finding the edge

GPS, urine testing and mobility - Pádraig Harrington as hungry as ever

Harrington’s long-time fitness coach, Dr Liam Hennessy, on working with the Major winner.

HE HAS THE strength of an Irish rugby player, the enthusiasm of a raw teenager and Pádraig Harrington can soon win again on the European Tour, according to his long-time fitness coach, Dr Liam Hennessy. 

Harrington’s last European Tour win came in the 2016 Portugal Masters and since then a burst of big-hitting college graduates have powered through and taken the game of golf by storm.

Padraig Harrington Harrington tees off at the Irish Open this afternoon. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

It remains to be seen if the veteran Irishman can match their might in the future but when Harrington tees off at Lahinch for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this afternoon, he will make his first appearance on the famous County Clare links since winning there as an amateur in 1995. 

And Dr Hennessy, director at the world-renowned Setanta College in Thurles, is full sure that his close friend can put in a strong performance at his national open, which he won in 2007 before going on to claim a maiden Major at the Open two months later.

“I have no doubt that Pádraig will win on tour again,” Dr Hennessy states. “Yes, there are many great players competing and many more young players who can drive the ball huge distances. But Pádraig has an enthusiasm and passion that has not been dented throughout the years — he has all the ingredients to be ready to perform and win on any given occasion.” 

Few of them could put as much effort into preparation as Harrington. 

Each day, he uses a hand-held device to determine if he is properly hydrated. When Dr Hennessy travels with the Irishman to tournaments, he will conduct daily blood, urine and stress testing on Harrington to ensure he is in peak physical condition.

“Along the way we have learned a lot of lessons,” the Setanta College chief says.

“But one of the best lessons I learned in sport, in general, was not from the technological side of monitoring or training it was from Pádraig’s father, Paddy. We were watching Pádraig practice at his home in Dublin, when Paddy asked me what did I think the most important thing I did with Pádraig was.

“I spoke about longevity in the game and Paddy listened carefully and replied: ‘In my book, the most important thing is knowing what not to do.’

“Today I am still reminded of that simple and insightful statement,” Dr Hennessy adds.

“By knowing what not to do, the choice or selection of options becomes much more informed and focused on what will benefit the athlete. No two are the same and no one is similar to Pádraig. 

“Pádraig is a strength-based athlete. In other words, he has great basic strength and through its conversion to power he can still keep up with many of the younger golfers who have terrific natural speed.

“In fact, there was a time when his speed-strength was greater than most Irish Rugby players. That’s still his big physical quality even today and while we work on what his functional/fitness screen tells us, we also want to keep the basics of mobility and strength in place, especially as he gets older.

Padraig Harrington Harrington at Lahinch this week. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

“You won’t be surprised to hear there are few athletes that I know from any sport who have a work-capacity like him. Both his mental and physical capacities are phenomenal from an athlete who is just about to enter his fourth decade of competing at the highest level.

“People know that Pádraig is always working on some aspect of his game, but his willingness to explore and be open to technology and innovation in technology in sport is incredible.

“He was the first golfer to use GPS tracking measurement units to record his golf swing impact on the body. The units that you see in the upper back of the jerseys of GAA and rugby players? 

“Pádraig was experimenting with these long before teams started to wear them during competition. And from one analysis completed several years ago, we found that the cumulative impact load that he experienced during a round was equal to the cumulative impact load experienced by some rugby players during matches.

“Pádraig’s openness and inquiry into the demands of the game of golf and his tolerance to these sets him apart from other athletes. His enthusiasm to seek out what works for him as he strives to reset, recover and improve has also involved and still does completing physical and physiological profiling or testing, profiling his blood health, his parasympathetic system, muscle activation assessment, as well as his 3D swing analysis.

“No matter what happens, good or bad, Pádraig always stays positive and always bounces back — from injury and blips. How unique is he in doing that?”

The pair first met 22 years ago when Harrington’s brother, Tadhg, enquired if he would take a look at the talented golfer.

“I admitted that I knew very little about golf,” Dr Hennessy recalls, “But I agreed to meet Pádraig.

“When we met, I screened and assessed his fitness and the first thing I saw was that Pádraig was very keen to do whatever fitness work was required to allow him become a better golfer and to swing the club faster. That goal has not changed to this day. He also wanted to do all he could to help reduce injury risk — again another goal that is ever-present. So started a journey with him way back in 1997.”

Harrington tees off at the Irish Open as Ryder Cup captain and he knows it will bring its own pressures. But Dr Hennessy, his long-serving mentor, is sure the Dubliner will handle all that comes his way — both at this week’s event and when Europe meets the USA next year. 

“I feel with the next Ryder Cup taking place in the USA, that in itself will be a huge challenge for the European team, regardless of who is captain,” his fitness coach maintains. 

Dr. Liam Hennessy delivers a presentation on Building Coaching Efficiency Dr Liam Hennessy. Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

“But there is no one better to rise to that challenge. The respect Pádraig has from all players is borne out of the players on both sides knowing who he is and how he prepares, how detailed his approach will be and how competitive he is. He is strategic and he understands players first and foremost. More than anyone else, he will grasp the nature of the challenge in terms of match play detail and the environment that they will be exposed to.”

It helps Harrington that Dr Hennessy has a winning association with an Irish rugby Grand Slam, three golf Majors, an All-Ireland hurling title, many successful international athletics careers, as well as an impressive academic career and the directorship at Setanta College, one of the world’s top sports coaching institutions.

He says that working as Harrington’s fitness coach has been as rewarding an innings as any of the above.

One of the first things Hennessy helped Harrington with was compiling a meticulously planned schedule for competition day.  That routine began with 45 minutes of conditioning: then mobility and stability work and a water break.

Breakfast comprises of cereal, low-fat milk, scrambled eggs, nuts, fruit, tea and toast and more water. Through the day — at holes one, three, six, nine, 12 and 15 — he’ll take snacks such as grains, nuts, bananas and water.

Evolvement is constant. It’s an intense and highly scientific process. But Harrington remains as hungry as ever.

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