That said, I do feel mildly intimidated when I join Harrington for his Turnberry debut, in which he’s also trying out a brand new set of Wilson Staff FG Tour irons that look destined to be in the bag come July. The first real test comes on the long par-4 3rd playing straight into a three-club wind. Harrington hits 3-wood to keep the new fairway bunkers out of play, while I tug my drive over the traps into the rough. We both face slight dilemmas – Harrington needs another wood to get home; I’m simply trying to find mine. Two months before The Open, the rough in which I finally find my ball is already thick enough, and I’d defy anyone to get enough club to it to reach the green.
On the 5th, Harrington hits a drive that drifts on the breeze before thudding into the steeply revetted face of the first new fairway bunker, then rolling back in. He can only move it a few yards, so that new bunker has definitely done its job. Ronan Flood, his caddie, tells me their first impressions are that the bunkers are in the Birkdale mould – very well positioned and often offering limited scope for forward progress.
On the 7th, both Harrington and I find the bank on the right to which Peter Dawson refers in the preceding feature (p62). Fighting a pull with the feet so far below the ball requires some skill, and not unexpectedly Harrington possesses just such skill to a greater degree than me. His utility to 15ft sets up an eagle chance that almost drops. To be fair, mine yields a shortish birdie putt, which also stays above ground.
On the 8th, I top my second, prompting an “interesting way of playing it” from Harrington. “It’s not the way I’d have done it,” he says, “I’d have preferred the airborne route.” He then makes an important discovery up by the green. The new hollows rear left will be mown pretty tight in July, and balls with any speed are likely to run on through into the thicker rough beyond. “It may have dried out more by then, but at the moment it’s quite lush meadowy grass,” Harrington explains. “You couldn’t really play a gentle chip-and-run right now as the club is likely to snag. You’d have to play a flop shot to generate enough clubhead speed.”
In today’s friendly wind, Harrington makes light work of the drives off the 9th and 10th tees out on the rocks, but these two holes could really bare their teeth in a strong headwind. Turning for home on the 12th that’s exactly what we encounter. Harrington fails to get up in two from the right-hand rough on this 451-yarder, bringing home just how tough the back nine could play if the weather really kicks in. On the 16th, again into the wind, Harrington hits a good drive down the right, leaving a 4-iron into a green protected front and right by a potentially magnetic burn. He hits a majestic shot to about 15ft. I turn to Ronan and say it must be a hard approach with a long club. “Actually, with a long club you’re always just trying to find the middle of the green,” he replies. “But with a shorter iron, you tend to be more focused on the pin and it can be hard to stop yourself going at it. If you get it slightly wrong playing to a front pin, you could be away down into the water.” But then, no one should expect it be easy coming down the stretch with The Open on the line, as his boss knows only too well.
As we finish, and Harrington departs with useful knowledge of a previously unknown quantity, he surprises me again when I ask him to pick his very favourite moment from the last two Opens. “I love the fact that I hit my chip to the 72nd hole at Carnoustie like a kid showing off,” he smiles. “Looking back, when that ball was in the air, the thought going through my head was that everyone was going, ‘ooohhh – he’s hit it too hard’. And I was thinking, ‘I’ll show you; watch this; this is going to spin’. I was just like a kid showing off.”
You might argue that the kid was showing off again on the 71st hole at Birkdale last year, with the audacious 5-wood that effectively sealed it. So will he be showing off again at Turnberry? I wouldn’t bet against it, and now he’ll be able to do so with greater awareness of the task in hand if he is to pull off a memorable hat-trick.
FREE DVD: The Etiquette of Golf courtesy of The R&A
Equipment review: Wilson Staff 8876 putter review
Golf news: Open prize fund unchanged
Amateur news: Matteo Manassero wins 2009 Amateur Championship at Formby
Competitions: Once-in-a-lifetime prizes