On the Hot Seat: Padraig Harrington
It was just a month ago when Padraig Harrington stepped to the fateful 18th hole at Carnoustie Golf Links, hit two balls into the Barry Burn, made double-bogey and still walked off the final green with a smile on his face.His secret? "I never let myself feel like I'd lost the Open Championship," Harrington would say later. And he was right. Sergio Garcia soon followed with a bogey on that hole; the two players went to a playoff; and the rest is history, as the Irishman became the first European this decade to win a major championship trophy. After all that, sitting on ESPN.com's Hot Seat should be a piece of cake, right? In advance of this week's PGA Tour event, The Barclays, Harrington sat down to discuss everything from the Claret Jug to the FedEx Cup, also explaining how he gleefully lost a shoe at last year's Ryder Cup. Q: After winning the Open Championship last month, you said, "I think it's going to take a long time for it to settle in." So, has it settled in yet?
A: I don't think it has, no. It's been easier now that I'm away playing golf, but the minute I get home, it's going to be manic. There are a lot of things coming in already and piling up, a lot of different awards and parties to go to and all sorts of receptions, so when I'm away playing it's not too bad, but yeah, it's definitely going to be manic again when I get back home. Q: What's been the most unexpected perk from winning the Open?
A: I don't know, let me see. I've got to say, I got some VIP treatment going around Disney World with my son [Patrick] last week. I had a day out with my son that you couldn't have paid money for, so that's been the best perk. Q: I'm guessing there aren't a lot of restaurant owners in Dublin who still bring you a bill, huh?
A: I don't know about that! I haven't experienced that end of things! Q: Let me turn it around a bit. Are there any undesirable aspects to being the Open champion?
A: No. Somebody comes up to you and asks for your autograph, it only boosts your ego, so no, there's no bad parts. I haven't gotten to the stage where I can't go into a restaurant. Some people will come up to you, but in no way are people intrusive. I haven't gotten to the stage that it's any problem for me. I'm quite happy to carry on and deal with it in that sense. It's all good so far, no negatives. Q: Where is the Claret Jug right now?
A: It's actually at home. It's in a box, a steel box, in my house. I traveled with it for a week, but I didn't bring it to the States. It's locked away at home. When I get back home, it will be on my breakfast table. Q: Are you having any separation anxiety?
A: No. I was maybe happy to leave it behind. It kind of was like a separation; the minute I left the trophy down there, I just went back to playing golf. Q: You defeated Sergio Garcia in a playoff. He later blamed the loss on not getting any breaks and hardly offered you any credit just afterward. What was your reaction to Garcia's comments?
A: You know, I don't pay much attention to the aftermath in the written press. But I did hear from a number of people about it. Obviously, he was interviewed very soon afterward and, you know, it was a disappointing loss and he probably needed to deal with it a bit quick. I think with most golfers, we understand that there is an element of good and bad breaks, especially in how you see things as opposed to how they actually are. We know over the years that our fellow pros aren't really interested. It's very much the old story of, 'Go ring somebody who cares,' that sort of thing.
When you get out on tour, when you go out to dinner with some of the senior players, you're told very quickly the minute you start talking about your good and bad breaks on the golf course, you're told pretty quickly by the senior pros, 'We don't want to hear this.' This is going to happen to you for the next 20 years of your career, so it's just a fact; it's not something that you get on about. You know it's there, but you don't give it much credence.Q: Have you spoken with Sergio since that day?
A: I haven't, actually. You know, it's strange. We've had opposite tee times, and normally you'd expect to see someone at the Bridgestone [Invitational] because it's such a small event, but I never saw him at all. You know, I'll be honest with you: I don't see myself sitting down and having a big chat with him about it. I'm not the right person. I could see the pain in his face when he lost. I did the right things in terms of shaking his hand and commiserating, but I'm not the person who's going to be the one to comfort Sergio after his loss. I think that's a job for his family or someone closer to him than I am. It's just the nature of the game. I don't think any words coming from me could make that loss any easier for him. Q: You've finished as runner-up so many times in your pro career. Does contending for titles help a player become stronger in the long run?
A: I think that's the No. 1 priority, to get yourself into contention, regardless of the result. Once you get into contention, you're learning about yourself, you're learning about how to deal with it. Once you do that, you start winning. And once you start winning, winning is a habit. Definitely, competing is everything. I'd strongly recommend to anybody, especially juniors and young players coming up, whatever their age level, whatever their competitive level is, start winning there rather than playing good golf and moving up a grade, doing OK but not winning. There's such a substantial difference between winning at any level and the pressure that involves and finishing 10th or 15th. I can finish 10th in a given tournament and my neck is never on the line, where if I challenge in a tournament and I finish second, there's a good chance I had to sweat it out a bit. Whether I did good things or bad things, I certainly knew what it was all about. And I think that's the most important thing in improving a player, to get himself in contention as often as he can. Q: What's a better feeling -- winning the Open or winning the Ryder Cup in your native Ireland?
A: You know, they were similar enough feelings. When you win a Ryder Cup, the difference is you've won with a team. You can celebrate with the team, and it's so distinctly different than winning an individual event. I've won individual events and been back in my hotel room at 10 in the evening, that sort of thing. That's not going to happen at a Ryder Cup. There's a lot of emotions going on afterward, and it's really great to share it with a team. Now, the interesting thing with the Open is that it actually sounds quite similar because of the fact that to win an Open, there have been so many people who have helped me over the years, there have been so many people behind me, behind the scenes, that it was more like a team effort. There were a lot of people who turned up at the different receptions afterward, different parties, who had a part in it, had a hand in me winning. And I felt that a lot of the stuff was like a thank-you to them for being a part of it. That was one of the nicer parts of winning the Open. The amateur association in Ireland, my golf club, you know, lots of people got to experience it, got to be part of the win. It was very pleasing to me that they got a little bit back. Q: Do you think the Ryder Cup means more to European players than it does to those from the U.S.?
A: I think it has in the past. Obviously, in Europe, we feel a little bit like the country cousins. The Ryder Cup is a way for the European Tour to prove itself. I think that's why we've played well over the years. We've come out with that goal of getting out there and really trying to prove ourselves and play above ourselves and win. And I think it's obviously always easier to be the underdogs. I think that's going to change in the near future. We're likely to go into future Ryder Cups certainly on an equal standing. But I still think as a tour, we have a point to prove every time the Ryder Cup comes around that the European Tour is a strong tour and can stand on its own footing against the U.S. tour. Q: Speaking of the Ryder Cup, how many times have you watched the video of Woosie [2006 European Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam] choking on champagne during the victory celebration?
A: [Laughs] It's not the champagne, it's the pint of Guinness that comes out his nose! I've seen a little bit, but I've only watched four holes of the playoff in the Open and I haven't watched too much of the Ryder Cup, but I do intend to sit down and see a bit more of the coverage of both of those when I have some time off. It was one of the best celebrations at the Ryder Cup. I managed to do one of my lifelong ambitions, going crowd-surfing, so that was quite nice. Q: Wait, you went crowd-surfing on the course?
A: There was a tented village where they were having a live band afterward, and myself and David Howell went down there. They lifted us straight over their heads and passed us around the crowd, which was one of the best moments, I've got to say. I didn't do it at Oakland Hills when I had a chance and I regretted it, so when I got the chance this time around, I enjoyed every minute of it. I lost a shoe, but these are only little problems. Q: Changing gears, what are your thoughts on the PGA Tour's new FedEx Cup playoffs?
A: Obviously, the tour is trying to build something here, something exciting at the end of the year, have a crescendo, have some buildup, get the TV viewers in, get some excitement. We've had our four majors; we need something else. From the tour's point of view, I see this as, if it doesn't work this year, let's give it a few years and see how it goes. From a personal point of view, it gives me a great chance of winning. I've got four events. If I can get hot and win twice, I can win the FedEx Cup. That's how I look at it. Whereas to win in the old system, I would have needed to win nine times in a year, now I only need to win twice, so there's a smaller window of opportunity. That's the way I look at it. It's a great opportunity for players like me. There are a lot of players who have a chance of winning the FedEx Cup and that's what it's all about. To open it up a bit more, to make it more exciting. I'm sure they hope there will be three or four players with a good chance, playing for it right down to the wire in the fourth event. It only helps us that Tiger [Woods] isn't playing the first event. He's obviously got the lead because of the way he's been playing all year; he's got the most points going into it; and he's got the ability to take a week off and still be favored to win it outright. But it certainly opens things up a bit more and gives us all a great chance. Q: Does Tiger owe it to the tour to be at Westchester this week?
A: No, there's more asked of Tiger at any event than anyone else. There's a lot more stress involved in anything he does, because of who he is, more than the rest of us. Very few of us will play four weeks in a row; Tiger certainly has never gone four weeks in a row. To ask him to play four, it would be a big change. If they want players to play all of the events in the future, they somehow have to stagger the four events, maybe have a week off in the middle of them. Next year, they're asking players to play five events in a row with the Ryder Cup, so they've got to work these things through. If they want to get all the players to play, they've got to figure out a way of producing maybe two events, a week off, then another two events, something like that. But you've got to remember the focus and pressure Tiger is under every time he turns up. That's a lot to take for four weeks. Q: You won the European Tour's Order of Merit last year and are currently in first place again. Would it mean more to you to win that title or the FedEx Cup?
A: I'll tell you this about how it stands right now: I'd be more disappointed to lose the European Order of Merit than I would the FedEx Cup, but I'd be more excited to win the FedEx Cup because of the way I stand. If I don't do well in the FedEx Cup in the next couple of events, there's not going to be any story written about that. But if I don't win the European Order of Merit after leading, I would have failed, so it would feel bad to me. So I'm looking at them from two different ways. One I'm looking at as purely success-based, that being the FedEx Cup. And the European Order of Merit, I'm looking at it as being a bit more of a I'm-in-position-to-win-it-so-don't-fail sort of thing. If you ask me which I'd like to play better golf in at this moment, I'd say it's the European Order of Merit. Q: You've only played in six non-U.S. events so far this season. Is it possible for a player to compete full time on both tours?
A: You know, it's something I've been examining. I'm disappointed at the way it's gone. I'm obviously going to play a lot more now through the end of the year, after I'm finished with the FedEx Cup. But it's an awkward situation. I want to play more, but I'm looking at my schedule and I'm up to 60 events in the World Ranking [which uses a two-year rolling schedule]. I play about eight more events than Tiger every year. I'm playing too many events as it is. It is difficult. I'm going to have to examine my schedule and try to figure out a way. I can't see myself reducing the tournaments to much below 30, so I'll probably play the most events of anybody in the top 10 in the world. It's a difficult task to play both tours. The way it is now, I'm committed to playing so many events in the States. Even if I wasn't a member of the tour, I'd be trying to play many events over here. And in Europe, there are certain events I'm committed to playing. If I was a member of both tours or a member of one tour, I'd nearly end up playing the same events anyway. Q: Why have we seen so many European players take up PGA Tour membership in recent years? Is it all about money?
A: No, it's because this is made easier. The qualification to get onto the U.S. tour, if you're a European player and you're good enough to be top 50 in the world, you'll comfortably make your card in the United States through that system. And that gives you the opportunity to play where and when you want, without looking for invites or anything like that. What you would think you'd see is a player taking a [PGA Tour] card and seeing that it's not really any different than if they didn't have a card, by one or two events. So they take it because it's easy enough to do it. Now, if they're non-Europeans playing on the European Tour, I would think they'd just move to the U.S. tour because they obviously don't have an allegiance to Europe. You know, if you're a South African or an Australian playing in Europe, the U.S. lifestyle is probably closer to home than the European lifestyle, so I could see them moving. But it's because of the World Golf events, and once you're in the top 50, you can play in seven of those events. And if you're any good, you should be able to get your card through those events. Q: Let's play a little Take Your Pick. Royal County Down or Royal Portrush?
A: Royal Portrush. Q: Rugby or hurling?
A: Hurling. Q: U2 or The Pogues?
A: U2. Q: Pierce Brosnan or Liam Neeson?
A: Oh, man. I shouldn't have to think too much about this, should I? Probably Pierce Brosnan because his [characters] aren't quite as serious as Liam Neeson. Q: And lastly, Claret Jug or green jacket?
A: I'm going to say they both hold merit. But I would go with the Claret Jug. Q: I had a feeling you were going to say that.
A: Yes, definitely -- because it's the older event. But I think the Masters is very special, as well. So you've got a tough choice there, but we'll go with the Claret Jug. Q: Padraig Harrington, you're off the Hot Seat.
A: OK, thank you very much. Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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