Time heal­ing Har­ring­ton’s Barry Burn scars

Re­turn to Carnoustie brings back con­trast­ing mem­o­ries for 2007 Open cham­pion

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - DER­MOT GILLEECE

PÁDRAIG HAR­RING­TON ex­uded such bon­homie at his re­turn to a scene of re­mark­able achieve­ment that a novel ap­proach didn’t seem at all in­ap­pro­pri­ate. And to prove it, he read­ily fielded ques­tions about Frank Si­na­tra, while re­flect­ing on a mem­o­rable morn­ing at Carnoustie.

In an un­prece­dented de­par­ture for an Open cham­pion, Har­ring­ton played the first, 16th, 17th and 18th holes of this year’s venue last Wed­nes­day, by way of com­mem­o­rat­ing his play-off vic­tory over Ser­gio Gar­cia for the 2007 ti­tle. As then, he was ac­com­pa­nied by his long-time cad­die Ro­nan Flood, with the ad­di­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Wil­son, whose equip­ment he has now been us­ing for 20 years.

With typ­i­cal can­dour, Har­ring­ton replied, “No”, when I asked if he lis­tened to Ol’ Blue Eyes. “Ob­vi­ously I’ve heard of Frank Si­na­tra, but no, I don’t have him on my play-list,” he said. Still, he lis­tened in­tently while I re­counted a tale from Carnoustie 1953.

That was when golfers and celebri­ties from all over these is­lands and fur­ther afield flocked to the home of the Barry Burn to watch Ben Ho­gan make his first and only chal­lenge for the Open Cham­pi­onship. Among them was a group of 25 US air­men who flew 380 miles from their base in Es­sex to see the Hawk shoot a sec­ond-round 71.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing celebri­ties in­cluded the great Si­na­tra, who hap­pened to be play­ing a con­cert down the road at the Caird Hall in Dundee at the time. And the singer’s keen in­ter­est in golf could be gauged from the fact that while in Scot­land he had a set of mono­grammed clubs made for him­self by the John Let­ters com­pany.

Re­gard­ing events at Carnoustie, he said: “All Amer­ica is root­ing for Ho­gan and I don’t think any­one is ca­pa­ble of beat­ing him. Ben Ho­gan is the best golfer in the world.”

While we Irish might not have had such grand no­tions about Har­ring­ton in his bid for a break­through Ma­jor ti­tle, there was no doubt­ing the sup­port from this is­land as events at Carnoustie ’07 reached a cli­max. Har­ring­ton be­came our Ho­gan, not­with­stand­ing the pain he made us en­dure while ap­pear­ing to throw the ti­tle away on the 72nd hole.

His play of the same par-four last Wed­nes­day couldn’t have been more dif­fer­ent. “I hit a beau­ti­ful drive down the mid­dle of 18 and an­nounced as the ball was in the air, ‘My life would have been so much less ex­cit­ing had I done this back in 2007’,” he said. “Then, into a gen­tle breeze, I hit a lovely four-iron cut of 217 yards, in be­hind the flag. And I rolled in an 18-footer for birdie.”

He went on: “Though I said noth­ing at the time, I thought to my­self, ‘How ab­surd this game is.’ How easy that three had been, com­pared with the six I made in 2007. Mind you, had I made four back then, Ser­gio could have been forced to play driver in­stead of an iron off the 18th tee, made birdie and then been feel­ing so good that he’d go on to win the play-off. We’ll never know.”

Noth­ing is ever sim­ple with Har­ring­ton. It was sur­pris­ing, for in­stance, to be told that he has never looked back at the statis­tics of that event. So I in­formed him he was ranked 12th in driv­ing dis­tance (296.9 yards), 37th in fair­ways hit, 12th in greens in reg­u­la­tion and eighth in putting (111 putts for 72 holes).

When I turned to Gar­cia’s stats by re­lat­ing that he was first in driv­ing (307.9 yards), Har­ring­ton blurted: “First! Driv­ing dis­tance must have been done on only one hole. He hit irons off most tees. They mustn’t have mea­sured every hole.”

I went on to point to the dif­fer­ence in putting, where Gar­cia was ranked 42nd with 119 putts. “So you’re sug­gest­ing he didn’t hit it very close,” said Har­ring­ton. “No,” I replied. “I’m sug­gest­ing that he didn’t putt par­tic­u­larly well, cer­tainly not as well as you did.”

“That’s the pop­u­lar in­ter­pre­ta­tion of putting stats,” he said. “But his con­ser­va­tive play in hit­ting an iron off most tees meant he was go­ing to be hit­ting his ap­proaches fur­ther away from the pins, which would lead to 119 putts.

“To have fewer putts, you have to be more ag­gres­sive and hit more greens. That’s why the new cat­e­gory of strokes gained putting at­tempts to clar­ify this whole thing. But you know your­self, stats are stats. You can make what you want out of them.” Then he added: “The only thing I’ll say is that it’s very hard to win if you’re a bad put­ter. At the end of the day, the old adage that a good put­ter is a match for any­body, holds good.”

Then we talked about the ubiq­ui­tous Barry Burn, the ser­pen­tine haz­ard which claimed Har­ring­ton’s blocked drive off the 72nd tee and also his un­der-hit ap­proach to the green af­ter a penalty drop. It in­flicted even more costly pain on Jean van de Velde, though the French­man vis­ited it only once en route to a wretched seven on his 72nd in 1999.

I found it in­ter­est­ing that de­spite a num­ber of meet­ings since 2007, Har­ring­ton has never men­tioned their shared ex­pe­ri­ence on what is widely ac­knowl­edged as the tough­est fin­ish­ing hole in cham­pi­onship golf. “I know Jean well,” said the Dubliner, “but I haven’t dis­cussed that hole with him in any shape or form. Even though I didn’t hit those shots [in 1999] or live those shots, I pretty much re­mem­ber every de­tail. There’s bag­gage we all have to han­dle when it comes to the 18th hole at Carnoustie.”

This can be at­trib­uted largely to the Barry Burn, which Bernard Dar­win, the fa­ther fig­ure of modern golf writ­ing, was moved to de­scribe grandly as cir­cum­ben­di­cus — a word you won’t find in the Ox­ford English

Dic­tio­nary. The very no­tion of hav­ing to in­vent a word to de­scribe a golf­ing haz­ard tells its own story.

When I sug­gested to Har­ring­ton some years ago that as a par-four con­verted from a par-five, the threat of the burn was es­sen­tially ran­dom rather than strate­gic, he dis­agreed. Now, he’s not so sure.

“While walk­ing 60 yards to the fi­nal tee back in 2007 af­ter miss­ing a 10-foot putt to go three shots ahead on the third play­off hole [17th], I still felt I could lose,” he said. “And I de­lib­er­ately kept think­ing that way, so as to keep pres­sure on my­self. If I had fear, I would bet­ter be able to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion.”

He went on: “I’ve thought many times about what I did on the 72nd and while I fig­ured out tech­ni­cally what went wrong, it was es­sen­tially a prob­lem of over-con­fi­dence.

“I con­sider the pres­ence of the Barry Burn makes it a far more dif­fi­cult hole than, say, the 18th at Quail Hol­low. Strate­gic or not, it forces you into hit­ting the tee-shot be­cause you know that if you don’t, you’re sim­ply kick­ing the can down the road. You’re in­creas­ing the pres­sure on your­self. You’ve got to take the teeshot on and you’ve got to hit it. When you do, you’ve se­ri­ously bro­ken the back of the hole.”

David Fe­herty once posed the ques­tion as to how much of the Barry Burn a player “could swal­low with­out throw­ing up”. Time has al­lowed Har­ring­ton to thor­oughly di­gest his dis­com­fort there, even to the ex­tent of ac­quir­ing a cham­pion’s sense of de­tach­ment.

‘There’s bag­gage we all have to han­dle when it comes to the 18th hole at Carnoustie’

Pádraig Har­ring­ton: ‘I con­sider the pres­ence of the Barry Burn makes it a far more dif­fi­cult hole than, say, the 18th at Quail Hol­low’

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