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Harrington finds idle time wreaks havoc on skills

His thoughts cost more than a penny

Friday, April 02, 2010

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An idle mind is Padraig Harrington's workshop.

Padraig Harrington watched his putt on No. 16 during the final round of The Tour Championship in September. Harrington has a tendency to make changes to his game even when things are going well. Case in point: He implemented overhauls just after winning three majors in six starts. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

Give the three-time major winner a week off from work, and the incurable tinkerer inside him starts fidgeting. Give him an off-season, and the Irishman will run amok.

"It's kind of hard to shut my brain down at the moment," he said. "The more competitive rounds of golf I play, the quieter my mind gets. The more into playing I am and the less into, you know, the practice. So it always takes me a little bit of time. Last year it took me six months. I couldn't stop. But this year I certainly don't intend to go down that road."

Best intentions aside, Harrington's habit of always working on something makes the Masters Tournament his most involved major quest because of its position on the schedule. Three times in 10 starts he has finished in the top seven, but he's never had the kind of consistent Sunday presence at the Masters compared to the other majors.

"I would always say to get ready for the Masters is a harder battle than the other ones," Harrington said. "You know, when you get to a U.S. Open, an Open and a PGA, you understand where your game is at for that year. At the Masters, you know, you still are a little bit learning exactly where you're at."

The Irishman tends to get a later start on the season. He picks the tour up in February and gets his first glimpse under pressure of what all the off-season fiddling has done to his game.

"Definitely a huge amount the early season is trying to get enough competitive golf so that I'm ready -- so that I feel ready and sharp for Augusta," he said.

Padraig Harrington signs autographs during the World Golf Championships at Doral. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

Harrington's sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, said: "Usually, he's pretty ready when he gets there. It's early in the year given the climate he's coming from, but he likes it so much that these (preceding) weeks he's playing to get in the state of mind for Augusta."

What makes Harrington different from other players who are constantly trying to improve is his willingness to change even when things seem to be going well. He left many perplexed when he implemented overhauls right after winning three majors in six starts.

"Even though there's been a gradual progression in my game, the results have always been in peaks and troughs," he said. "When I have success -- this could be a good or a bad point -- I look at that as breathing space to go and work on my swing."

That process must drive Rotella a little crazy.

"It's real easy when you get away from competition to get lost in stuff," Rotella said.

By the time they join up each spring, Harrington can rattle off enough mental shrapnel that's bouncing around his cranium to make Rotella's eyes glaze over.

Padraig Harrington tips his hat to the audience during the World Golf Championships at Doral. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

"He was looking at me, I was just chatting away, and I'm saying, 'Oh, I'm in trouble. I should go to the bad boy corner here,' " Harrington said. "When Bob Rotella is around, I am a bit more disciplined. But I can't always have the schoolteacher looking over my shoulder."

Rotella said: "He said I looked like an upset schoolmarm."

Harrington comes to Augusta a little more under the radar than a year ago, when he was the reigning British Open and PGA champion, but the lack of hype doesn't quiet the conversation in his head.

"In the end of the day, I suppose I'm really trying to focus internally and not so much on what's coming at me," he said. "But I'm creating the same pressures internally as I would last year. You know, I know I have the ability to go out there and win majors if I bring my game.

"So the pressure is to get my game ready so that I turn up and give myself a great chance. So that's pretty much the same. But yeah, the outside stuff has changed a little."

Harrington played in Houston leading into the Masters, but not for the reasons others might.

Padraig Harrington putts on the 18th green during the World Golf Championships at Doral. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

"Wouldn't be great for me now to have a week off before a major," Harrington said. "I'd be bringing a lot of trouble with me the following week."

Rotella agreed: "It's too easy to get into chasing perfect. Some guys don't have that urge. He does."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

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