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16 for 16: The most important Irish athletes of the last 100 years - Pádraig Harrington

The three-time Major winner with a meticulous eye for detail.

PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON IS the subject of the 13th in a series of articles focusing on the most important Irish sportspeople of the last 100 years. The list will include GAA players, Olympians, boxers, golfers and more who dared to dream.

Padraig Harrington A fresh-faced Harrington back in 1994 at Stackstown Golf Club. Source: ©INPHO/Tom Honan

Whether Pádraig was playing Gaelic football, soccer or golf, he had a brilliant temperament. Nothing seemed to faze him. And the more knocks he got, the more determined he would be to bounce back and succeed the next time.”

- Paddy Harrington, Irish Independent 

IF YOU WERE to stand on the top of Croke Park, where Paddy Harrington played at centre-half back for Cork in both the 1956 and 1957 All-Ireland football finals, and direct your eyes to the southwest, you could just about see Stackstown Golf Club in Rathfarnham where a young Pádraig — alongside his brothers Tadhg, Columb, Fintan and Fergal — first learned the sport.

The youngest of the five Harrington brother, Pádraig was born on 31 August 1971 to the aforementioned Paddy and Breda. He was just four years old when he first took to the Dublin 16 course and, his mother suggests, was more interested in rabbits and stones than birdies and eagles.

However, with his father as club captain, Harrington soon picked up a grá for the game and would spend hour upon hour on the practise green, the meticulous attention to detail that would come to define his career a clear and present character trait from early on.

The fact that two of his brothers, his father and his uncle all played off a handicap of five was a driving force for Harrington and, in 1987 at the age of 15, he finally joined them.

By the end of the year he was playing off scratch.

In 1988 he entered his first amateur tournament — the Connacht Boys Championship — and reached the final only to lose on the 22nd hole after losing a golf ball. That same year Harrington finished third in the Irish Boys Close Championship and was rewarded for his performances with a spot on the Irish Boys team to play in the Home Internationals in Scotland.

Padraig Harrington Harrington waits for the rain to stop in 1995. Source: Getty Images/INPHO

In 1994, at the age of 21, Harrington won his first senior title when he took home the West of Ireland Championship coming from four shots down after eight holes to beat Ken Kearney. Over the next 12 months, he broke no fewer than seven course records and played his part in the Walker Cup team that defeated the USA — including one Tiger Woods — at Royal Porthcrawl.

Harrington went professional that year and though he won the Spanish Open in 1996, realised that he needed to dramatically change his game when he missed the cut at the 1997 US Open after carding 12-over par.

He hit the gym, lost nearly 10kg and allowed Bob Torrance to tighten up his swing. Despite his best efforts though, Harrington only managed three low-profile European Tour wins in his first seven years on Tour in what was a very frustrating period of his career.

Remarkably, between 1995 and 2002, he finished runner up in no fewer than 15 tournaments and was cruelly robbed of the 2000 International Open at The Belfry when he was disqualified — despite leading by five shots going into the final round — because his playing partner Michael Campbell inadvertently signed his score card twice.

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2002 would be the year it all changed for Harrington. One week after his second Ryder Cup appearance, he claimed the Dunhill Links Championship in a playoff win over Eduardo Romero. Three months after that he beat Tiger Woods to the Target World Challenge crown thanks to a course-record 63 in the third round.

2005 would bring his first two PGA Tour wins at the Honda and Barclays Classics but, just two weeks after he won the latter, his father Paddy — the reason he started to play the game in the first place — died.

Paddy’s funeral was held on the first day of that year’s British Open so it was somewhat fitting that, two years later — and just weeks after winning the Irish Open — Harrington would lift the Claret Jug himself.

Source: The Open/YouTube

The opening round of that year’s tournament was notable not just for Harrington’s steady two-under par, which left him tied eighth alongside Woods, but also because of the performances of Rory McIlroy (still an amateur) and Paul McGinley whose rounds of three-under par and four-under par respectively left them second and third behind leader Sergio Garica (-6).

A 73 in his second round appeared to put Harrington out of the running, as did the consistency of Garcia over the course of the first three days, especially as the pair both shot 68 on the Saturday leaving the Irish golfer six shots off the lead.

However, during his final round, Harrington followed up four birdies in the opening 13 holes with an eagle on the 14th to sit at nine-under par for the tournament. As he stood on the 18th, he held a one shot lead.

Disaster struck though as he went into the Barry Burn twice, taking a double bogey on the hole and carding a clubhouse lead of seven-under par.

He could only watch as Garcia left himself a 10-footer for par, and the Open Championship, on the last hole. The Spaniard missed his putt, however, and Harrington got the better of him over the course of the four hole playoff to become the first Irishman to win the Open in 60 years.

He would go on to defend his title the following year, becoming the first golfer — not named Tiger Woods — to win consecutive Majors in the same year since Nick Price in 1994 when he picked won the PGA Championship less than a month later.

Harrington has struggled to recapture the form he showed in 2007 and 2008 and, indeed, went seven years without a European or PGA Tour title until he beat Daniel Berger to claim the Honda Classic in March 2015.

Over the course of his career, Harrington has amassed 30 European and PGA Tour wins and been victorious in four of his five Ryder Cup appearances as a player. Not bad for a youngster who once spent more time chasing rabbits on a golf course than he did eagles.

Over the next two months, in association with Allianz Insurance, we’ll be profiling the 16 most important Irish athletes of the last 100 years. 

Allianz Insurance — The world belongs to those who dare.

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