x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Harrington still stuck in the rough

A boisterous and brimming Bethpage Black course has proved to be a somewhat blackening experience for golf's suddenly straying tinkerman.

Padraig Harrington hits a shot from a greenside bunker on the third hole during the continuation of the second round of the US Open at Bethpage.
Padraig Harrington hits a shot from a greenside bunker on the third hole during the continuation of the second round of the US Open at Bethpage.

A boisterous and brimming Bethpage Black course has proved to be a somewhat blackening experience for golf's suddenly straying tinkerman. The lengthy circuit has been a somewhat sodden scene of the 109th staging of the US Open, but Padraig Harrington has hardly cut a stately figure in missing the cut in New York state. Harrington suddenly seems to be embroiled in some awfully hopeless moments, certainly in comparison to his antics over a few searing years.

Two British Opens and a USPGA championship cannot be bad, but a champion remains nothing without form. Dank weather, sudden downpours, foreboding clouds and murk have all characterised the US Open, forcing the tournament into a fifth day yesterday. They similarly indicate a nosedive in Harrington's output. As a player he was short-circuiting before he was left bamboozled by Bethpage. His wife, his caddie and even a psychologist apparently surrounded the doughty Dubliner to scald his willingness to tinker with his swing nuances and clubs before the Players' Championship at Sawgrass, but seemingly to no avail.

Harrington has slipped from third to 11th place in the world, has failed to command a top-10 finish since Abu Dhabi in January and seems to have spent the past few months missing cuts, and losing the plot. Sometimes practice does not always make perfect. As a figure who studied accountancy, Harrington will know the value of figures. They are there in black and white. He departed Bethpage after the first two rounds, returns of two 76s rendering him redundant in missing the cut by eight strokes. Such derisory form characterises a cataclysmic sea change of form, a small example of the choppy weather in which Harrington's game seems to have become shipwrecked over the past six months.

It has been suggested that the Ryder Cup last September marked a turning point when Harrington could muster only half a point from four matches in a five-point loss for the Europeans, barely a month after his USPGA championship celebrations. Form is temporary, class is permanent, as they say, but that is a truism that relies on good faith when you are without form. The town of Largs on the west coast of Scotland has viking heritage, held up as the final spot in the UK to be raided by Nordic invaders in the 13th century. Over the past decade, this small spot has been invaded by Harrington. Harrington works closely with Bob Torrance, the father of the 2002 European Ryder Cup captain Sam, to oil the nuts and bolts of his swing.

Sir Nick Faldo rebuilt his swing and won six majors under David Leadbetters guidance. Harrington prides himself on a willingness to work under Torrance. His swing has been reorganised to a point that it is barely recognisable from his days as an amateur in the Walker Cup. Tellingly, he confesses he is never content. "The swing you see here is still very much a project in progress. I want to get to the point where I know what swing I have week to week and not have to search for it."

He is clearly searching for such a pressure point amid such fluctuating form. This must be regarded as a worrying lull in his productiveness. Golfers can lose it, and sometimes lose it all. Ian Baker-Finch rampaged through the field in winning the 1991 British Open, but tampered with his swing and retired after registering a 92 at the 1997 British Open. Sandy Lyle was regarded as the world's best after winning the US Masters in 1988, before his game began to dissolve.

David Duval's name appearing on the higher reaches of the US Open leaderboard has prompted some shock. He won the British Open in 2001, but a loss of confidence in his swing saw him slink into the sport's undergrowth. Harrington - the first Irishman to win the British Open in 60 years in 2007 and the first European to hold the USPGA since the 1930s - would not be the first major winner to lose their way. Sampling giddy times in golf is never the norm.

dkane@thenational.ae