What might a quiet mind have done for Padraig Harrington’s career trajectory?
A quiet mind might have been satisfied with the swing that won the Irishman two British Opens and a P.G.A. Championship during a sweet 13-month stretch in 2007 and 2008 when Tiger Woods was off recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.
A quiet mind might have avoided the belief that the next tweak holds the secret to success. But far more tranquil heads have also fallen into that trap.
“The higher percentage [of pros] are the guys that just play with a lot more rhythm and don’t think too much about their technique,” Harrington said last month. “But that’s not who I am.”
Tell Harrington to stop tinkering? Might as well tell a fish not to swim.
Even as the 43-year-old Dubliner’s path leads back to the Masters after a one-year hiatus, his brain is churning with new concepts, including something about quieting his inner chimp.
“He’s always working on something in sort of a mad-scientist sort of way,” the Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee told reporters recently. “You’ve just never seen anything like it.”
Harrington calls it “a character trait” that he was born with, adding, “That’s why I’ve always been fascinated, obsessed with trying to swing the club and hit it better.”
It’s a fascination that sometimes literally puts him in a straitjacket, a garment that guides his arms down the ideal swing path. Or sometimes he does a little skip-hop to the ball as he swings.
“It might not be the drill for somebody else,” he explained, “but for me it gets the club down and in front of me.”
But all this has a downside. Harrington got into such a habit of over-analyzing, he said, that at one point, for a period that lasted more than four years, he found something wrong in every shot.
“Even if I hit it stone dead,” he said before the Houston Open last week. “I analyzed everything to the nth degree, was totally immersed with how I was doing it, rather than the end product.”
Spectacular Fall From Grace….
Once No.3 in the world rankings, Harrington plummeted to as low as No.371.
“As a lot of people who win major tournaments, you look back at them and you try and live up to them,” he said. “It was never swing-related, all focus-related. I just got frustrated with it and found it very hard to really separate from the bad shots.”
That’s where the chimp comes in. Harrington’s odyssey took him last summer to see the sports psychiatrist Steve Peters, best known for his work with the British cycling team and the English Premier League soccer club Liverpool.
Peters also wrote “The Chimp Paradox,” a book that portrays a person’s emotional, irrational side as a chimpanzee. The book offers ways to “train” your chimp to keep from overwhelming your rational side.
“It’s a hard one to explain,” Harrington said. “I’d rather tell people about the subconscious and the conscious… My chimp was definitely doing a lot of damage and still can.”
Harrington was only 297th in the rankings as he arrived at the Honda Classic six weeks ago. Three strokes back to start the rain-delayed final round, he struggled early and was five back when darkness halted play seven holes in.
“You know, I never have trouble hitting a big shot at a big time,” Harrington said. He noted that he has been in Sunday contention only four times since his P.G.A. Championship triumph in 2008 but that he has won each time, including at the Indonesian Open in December.
Stop His Mind Wandering….
The problem, it seems, is keeping his mind from wandering long enough to get into Sunday contention. If Harrington can get there, though, the heat of the battle aligns his focus.
“Now I just don’t get myself in position enough,” he said. “I’m good at recovering and hitting the shots when the pressure is on. I just need to manage it when it’s not on.”
Now comes Harrington’s return to Augusta National, where he tied for eighth as recently as three years ago. He had played 14 Masters in a row until last year, when he watched from home.
“I think I’m in a good place that I can deliver more performances like this,” he said. “I feel like I can give myself plenty of opportunities like this going forward.”
SOURCE: The New York Times 2015
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