As much as I tried – and it would have been great if I had done it – it was definitely a relief because I felt it was a distraction away from me winning Major golf tournaments.” Padraig Harrington is reflecting on the demise of the Paddy Slam following his tie for 35th place at Augusta in April. “It was an opportunity,” he continues. “But I probably think it was one step too far at this point in my career. In my own mind – and maybe this is the wrong thing to think – I felt I perhaps needed to be a couple more rungs up the ladder.” This catches me by surprise given how far up the ladder he already is, conveying just a hint of uncertainty in a golfer many now perceive as second only to Tiger in the self-belief and mental toughness stakes.
Perhaps this stems from a 2009 in which Harrington has so far struggled to recapture the Major-winning magic of 2008 and, to the surprise of some, continued to tinker with the swing that netted him three out of six Majors over a glorious 13-month spell. “Obviously it’s been very lean,” he says, “but the great thing is there’s a reason for it. It’s been a great reminder of what makes me good. I’ve been concentrating on my weaknesses, and that has weakened my strengths. What it’s shown up is that my strengths are more important than even I had recognised.” So the tweaking looks set to continue despite the Tiger-like Major strike rate of late. “I’ve always been tinkering, always trying to get better,” Harrington says in his defence. “The idea of getting better is the biggest thing that drives me. Even though I had the chance to win the Paddy Slam, I didn’t quite believe it so maybe that’s why I’m changing things. I believe I can win one-off Majors, but to win four in a row would be a serious case of domination.” And don’t you want to dominate, I ask. “That’s why I’m changing my swing,” is the instant comeback. “To make myself better.”
Okay, if the Paddy Slam was a step too far, what about becoming the first player to win three Opens in a row since Peter Thomson in the 1950s? Harrington seems much more positive about this prospect. “The problem with the Paddy Slam was that I had to go and win two more Majors in a row,” he says, “whereas going and winning another Open is a distinct possibility. In my head that’s a lot more feasible than winning all four Majors in a row at this stage of my career. I would say three in a row is a very realistic goal while the Paddy Slam was not – at least in my head.”