Search

His Stock's On the Rise Padraig Harrington, a.k.a. the Other Irish Golfer, is short on flash, but his game will pay big dividends over the long haul

Nov. 13, 2000
Nov. 13, 2000

Table of Contents
Nov. 13, 2000

His Stock's On the Rise Padraig Harrington, a.k.a. the Other Irish Golfer, is short on flash, but his game will pay big dividends over the long haul

How is your portfolio of favorite golfers these days? Thinned
out in the Tiger Economy? Perhaps you'd like to look at this
guy. Maybe you know him vaguely already. The Irish Guy Who Isn't
Darren Clarke. The Irish Guy Who Didn't Beat Tiger Woods This
Year. The Irish Guy Who Doesn't Chomp Cigars or Drive a Red
Ferrari.

This is an article from the Nov. 13, 2000 issue

Ring any bells? Paw-drag HAIR-ington, they call him on
television. Paw-drig HARR-ington, they call him in Dublin. Paddy
Harrington's son, they call him in Cork. Good long-term bet.
Very little downside risk. Nice price-to-earnings ratio.

Here comes some ticker-tape stuff: Fourth on the European points
list for next year's Ryder Cup. Beat Mark O'Meara on the last
day at Brookline in '99, even having the chutzpah to walk 115
yards up the 17th fairway to inspect the green while O'Meara
fiddled and the crowd catcalled. Last month, won his second
European tour event of the season, in Madrid. Gave away another
win earlier in the year. Most colorful quote: "I'm twice as
meticulous as the next most meticulous man on the tour." Not
sexy enough for you? He's a fully qualified accountant, too.
Hey, just take a look. Can't hurt. You decide. Take a look,
though, and you'll be sweet on him. Promise.

Stackstown Golf Club is a green blanket wrapped around the
shoulders of a couple of gray mountains outside Dublin. You
would put a golf course here only if you really had to. Paddy
Harrington was a founding member. Paddy was a cop. Country-faced
and stoical, but a well-known cop nonetheless. He had played
Gaelic football for Cork for 11 seasons, starring on defense for
a team that twice reached the Super Bowl stage of Ireland's No.
1 game in the '50s.

Fast-forward to the '70s, to a time when Paddy Harrington was a
cop with a great past behind him and nothing but middle age in
front of him. Despite the crowds and the television money, Gaelic
football is an amateur game. Stars leave in the same clothes they
arrived in.

Paddy made his crust in the streets of Dublin. On days off he
needed an escape. No golf club in staid, class-ridden old Dublin
would have a cop as a member, so with 11 other cops, Harrington
set about building Stackstown. Building it by hand, that is,
hewing it out of the mountains.

Padraig, now 29, was the youngest of Paddy's five sons. Two of
the Harrington boys would become cops like their dad, one would
be a printer and the other an accountant. Padraig did what he was
told.

Growing up, the Harrington boys had a 120-acre playground on
which to burn themselves out. Weekend after weekend it was the
same--search parties of Harringtons looking for stones to pluck
from nascent fairways. Wearing coats and mittens, they tramped
solemnly in circles to flatten the greens. Today Padraig can
stand on the 12th green in Stackstown and remember all the
mileage put into making the sward flat. "What exactly were we
doing, Dad?" he'll ask. These days the 12th green slopes like a
ski-house roof.

Not that anyone cares. It took two years for the cops to build
Stackstown, and when it was done, it was theirs. Their course.
Blue-collar in a literal way.

Harrington came out of the traps fast when his amateur days were
over. He was 24 and had time to make up for. Three Walker Cup
appearances had plumped him full of confidence, and for a while,
after Clarke had turned pro, Harrington was the top amateur in
Ireland.

He came to the European tour equipped with a devastating short
game and the discipline to be a sedulous student of the swing. He
acquired his first pro title quickly, a smash-and-grab raid on
the Spanish Open in 1996. Not that his family allowed it to go to
his head.

In his parents' house back then there were only two pictures
having to do with golf. Padraig picked up one in the pro shop at
the 1993 U.S. Amateur, a sepia shot of a kid in Depression times
wafting a hickory-shafted club. Underneath is the caption,
"Tomorrow's Champion."

The other sat silver-framed on the mantelpiece. After his win in
Madrid, Harrington flew to Oxfordshire, in England, to take part
in the Benson & Hedges International Open. He was already a big
boy on the tour and drew Nick Faldo as a partner, this being a
time when that meant something.

And? In the second round Harrington took a 13 on a par-5. Things
got so bad that the accountant lost track of his score and could
calculate it only by performing a quick audit on how many balls
he had left in his bag and comparing that with how many he had
when he started. The Times of London was sufficiently tickled by
the catastrophe to run a color diagram the next day, complete
with arrows and splashes--Harrington had hit four balls into the
water--that detailed the disaster. Harrington knew nothing about
the diagram. He never reads a word that's written about him. But
when he got home to his parents' house a week later, The Times'
diagram was there in the silver frame in its place of honor.
"It's still there," he says, "keeping me where I'm meant to be."

Harrington discovered where he was meant to be when he was 18 and
getting ready to leave school. He was captaining his school's
Gaelic football team in the city final at Dublin's Croke Park,
the great cathedral of the game, where his father played. The
ball was thrown in to start the game, and Dessie Farrell, who
would become famous in this arena, skipped past Harrington at a
speed that Padraig associated with motorized vehicles. Harrington
spun in Farrell's wake and hit the deck hard, badly spraining his
left wrist.

He played on, because it was Croke Park, but a problem other than
Farrell loomed. Harrington was due to travel that evening to
Northern Ireland to play golf in the junior interprovincial
series. He'd been warned about the dangers of combining sports.
Now he was going to get an earful. So he watched Farrell shoot
past him all afternoon and concluded that the sport of his father
ended here. He would be a golfer.

Not long afterward he graduated from school--a bright guy with
great grades and not a clue as to what he wanted to do with them.
A brother led him by the nose to night classes in accountancy and
told him to buy some time and some options. By the time the
course was finished he could be either a golfer or an accountant.

Nightly the benches would fill with the bespoke gray suits of
Dublin's up-and-coming business community, and then young
Harrington would blow in, swaddled in jeans and sweatshirt, his
cheeks red from the windburn of a solitary afternoon on the
fairways. They would gaze at his careless youth and shake their
heads. The kid's going to fail twice over, they'd say.

Harrington is coming up the 8th fairway at Pebble Beach, and his
face is scanning the crowd. "Uh-oh," says a blonde woman in the
gallery. "He's looking for me."

Harrington keeps scanning until his eyes meet those of the
blonde. She gives him a wave. He winks back at his wife.

He was 18. Caroline Gregan had come to join Stackstown Golf Club.
He was playing in a competition. Caroline watched on the 18th to
see how it would pan out. Their eyes met. They've been
inseparable ever since.

He likes to see her while he's playing. It's part of his
don't-believe-the-hype theory on life. Caroline is there on the
good days and the bad days, and her face mirrors his fortunes.
Take last May at the Belfry, on a day when Harrington was waylaid
by fate and manhandled right into The Twilight Zone. On Sunday
morning he was sitting pretty, five strokes ahead of the field at
the Benson & Hedges. Better. He had shot a course-record 64 the
previous day.

When he said goodbye to Caroline and went to the practice range,
it was one of those whistle-while-you-work mornings. Elsewhere,
though, a loosely connected event was unraveling. The previous
course record at the Belfry was 66, so the club wanted to frame
Harrington's scorecard and hang it in the clubhouse. The
tournament director went fishing through a box for Harrington's
card. Wait a minute....

Harrington was streaking the blue skies with drives powered out
by the swing he had spent three years rebuilding, taking it from
a goofy farm-boy lurch to a motion of simple economy. Andy McFee,
the tournament referee, suddenly loomed behind him. "Padraig," he
said, "could you show me your signature on this card?"

In McFee's hand was Harrington's scorecard from the first round.
On Thursday he had shot a 71 and come into the scorer's cabin
with his playing partners, Michael Campbell and Jamie Spence. In
Harrington's head now, the scene unfolds frame by grainy frame,
like his private Zapruder film.

Harrington sits on the left, Campbell in the middle, Spence on
the right. Their scorecards are on the table. Campbell is handed
what he thinks is his card by Spence. Campbell signs it. Realizes
it isn't his card but Harrington's. He hands the card on but
forgets to mention that he has signed it. Harrington gets the
card and meticulously checks the scores, vaguely noting that the
required two signatures are at the bottom but failing to note
that neither of them is his. He hands his card to the tournament
recorder and leaves.

Now, three days later, Harrington stands with his back to the
practice range and says of his signature, "No, Andy, I don't see
it there."

"Sorry, Padraig. You know the rule."

He does. Rule 6-6b. Five shots ahead on the last day, $246,500
waiting to be tabulated on the credit side, and Harrington is
disqualified.

He shakes hands with McFee and strides back to his hotel room.
Caroline is getting ready to watch him play. "What are you doing
back here?" she asks.

He explains. She thinks it's a gag--Honey, I've shrunk the
purse!--but it isn't. She puts her arms around him, and they close
the door. "I had to go straight to Caroline," he says. "She
cares. Everything else comes and goes, but your wife and family
are there, and they go through what you go through. I wasn't
angry or upset; I just wanted to be with her so we could tell
each other it wasn't the end of the world."

He didn't find the reversal easy to live with. It's weeks later,
and Harrington is due some good fortune. Since the Belfry he has
listed badly, losing weight and losing confidence. Two finishes
outside the top 30 have hurt, and he feels golf grinding him
down. Now he is in Pebble Beach, putting himself back together.
It's the Friday night of this hurly-burly U.S. Open, and
Harrington is trying to get his second round finished.

He is in an awkward situation, taking his putt here on the 10th
hole. It's--well, to be frank, it's dark. The sky grew inky
quickly, and scarcely anyone is around. He's leaning over this
10-footer. It crosses his mind to mark his ball and head for a
bath, a nice dinner and a warm bed, but sometimes golf makes even
the accountants crazy. He gazes at his putt for the longest time.
Finally he takes the putter back, and as he does, the ball falls
backward on the grass. Ever so slightly, as if fairies were
pushing it. It moves maybe a quarter of an inch.

At least he thinks it did. It's dark, after all. He looks around
for his caddie, for his playing partners. Nobody is near him,
just some shapes. Not a soul within 10 yards. He's due a break,
isn't he? The ball didn't move, he tells himself. Or did it?
Character, though, is what you do when nobody is looking, and
Harrington, standing in the dark, calls a shot on himself.

The shot makes the difference between finishing in a tie for
fifth and a tie for fourth. The call makes the difference between
being able to live with himself or not. "At the end of the day it
cleared my mind by calling it," he says. "I'm 95-percent sure it
wasn't an optical illusion, and I had to call it. You accept
these things and hope you'll get a break somewhere else down the
line."

Somewhere down the line. Madrid again. Last month's Turespana
Masters. Harrington is winning from the front at last, but pieces
of his game are falling off as he goes. He three-putts the 9th to
drop a stroke. He's all over the place, and on the 13th it looks
as if he'll pay the price. He hits a drive way left and takes
double bogey. He's only a shot clear now and looking at the
possibility of losing a tournament he should have won. He doesn't
read the next hole very well. Here's a poor drive to the par-5
followed by a shot way left of the green.

He's struggling. Accountant debates with golfer. Ease the losses.
Be careful on this one. Maybe you'll finagle a par that would be
a fine dividend for this reporting period.

The rap has always been that he plays like an accountant. He
doesn't, though. Not always, anyway. This time the golfer wins
out. He sees the chance to play a pitch from under a tree and up
and over a bank and a bunker. He plays the shot, and it comes out
six feet from the pin. Holes the putt for a birdie. Never looks
back.

So you're interested? This golfer is for the long haul. You'll
find him wherever he needs to be. He'll be on the course or in
his hotel room with Caroline. They'll be watching the History
Channel or laughing over a Gary Larson cartoon.

He has played on five continents in the last 18 months and feels
he's moving to the next level. He studies the strong elements of
everyone's game and then, with Bob Torrance, his coach, models
his own components accordingly. More and more that means
imitating Tiger Woods. They'll be in proximity again this week at
the American Express Championship at Valderrama. Harrington will
be watching patiently and quietly.

Come Ryder Cup time you'll see him at the Belfry, striding the
fairways where he should hold the course record but doesn't. If
you watched him on the final day at Brookline, you would have
seen him conversing with the Irish in the crowd. Men with mobile
phones were listening to the All-Ireland football final. Cork was
losing again. Harrington had to know the score.

Just knowing kept him where he needs to be, he reckons, and
knowing where he needs to be is the key to long-term dividends.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTINCOLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN MUNDAY/ALLSPORT THERE SHE IS Padraig always scans crowds for Caroline.COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN He came to the European tour equipped with a devastating short game and the discipline to be a sedulous student of the swing.
"I'm twice as meticulous as the next most meticulous man on
the tour," Harrington says. Not sexy enough? He's an accountant
too.