WM Phoenix Open interview: Padraig Harrington

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February 02, 2013

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Padraig Harrington was 63 today and is at 16 under par through 54 holes. He had it going today very nicely. Thoughts about the round.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: It's obviously Saturday and Saturday is moving day, so, you know, it's probably the easiest day of the week to go out there, trying to play well but really no pressure not playing well.

I got a fast start, birdied four of the first five holes. Then your confidence is open. I kept creating chances from then on in. If I look back at the round, you know, it's possible I could say I had a lot of chances that I didn't take, but ultimately, you know, my game is in good shape so it's easier to be patient when your game is in good shape. You don't feel like this is your only opportunity, let's say.

Yeah, I feel like I'm in a good place with the game and looking forward to playing some golf.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Just go through the highlights of the day.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Let me see if I can remember. I hit it to like 9 iron to six feet the first. Gap wedge to four feet the second. Two nice woods just short of the 3rd and chipped up four feet.

5, I hit 9 iron to 10 feet. 8, I hit 6 iron just over the back of the green and chipped in from about 20 feet. That was nice. (Laughter.) I chipped it a little bit hard, so it's always nice when it goes in.
11, I hit probably my nicest. I hit a really nice 7 iron into 11 to about eight feet and holed that. Pretty decent tee shot the next and just drifted left and made a mess of the next shot. Normally I'd be quite good at those. I knocked it by 20 feet. It was an awkward spot on the edge of the bunker. It certainly wasn't that hard.

Then I hit a very nice 5 wood off the desert on the next to 15 feet. Didn't hit a good putt. Two putted for birdie. Then I hit a very nice 5 wood into 15 and to 10, 12 feet and holed that. That was a nice bonus at that stage.

It is difficult at the end of the round here. You really do it is very exciting and your emotions really do run away with you. It's like the only way I could describe it, it's like playing your first tournament as a professional, as a rookie. You know what you're doing, but it's hard to keep your mind from racing away from you. It really was.

The adrenaline is pumping over those last three, four holes. Very exciting indeed.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: We'll go to questions.

Q. You talked about how it was stress free to just go out and try to make birdies. When you start the day nine strokes out of the lead, can you compare that to maybe being in the lead?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Being in the lead is probably the hardest thing to do in professional golf, there's no doubt about it. You've got to try and keep going forward. The pressure is on not to mess up.

You know, I truly admire front runners who can keep true at that stage, because it is a difficult proposition to keep hitting, you know, keep going at the flag.

So, you know, that's got to be a really tough thing. You know, obviously when you're leading, you're confident, but it's tough to lead from the front. Phil has obviously got a substantial lead here, and he's won a number of tournaments in the past. So, you know, he's a good bet in that situation, but, you know, I think for most professional golfers, holding the lead is always going to be always one of the toughest things.

If you're chasing you know, if it goes well, great, you win the tournament or catch the leader. If it doesn't go well, nobody knows. You hide in the pack, and you get patted on the back for finishing top 10. It really is easy.

That's why it's a lot easier to hold the lead on a tough golf course than it is on an easy golf course. The whole pack is going to come charging at you on an easy course. If you play safe, you will get caught. While on a tough course, chasing is going to make it you're going to get short sighted a number of times. So hitting into the middle of the green is the sensible thing. That's what the leader does and not the guys chasing.

It depends on the golf course situation, but it is a lot easier stress wise for the guys chasing.

Q. You talk about how tough the finish is. Does maybe playing with the crowd or playing to the crowd the last few holes, especially 16, does that kind of maybe get your adrenaline...

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You're trying to calm it down. (Laughter.)

I've got to say on the 17th I hit my driver as easy as I could. I was so pumped up at that stage after walking off the 16th.

It is exciting. You have to embrace that. That's what we're here for. We play a lot of events during the year and good events, but this is unique here. This is completely it's unique in a great way. I really do like the idea. You know, you've got to enjoy it. You've got to love it and, as I said, embrace it.

Yeah, your emotions run away a bit. Yeah, I think I hit like at 16, I had 175 flag and I tried to hit a smooth 8 and hit it past the flag. You know, it's easy to hit the ball a long way over the last couple you're feeling the exact same emotions as you would be if you're trying to win the tournament and you're only out there. It's exciting. You know, you'd love golf to be like that certainly a lot of weeks.

Majors are slightly different, but certainly most weeks you'd love to have that sort of enthusiasm and excitement around any event.

Q. What was the smartest or cleverest or most fun comment that you got today on 16 or anywhere else?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON:
I don't know. You know, as an Irishman, we enjoy when people sing, Ole, Ole, Ole. So that was the best part of the day. There was a number of Irish people out there with flags. Yeah, you really do enjoy that.

I'm trying to think, somebody did say something. I'm just trying to remember what it was, but the Ole, Ole, Ole is very pleasing. Having gone to football matches in my day and sang it myself, when it's sung to you, it's a special it's a special occasion.

Q. Do you believe in karma in golf? If so, might there be some at play for a guy who shows up to a tournament the first time because he just wants to see what it's like?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I wish. (Laughter.)

As a professional sportsman, I try not believe in any superstitions whatsoever. You know, it's a bad habit to get into when you start thinking of using this coin or parking in this spot or you're just going to build up superstitions that you're going to keep going. No, I'm not going to go down the road of doing that. I'm just enjoying it here.

You know, oftentimes the first time you play an event, I don't have as much I don't have any baggage here. You know, I'm not standing over a shot and thinking, oh, the last time I hit this shot I missed it left and I made bogey.

That caught me out on 18 the first day. I'm hitting a sand wedge into 18 the first day, and I'm thinking that this looks like it can't go long here, looks like a dropoff. And I spun it short and came off the green 20 yards.

When I went up, there wasn't a dropoff. I totally misread the yardage book. The place to hit it, there was actually a backstop behind the pin. It will cost you once or twice, but you don't realize when it saves you. I'm sure it has saved me a couple of times out there as well.

Q. When you came here you said you anticipated it was going to be a fun week, but there have not been a lot of European players who have played in this particular event every year.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Very simple reason. Everybody knows it's a fun event. There are a good amount of Europeans who live out here. It really comes down to our European schedule finishes, traditionally finishes very late in the year. I'm usually playing all the way up to the second week of December. You're gonna have to take some time off. Unfortunately this week then encompasses that break that you would tend to take.

Whereas the U.S. players finish in November. By the time the 1st of January comes around they're chomping at the bit to get out there to play golf. We'd be the opposite in Europe.

I always looked at this and wanted to play it, but it's always been a week early for me. But this year it fitted in nicely because I finished playing, I think it was nearly the third week of November. I had the same break earlier, which meant I'm back out playing now.

Q. If you want to win tomorrow, it's going to be written, that you haven't won on a major tour in the last couple of years.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: That would say to the Asian Tour that they're not a major tour.

Q. European Tour or PGA TOUR. Sort of insinuating in there you haven't played well, which is not fair. You finished 8th in the Masters last year and 4th in the U.S. Open, made the cut in every major, played very well this year. But nonetheless, you haven't won in Europe or on the PGA TOUR. I get asked this all the time, why hasn't he? I try to connect the dots.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: This is a long question. Gonna be a long answer.

Q. Did you change your golf swing?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: No, I must admit yeah, I've changed my golf swing, but I change it every day. I changed my golf swing this week. That's what I do: I get up in the morning, and I change. That's who I am.

If I had a problem since 2008 going down the road of changing, I'm a person who has always managed never to read anything about me. I keep the media, certainly what people are saying about me, out of my world.

So since 2008 I'm on a higher level and I keep getting asked the same questions. Eventually if you keep getting asked why you change your swing, again, you start explaining yourself and it turns into defending yourself.

Probably last year I probably late last year I came to the conclusion, you know, I didn't actually change, because what I do every day is keep trying to evolve, and that's what I do. Every day I change is being me.

People's perception of me changed because they assumed that because I won and peaked in 2007 and 2008, they assumed I was at a level I wanted to be at or had what I wanted, and they assumed why would you keep trying to change. But the only thing I know is changing. It gets me out of my bed in the morning and gets me motivated.

I'm 41 years of age and I think I'm a kid, and the reason I think I'm a kid is I think I'm going to find the secret every day.

I hit eight bags of balls before my round Thursday morning working on my swing. I just love it. That's who I am.

As regards to my form, I peaked obviously in 2007 and 2008. Everybody peaks. Professional golfers tend to last about 18 months when they peak and drift back to who they are.

Now, if that was a peak, and then you have an average play, yes, probably in 2009 or 2010, anyway, I played below average. You have to play below average if you are going to peek as well. The way I look at it, and maybe this is a mistake I made, you're trying to compare yourself to your absolute peak in 2008, whereas I should always be trying to work off my base, my average play.
If I can improve my baseline, that means when the peak comes around, it will be a little higher, probably a little bit longer. You know, that's the game. It ebbs and flows.

You know, I'm watching a lot of players, and I see consistently it's about 18 months where they really have the game easy, you know, things good happen to them. Then they go into a period, and it depends how good they are, they reset to who they are for a while.

You know, if they're a really good player they will come back and peak again. That's just the nature of the game. I won three majors: one in 2007, two in 2008. Was I gonna win three in 2009? You know, when you look at the players out there, there's only two players, three players in the modern game who are playing at the moment who have won more than three majors, and it took Ernie 20 years, it took Phil quicker in terms of when he won his first one to the last one.
So, you know, if I'm to get out there and win more majors, logic would say it ain't gonna happen in 2009 necessarily, but it will happen eventually. When the good times come around, you know, I'll take my chances, and hopefully it will happen.

You know, I have to be patient, but it really is a question it's ebbs and flows in this game. I'm fascinated that, you know, the easiest thing to analyze myself is to actually watch other people, understand when you're watching other people how, you know, when they're on form how easy it is for them, how you know, they go out there and play like they shot 70 and they're signing for 68. When things aren't going for you, you play like you shot 70 and signing for 72. That's the nature of this game. We all go through that.

I did have big problems last year with my putting. I lost my confidence reading the greens. I think I was 13th in the stroke average last year. So I remember being told at one stage by somebody how I played bad, bad, and bad three times. The interesting thing about it was at the time I was like 9th in the stroke average. I hadn't putted well. I had a chance at the U.S. Open, a really good chance at the U.S. Open.

At the time I was the best wedge player on TOUR, and I had to get up and down on the last hole from 125 yards, 116 it might have been, something like that. To get into it would have got me into the playoffs. I had a genuine chance at the U.S. Open. The U.S. Open I had two four-putts and a number of three-putts.

I can't remember four-putting, I'm going back to being a kid. I could see the good play there, but perception is when you got to a certain height, there's a massive perception when you don't play to that level. Nobody can play at their peak all the time.

I explain at home very simply in Premiership Football. If you score 30 goals in a Premiership Football, you're going to be signed up for you know, some team is going to buy you for 40 million. But if your average is 20 and you scored 30 this year, well, that's 10 goals coming around the corner pretty soon if your average is 20.

But I would have been where I might have gone wrong well, where I probably went wrong, one, as I said, I was defending myself the at times, and two, I was trying to improve on the 30, whereas realistically I was trying to improve on the 20. This is where Dave Alred, I work with, has really helped me. It's about just improving what you consider your baseline. It's not about going out there and trying to improve the very top end, because, you know, as I said I went down a No. 13 today. Myself and Hunter Mayhan hit pretty similar shots. He's three yards left of me. He's in a bush. I hit 5 wood 15 feet. You know, nobody can legislate for that in golf.

There was not a difference between our two shots off the tee. He's in a bush. You know, that's golf. Golf is like that, and you get on a good run, and, you know, you don't find yourself in the bush. When things aren't going for you, you know, you do find yourself in the bush.

Again, that's life. You know, as a player you have to under that, and sometimes it's hard to understand that. There's no doubt at times I went from explaining myself to defending myself, and for a person like me, who I have kept the outside world way out of my inner circle, I have never let really, really work hard and not trying to let outside influences affect me.

But there is no doubt over those years when you are continually being asked the same question, all of a sudden you understand what people are thinking. Even though I haven't read it, I now understand if I'm continually asked, Why are you changing your golf swing, I'm thinking to myself, you ought to see the changes I made in my golf swing at different stages during my career.

Like when I turned pro I know I'm running on here. When I turned pro in '96, all I had ever hit in my life was a pull cut. I was short and hit a pull cut off the tee. I could not draw the golf ball.
John Jakes (phonetic), the orientation week at the European TOUR, taught me how to draw the ball. That was one month before I went out on TOUR. I qualified a month before I went to that. I played my first three years on TOUR with the biggest hook you could have. It was fantastic. I hit it 40 yards further and it was great.

'99 I finished 11th and 8 in European order of merit, and I came to the Olympic Club, US Open, and I played my best golf to finish 27th or something like that.

I chipped and putted everything to finish 27th. I walked away. Okay. Clearly if this is as good as I am, and I want to be better, well, I've got to change something. I went to Bob Torrance.

Dropped back to 32nd in the order of merit. I didn't win for a couple of years, and then all of a sudden, you know, I had a period there, 29 second places on the European TOUR, and all of a sudden I started winning again. Things came back.

I obviously peaked in 2007, 2008, and, you know, 2009 wasn't so bad. 2010 was a little bit iffy. 2011 definitely was a bit of a slump in there.

As I said, I saw some good signs, but in 2011 I got very frustrated that I kept playing well in practice and not bringing it to the golf course. So I again decided to make a big change. I started working with Pete Cowen on my swings, and that was a big change.

Then, you know, at different stages I worked with a psychologist in Europe, worked with Bob Rotella, I now have Dave Alred on my team.

About the only thing my physio and trainer are the only ones that have stayed constant over those years. This winter I started working with eye people. I'm always looking to what's the next thing to do. This year I will find something in my game and say that's not quite right, and we will endeavor to change it. I will say in 2007 I played with a draw to win the Open.

I was so frustrated with the tee shot I hit on the 18th hole that in 2008 I played with a fade. I made a change between those. And you know what? I'm going to change. That's who I am. You know, I like it.

You know, I saw Arnold Palmer when he was 70 years of age being interviewed after a Champions TOUR event, and he came off the golf course absolutely brimming smile from one ear to the other, saying he'd found the secret.

I want to be that man. I want to be 70 years of age out playing golf and just loving it, just the excitement of it all. The possibility of it getting better is far more interesting to me than the realization that it's never going to get better than this.

Q. What's the last little change that you made that made you better in your golf swing?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You know, I worked a lot like Pete Cowen, we have worked a lot. There is a number of changes, a number you know, I can't say that there's if I started listing the changes, there'd be a hundred. I could list you a hundred, and I probably could list you 20 that are just waiting that I don't like.

But I do like a lot of things that are happening at the moment, and the key for me at the moment is I actually need to be patient because things are good. Just let it happen. Whereas when things aren't so good, it can get very frustrating when you get a bad break here or there.
If it doesn't go well for me tomorrow, I still have to walk away from this saying I see a lot of good things.

Q. What was more nerve racking for you, the shot or the football, kicking the football

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Kicking the football. No doubt about it. I'm a professional golfer. I have hit 8-irons before in my life under pressure. I have a routine, and I know what I'm doing. When it comes to kicking especially an American football, I have never done it before.

So, yeah, that was I did not want to screw up the first one along the ground, for sure. I did want to get it airborne a little bit of distance. I found when I punted it, the first three or four, I hooked them quite a bit, and then the last one, I actually made sweet contact and kicked it over the stand, actually cleared the whole thing.

So I improved even at six balls I learned from mistakes and I made a little adjustment. I was fine. I believe I have some more balls coming out tomorrow. Hopefully I will be in the good position that maybe I just pass them out tomorrow. I know well enough as I said, I've never kicked an American football, but I have thrown one. So how many people are out there? On 16?

PHIL STAMBAUGH: 15,000.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I know well enough not to throw an American football in front of 15,000 people. I can throw a round ball but not an oval.

Q. I'm interested in how you keep all of these changes cataloged, because there is obviously a flow to it and you still have a hundred more that you're...

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: No, I don't have a hundred more I'm thinking about. I said I could list a hundred I tried. I have probably 10 that I don't like that I still I might not even have that at the moment.

I keep a diary. I keep a diary. I write my notes after every event. I write down what I'm working on and what I want to work on after every event. I kept that diary now, probably getting better at it, but for years, I would write little notes down of, you know, what my lessons were and where we're going.

A lot of professional golf is about discipline, you know, doing the simple things over and over. That's just an easy thing. It takes, you know, half an hour to write your stats and your notes down after an event.

I remember doing it recently on an airplane and somebody commented, you know, would I not leave it alone. I was thinking this is exactly I'll do this and you won't. That's perfect for me. I'm looking for any little edge I can get, you know. Keeping track of who you are as a player is part of it.

Q. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where a good one slipped away and you remember and..

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: There's no doubt you work on things that are good, and then you get distracted and work on something else, and maybe you do have to go back over your notes and you find that.

What tends to happen I've got to say I'm guilty of the fact that you tend to find it without looking at your notes and saying, Oh, yeah, I remember that. I should have been doing that sort of thing.

We all have a mental picture in our head who we are as golfers, and we all have a mental picture in our head that we tend to move towards the position we hold in golf. You know, unfortunately we do tend to move that and you do have to work every day to really adjust that.

I certainly would go back into my own habits with my golf swing at times. It's always going to be a battle. Whereas, you know, if it came to a short game or something like that, you know, my notes for my short game would be about one line. That's it. Whereas my notes on my long game would be a book.

So one I find easy and the other I find very difficult. There are plenty of golfers out there who hit the ball beautifully tee to green, and they have never questioned what they think about when they are swinging a golf club. They get to the green and they might question it.

The great thing about golf seems to be nobody I know of nobody who got all the gifts, who is a great driver, great iron player, and great short game.

There's always Achilles heel in everybody. It's an amazing game. It's hard to be a good putter if you hit lots of fairways and greens. It's hard to have a good short game if you hit lots of fairways and greens. If you're erratic, you're going to have a short game. You wouldn't be out here unless you had a great short game if you're missing them.

It's hard to get everything into one player. That's the great thing about this game is it's a fantastic game. There's always parts that are really strong and parts, you know, you've got to manage.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Thank you, Padraig. Good luck tomorrow.

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