By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
It didn't take Padraig Harrington long to figure out he was better off playing the week before a big tournament rather than beating balls on the range.
"I'd say when I was 14," Harrington said. "Bear in mind when I played a tournament as a 14‑year‑old, it was a major every time.
"The most important thing to do before you went out and played was go and try to get competitive practice. I played every time there was a big tournament."
Which explains, in part, why Harrington is in the field this week at the Valero Texas Open.
"You do need to have a card in your hand and you need to be tested one ball at a time," he said. "That isn't practice."
Harrington arrives at TPC San Antonio not exactly in top form. He has just one top 10 and two missed cuts in five starts on the PGA TOUR this season.
Five years ago, he won three majors in 13 months. But he's won just once since, and that came at as Asian Tour event in 2010.
As for the Masters, Harrington has four top 10s there, including a pair of fifth-place finishes in 2002 and 2008. And it's not as if he needs more practice rounds at Augusta National.
For one, this year will mark his 14th trip down Magnolia Lane.
"We all know that at Augusta, because everybody with experience knows now that even the test that they see Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, is not what's presented on a Thursday," Harrington said. "So at this stage with experience, I don't even take my Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday practice as serious as I certainly would when I first am starting to play."
For another, Harrington's ever busy mind and tinkering would take over.
"I just know from experience that if I spend the week off beforehand, I'm going to start working on things," he said. "Mentally your routine isn't quite sharp or there is some little element that you didn't realize. There is only one way to know where your game is at and that's to hit a shot under pressure."
Of course Harrington's routine isn't for everybody.
"I do believe there are guys who are good at managing that, not playing tournaments and figuring out how to create competitive practice," he said. "You've got to say Tiger has done a great job of it over the years, but it's not for me. I need competitive practice."