Padraig Harrington confident on mixing with young guns at The Open after latest major triumph
"It was definitely a tension-filled day."
When you strap into a Rory McIlroy rollercoaster, particularly at majors, it is often easy to forget Padraig Harrington was one of the O.Gs at bringing you on a white-knuckle ride.
So it proved again, at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Harrington went into the final round of his first ever US Senior Open with a five stroke lead. He ended up needing to make a huge birdie on 15 and a clutch two-putt par on 18 to beat Steve Stricker by a solitary stroke.
At one stage, Stricker pinged one to within eight feet on the 18th and had a birdie putt to go -9. Harrington, who was on -9, landed his approach to the 15th green on a patron's fold-out chair and needed a free drop, but still one that landed him in the rough.
In short, it got dicey out there.
Last Tuesday, two days before he teed it up at Saucon Valley, Harrington was asked what the eventual US Senior Open winner would need to get right to claim the main prize. He answered:
"There's three things you've got to do. Physically, you've got to putt well. I think, if you drive it well this week you can break the back of the golf course substantially. If you drive it well, keep it out of the rough, hit it long.
"Ultimately what leads to those two things is what we just talked about, great attitude. If you're great mentally, you'll probably do the others well anyway."
When it was all played out, Harrington had driven and putted superbly. And, every time he wavered or erred slightly, his strong mentality and fighting spirit saw him home. As anyone that has ever followed the Dubliner over the years will tell you, too, he just doesn't win them easy.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) June 26, 2022
Getting one over Steve Stricker
The fact that Padraig Harrington had enough wherewithal and talent to see off that late charge by Steve Stricker made it even sweeter for the three-time major winner.
Stricker had captained Team USA to a resounding Ryder Cup win, against Harrington, and the pair often duked it out in team and individual events, as players. It was, Harrington admitted, sweet revenge.
"I'm not a leaderboard watcher," he said, "but when I got through nine holes I looked up and saw a six-shot lead. I was quite chuffed with that.
"I hadn't lost anything. I didn't think I played 10 and 11 badly, and I ended up making two bogeys, which really set me back. Yeah, at that stage I had to start thinking about the leaderboards... I knew things were tight.
"I heard a few cheers as I played 14," Harrington added. "Then as I was going to 15, I heard cheers. I couldn't tell who they were for. I'm not sure.
"When I birdied , I didn't look at the leaderboard, even though there's a big one there. When I birdied it, I hit a nice tee shot down 16. I asked Ronan [Flood, my caddy] well, we heard a big cheer on 18. I said, 'I assume that's Steve'. Ronan says, 'Yeah, he's making birdie at the last to be 9-under'.
"I knew I had options the last couple of holes... if I hit a good second shot [on the 18th], a good third shot, or a good fourth shot, I was going to win the tournaments. As Arnold Palmer says, if you're going to hit one good shot, make it the last one!"
— USGA (@USGA) June 26, 2022
Padraig Harrington on dicing with younger golf stars
The United States Golf Association are notoriously tough in their course set-ups, so Padraig Harrington going around for four rounds in a -10 score of 274, at the age of 50, was some going.
Asked if he reckoned the young guns in the golfing world would have even struggled to end up at -10, Harrington was as honest as he was confident that he could go lower, still.
"I would think [someone could shoot lower], yeah. But I would have shot lower than 10-under par if the other guys were here.
"I wouldn't have been defending. I would have been attacking. I would have shot lower. If there was somebody out in front of me, I think I would have shot lower.
"But if you put a field of those young guys out there, the depth is very strong. You fancy your chances playing one-on-one against a player, but when you're playing one against 155 of those young guys, they're pretty good when they're on form."
As an Open champion aged 60 or under [he comfortably makes that], Harrington will be teeing it up at St Andrew's for this year's tournament.
Heading into the 150th Open Championship, next month, the old dog still has plenty of handy tricks.