The Irishman tells us what it takes to win the year's third major
Padraig Harrington is well placed to speak about the mindset needed to be victorious at the Open.
The two-time winner spoke to us about the challenges awaiting this year’s participants and the best way to cope with the pressure.
GM:What do you see as the prerequisites for major success?
PH: You have to be in the right place mentally, both in terms of making decisions and reacting to shots. You also have to be able to get out of your own way and keep your mind quiet while you’re hitting shots. The physical side is a given – it’s the mental side that determines who’s going to win any particular week.
What gave you the belief that you could win majors?
Michael Campbell won a Major just before my first one. He’s a European Tour pro I’d played with a lot, and when someone you’ve played with a lot wins a Major, it suddenly becomes very tangible. It’s not necessarily putting a Major winner up on a pedestal. I knew his game. And I know it would have helped other Europeans when I managed to win one too.
So it all becomes very real when someone you play with week in, week out triumphs?
Exactly. If you look at the 1980s, once Seve started winning Majors, others followed. You need your peers getting over the line before you feel you can do it. Going back to Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile, once he broke the record, everyone else did too. I saw myself as a European pro, purely to help me get over the line. I didn’t see myself as coming from a small country with no previous Major wins. If I had, it would never have happened.
Which Open win was more special and why?
There’s nothing as exciting as winning your first Open, your first Major Championship. So the first one is always going to be the one, because it was my first and it was exciting. The interesting thing is, even though I won it in a play-off and played well, it almost left me a little bit wanting having messed up the 72nd hole. It’s not how you would picture it as a kid growing up, when you dream about holing the winning putt. I’d taken six up the last!
And then you defended the title the next year…
Birkdale was very important, because I did it the way you’re meant to do it. I was one of the favourites, I played great golf and I hit all the shots. There was no doubting my second win, and to be honest, it justified the first win a little bit more. My first Open victory was exciting, my second was satisfying, and my third Major [the 2008 PGA Championship] was ugly, and I stole it! That can be even more fun, when you get one that wasn’t yours.
Victory at Birkdale was capped off by perhaps the best shot of your career on 17?
Probably. It’s an interesting one. For sure, it’ll go down as the greatest shot I’ve hit. But when I came to that shot, I was feeling good about my game and confident. I was hitting my favourite club in the bag and my favourite shot. There were so many positive things for me going into it. I’ve hit some good shots in my time while feeling bad, like my chip to the 72nd hole at Carnoustie. Considering I’d hit two really appalling shots beforehand, that was special. As Bob Torrance used to say, it’s easy to hit a great shot after you’ve hit other great shots, but it’s not so easy to hit a good shot after you’ve hit a bad one.
The wrist injury perhaps meant less pressure at Birkdale, but how was it before Carnoustie?
Going into Carnoustie, I was one of the best players never to have won a Major, so there was that hype. But I had three pars to win the US Open at Winged Foot the year before, and I’d started to challenge in Majors. I’d started to know how to bring my game to the Majors, so I was in a good place going into Carnoustie.
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When did you know you were in the hunt?
I was six shots back, but in the third-to-last group on Sunday. I don’t look at leaderboards, but I knew I was playing well because the crowds were starting to swell and you could feel the excitement building. I’d told my caddie we would hit driver on 14 if we were chasing, but lay up short of the bunkers as usual if we were one back. When he took the 5-wood headcover off on the 14th tee, I got so excited! The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. It was unbelievable. From that point, I knew I had a genuine chance of winning The Open.
What are your impressions of St Andrews as a whole?
You’ve got to say it’s the best of The Open Championships. Everything about it – the history, the heritage, the town itself and the golf course – is special. There’s such a buzz about it. It’s an unbelievable experience there.
What about the golf course specifically?
Clearly no-one would design a course like the Old Course today. There are bigger, fairer, stronger courses on The Open rota… but they’re not St Andrews. It’s very exciting. Sometimes I think people miss that about St Andrews. Yes, you’ll see par 5s where guys make easy birdies, but they have to thread their ball between bunkers. The pin positions will be very difficult during the week. It’s an exciting course and it’ll throw up plenty of birdies, for sure. There’s certainly an advantage to being a long hitter, but on a links course you can become a long hitter by the way you hit the golf ball. Everyone can compete on the Old Course, let’s put it like that.