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Putting fears dog Harrington's Open preparations

By Brian Keogh (Irish Sun)

Worried Padraig Harrington sank his teeth into Sandwich yesterday and prayed: I hope my putting improves.

Poor form on the greens cost the Dubliner a play-off place in the Open at Muirfield last year.

And he was way off his best form with the putter at the K Club ten days ago where he failed to break par all week.

He said: "I think I'm swinging it well. But my putting has been pretty weak recently so I'm trying to get that sorted out."

Harrington has been in intensive care with "Putting Doctor" Harold Swash as he attempts to regain his normally silky smooth touch on the greens.

Sessions in the laboratory with biomechanics expert Dr Paul Hurrion discovered that Harrington needed a more solid base.

But the world number nine has still not found the kind of deadly putting form that saw him win three times inside a four-month spell.

He explained: "The K Club didn't affect my confidence. But it was a wake up call for sure. I discovered all the little bits of my game that need work and putting is just one of them.

"The main things is that I start to get away from the swing and get much more clued-in mentally. I think I've been swinging well for a while. This is now the time to make sure I'm not getting in my way."

After missing out on a play-off by just one shot at Muirfield last year, Harrington realised that he has the game to win a Major.

He revealed: "The Open last year was very important to me because I was the first Major I played that I actually played good enough golf to win. I played good golf all week and putted badly, which was a nice change for me."

It was the first time that Harrington actually threatened the top of the leaderboard in a Major on the final day and it has done wonders for his confidence.

Always super secure in his short game skills, Harrington has only recently begun to realise that he has the long game to be a Major champion.

He said: "I left Muirfield believing that I can win a British Open. My long game said something important to me. It was a defining moment. The point when I thought 'hey, I can win a Major'."

At 7106 yards, Sandwich is not the longest Open venue but a change in wind speed and direction can radically transform the way the pros play a hole and the type of shots they hit.

Harrington played the course a month ago but found it totally changed when he ventured out of a practice round on his arrival here.

He said: "It was a lot easier wind than the last time. For example the 17th was a three-iron and a pitching wedge and the 18th was probably three-iron, nine-iron. The other time it was a driver and five-iron on both."

The Dubliner opted out of the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond to sharpen his putting skills and practice his links shots at Portmarnock Links Hotel and Golf Resort and at Irish Open venue Portmarnock.

And having changed his game to play target golf on stadium courses, Harrington is delighted to get back to his roots.

He explained: "The more you play, the more you realise what links golf is about. It's got very little to do with what we play as golf now.

"It's not target golf and it takes a while to get used to that. It's much more how golf should be. How I was brought up to play the game. How it was designed. It's a bit hit and miss.

"It's great if you hit the ball well but it's much more about the guy who has got good imagination and who can handle the good and the bad and can go with that."

Harrington is now hitting the ball far higher than he did in the past. But he has given up trying to reduce the height that he hits his driver off the tee.
"Basically, I can't hit a low drive and it wouldn't be worth my while trying to do it. I hit the driver quite high and I'm going to leave it at that.

"I've tried going down different shafts and other things but, at the end of the day, the driver I'm most comfortable with, I hit it a little high. I'm going to lose some distance but that's something I've got to put up with. I'm even hitting my one iron high now."


© Brian Keogh 2003