would sacrifice not winning it. Wins don't come that often, so you take every opportunity that you can get, and if you're in with a chance, clearly in a perfect world, would you like to think, I can win the week before a major and the major. You would like to feel like you can do it, and as every player's ego will tell you, we all believe that we can and we all believe that we'll take that chance if it comes around.

But certainly as you're in the tournament, you're trying to win it and you're not thinking about the following week. Because wins don't come around as often as we would like them to.

Q. When you've had an extended time away from competition, what, for you, personally, takes ‑‑ what part of your game takes the longest time to get dialed back in?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Quite a few; routines, they get affected a lot by practice. If you're hitting shots on a range or anything like that, it tends to get in your head in terms of how you prepare to hit shots, because you tend to ‑‑ no matter how disciplined you are, you tend to rake golf balls when you're practicing.

I think wedge play, it's very difficult from the conditions I'm coming from, it's very difficult to get good wedge play during the winter. The turf is soft and the weather is not conducive; you're probably hitting the ball 20, 30 percent less distance‑wise.  That's probably the hardest for me, getting dialed in on the wedge numbers and the routines.

The physical, hitting the golf ball, not a big issue. Chipping and putting, chipping and putting seems to be okay, too, yeah. Sometimes chipping can be difficult, but I would think wedge play and the routines are the two for me.

Q. Do you have a maximum number of tournaments consecutively that you draw the line at?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You know, I'm on a four‑tournament run at the moment, which I will consider that's maximum for me. I will consider it as it would have to be some extenuating circumstances; extenuating circumstances to make it four. Normally I would do three and either have a week or two weeks off.

But as I'm kind of on the cusp of Top‑50 in the world; I'm not in Doral. I added a couple of tournaments just to give myself more of a chance. Certainly added Phoenix to give myself a chance to stay in the Top‑50.

I wouldn't normally play four, but when the circumstances dictate a need, you'll do whatever it takes. My first year on Tour, I did ten in a row, and it was great. I think I won; I won on my 10th event. There you go.

Q. So many of you guys travel so much in such a short period of time now. You'll be in Abu Dhabi one week and you'll be over here in Pacific time zone here the next week.  For those of us who haven't done that very much, what's the toll like, and how do you cope with it and when do you feel it?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You feel it if you're not working. So jet‑lag and travel, it's harder when you go home and you kind of don't have a time scale to stick to. When you're at a tournament, if you fly in, it doesn't matter what I'm ‑‑ I've got to make an 8:10 Pro‑Am tomorrow, so I'm getting up probably 2 1/2 hours before that tee time. I've got to make a 7:50 time on Friday, so I'm getting up three and a bit hours before that time. So I just have to get up and get on with it.

Sleep deprivation, one night's sleep deprivation has no affect on performance whatsoever. Two nights is extremely detrimental. So I know no matter how bad I sleep or how bad I feel, I can get through a round of golf. I can last that length of time. I'll be fine. If it's really bad, it just means you have to maybe curtail practice and catch up on your sleep.

Outside of that, getting into the gym always gets you back on track. That's probably one of the keys. We'll all do that. We'll all wake ourselves up by going to the gym. You know, there's other simple disciplines; being professional in the sense of hydrating and eating properly.

And no matter if you wake up in the middle of the night at 3 o'clock in the morning, you're wide awake, do not put on the television. That is the golden rule, do not put on ‑‑ just lie there, look at the four walls, but the minute you put on the television, that's it. You ain't ever getting back to sleep. There are keys like that.

Q. Sort of on the same subject, other than eyesight, have you conceded anything to age yet? And given what you do, you've been at the top of this game, do you sense there's a window closing physically and mentally; that you have a certain number of years to do something?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Well, at the moment, I'm much fitter, stronger, than I was when I came out on TOUR when I was 24. So at this very moment in time, if you took a snapshot, I'm way ahead of where I was at any stage. I hit the ball further. As I said, I'd be better, more capable in the gym. There's a lot of positives in that sense.

How long do I think that can go on? My ego says forever. (Laughter) At this very moment, that's how I believe. You're out here on TOUR and there's lots of young guys and you've got to compete with them. You know, I'm happy that I can do that. I'll take them on whatever task you want, I'm ready for it.

So it's not ‑‑ it's a state of mind and they definitely ‑‑ the rookies keep you young, no doubt about it. I see my best years ahead of me. I don't look back and think this is in any shape or form, I don't feel like I'm on the downward track. I still feel like I'm moving up and as I said, physically I'm getting better and better.

So no real issues there, and I'm motivated. That's probably the most important thing. It's much more to do with motivation than anything else, and I'm motivated.

Q. We talked about the countdown to the Masters, and as you consider the tournaments you play, kind of off‑topic a tad, but when you consider the influences of what events you decide to play, how much weight does the tournament director or your caddie have; what do you take into account?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Tournament director is massive to an event. A personal relationship between a tournament director and a player can make all the difference. The player will make an extra effort when there's a face to the request to come to a tournament. If he's had a good experience there before; there's a lot like that, and some of the best tournaments, I will always say, the tournament director or sponsor liaison, somebody is there who is creating a friendly atmosphere for the player.

There's no doubt, caddies are the ones we talk to a lot, and if they enjoy an event, they can sometimes persuade their player that that is great place to go. I kind of believe a lot, myself, like on the other side of that, if I played well somewhere, I want to go back there. If I haven't played well there, I'll go back, but eventually you get to a stage, if you're not performing on a golf course, you go, you know what, I think there's somewhere else I should go.

And often times, you can turn up at a golf course and play okay, and you've missed the cut. And another week you turn up and you play okay, and you've got a chance of winning the tournament. And it doesn't logically make any sense, but that's the way it is.

There's one event, always well noted on The European Tour. I go to an event, and one of the biggest events in Europe, the BMW PGA Championship. Like one year I turned up and played well, and I think I shot 4‑over par to miss the cut. The winning score was 18‑under that week. If I was a rookie, I would have just gone, okay, I'm not good enough. I played well to be 22 shots behind.

And another week, you can turn up and think, my game wasn't really on form and all of a sudden you've got a great chance down the stretch, and you might even win it. And you're not feeling like the game is great, who knows.

Obviously there's a break or two here and there and who knows which golf course suits your eye; and the feel of the golf course, your good memories of the golf course; that's a big determinant. Your past performances will bring you back to a golf course, but no doubt a tournament director can build a relationship that a player will always want to, certainly do his utmost to keep that on the rota.

Q. You mentioned the challenge of the young kids today. Obviously you keep your head down and have what you have going on, your eye on, that but what piques your interest with the young players today?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Fascinated by them. Fascinated by golf in general. Just everybody who comes out here. For years I watched players coming out, young players, and then you know, especially ‑‑ not so much early on in my career, but a few years into my career, you'd be looking at these guys and be wondering how you can compete, because there are bigger athletes coming out now and they crunch the golf ball and they all swing so well and they all hit the ball so well and it's so easy to get drawn in.

I've seen that and I've lectured pros my age or slightly older than me, who get into the realm, oh, I can't compete. Because it's very easy to look at them and say, wow, there's such a bunch of these guys.

But then after a while, you kind of get through that phase and you go, wow, there's another good young kid and the TOUR is just going to eat him up, just going to eat that guy up; and as good as he is, after a while, he's going to have the same fears that the rest of us have out here and he's going to have to deal with this and he's going to have to deal with missing missed cuts, when every week he turned up in college, he nearly won the tournament. Now, every second week, he's missing a cut, and he could still be playing good golf and missing the cut; how he's going to deal with that.

You realize with experience that TOUR life is far, far, far more than the ability to hit a golf ball. It's so much more about managing your time out here and keeping perspective on the game. There's so many elements to it that it is fascinating seeing good players coming out here, and the TOUR, the life on the TOUR, because it is tough out here. There's 156 guys most weeks and we're all fighting it out, and you know, we really ‑‑ you can be as good as anything, but in the end of the day, we only care about the scores at the end of the week. It's so easy to get lost.

It's probably the most interesting thing out here is watching guys who are playing well, and wondering why they are playing well; and watching good players not playing well and then watching these great kids coming out and wondering, are they going to be great; are they going to get through that barrier. Because it's not a physical barrier, nothing to do with that. It's completely mental at the end of the day.

Thankfully for somebody like me, there's many a great player out there who just doesn't like the professional lifestyle, doesn't like the travel. They get frustrated and bogged down with that, and that takes out a lot of players.

Professional golf, it's interesting, and there's a lot of different pieces in the dynamic that make up a successful TOUR player. And even then more, in a player who is having a run, who is successful and having a bumper season and peaks and like myself in 2007, 2008, where I win three majors, it's fascinating watching everybody going through the highs and lows of TOUR life and just trying to, for me, it's just trying to pigeon hole everybody and say, right, I put him in that category there, and I can see him step out of it and will he go back to it; will he reset to the person he believes he is or will he sustain this run of peak golf.

It's great. I'm on the inside looking at this and it keeps me sane. As I said, as a rookie, he kept the blinkers on myself. For two years, I don't think I ever once looked around myself. I just ran. For two years, I basically just ran with the ball and never, ever questioned it.

As I said, for the next ten years, I looked around and questioned everything. It's only now, a little later on, that I look at it, I question it, but I'm able to compartmentalize it and say, okay, yeah, he's in there, that's the level he's at, yes he's playing great. Yes, it's fascinating, the whole scheme of things.

A huge amount comes down to exactly what the player believes his position is determines massively how he plays golf over the years, and everybody has a little ego inside them and it's either knocking them back or lifting them up, whatever it is. But they have something inside them that says that they believe that they are this type of player. It's amazing, it's very hard to get away from it.

MARK STEVENS: And to close, Padraig would like to share some information on a partner that's benefitted personally and your foundation.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I always like to share a new sponsor, but I have Clune Construction here. It's kind of the press release, they have been there for a little while now. But Clune Construction, we got together last year at of the Masters, they supported my charitable foundation when I was raising money for a cousin of my wife at home who was paralyzed.

From that relationship, I met obviously Michael Clune, the CEO, and from that, we decided to go further. Clune are one of the biggest construction companies in the Midwest, essentially do interiors of building, they refit them or actually do them out if they are new buildings. So.

Far, we have had a very nice relationship. They are based here in the U.S., even though they are Irish guys. So far everything is going great and we are just formally announcing the relationship that Clune relationship is one of my partners, sponsors. I'm an Official Ambassador (smiling).

MARK STEVENS:  Thank you, Padraig.

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