'You could see from my eyes I was ready to go and win'June 26, 2018 History
Padraig Harrington relives his incredible Open win at Carnoustie and explains how his mental strength helped to get him over the major line
Padraig Harrington had faced Sergio Garcia twice before in extra holes and both times the Spaniard had come out on top.
This time a major would be on the line and both players would head into the four-hole play-off with some sort of battle fatigue. Harrington began the day six adrift of Garcia but then played his first 14 holes in six under. Standing on the 18th tee he had a one-shot lead.
But two separate visits to the Barry Burn meant he had to produce one of the up and downs of all time to post a double-bogey six for a 67 and seven-under aggregate.
On one of the barmiest closing days in Open history Andres Romero threatened to steal the show, picking up 10 birdies before a bizarre out-of-bounds approach at 17 was followed by a bogey at the last and the Argentinean would close on six-under.
Garcia, three clear on Saturday night, had gone backwards and forwards all day and he came to the 72nd hole with a one-shot lead. His 10-footer narrowly stayed out.
A European win was guaranteed for the first time since Paul Lawrie at the same venue in 1999, along with a major breakthrough, but first a revisiting of holes 1, 16, 17 and 18 to see who would lift the Claret Jug.
Do you like play-offs as a rule?
I do but I don’t take the traditional attitude of being happy to be there and, at worst, you can finish second. I am very much of the mindset that I have a job to do and I am still doing it here. Turning up and losing a play-off isn’t going to be any fun.
I kept myself on a very even keel mentally, I didn’t have any real highs or lows even watching Sergio taking his putt at 18. I wasn’t wishing him to miss, even though I needed him to miss, so when he did miss there was no buzz out of it. I was still in the same mindset of thinking I was going to win the tournament.
So it was to hell with being happy to be there, if you lose half an hour later you’re not going to be very happy.
You’ve got to try and stay focused in between finishing and starting again, that’s the hard part. You have to be ready for it and I did a great job. I came out of that recorder’s hut and you could see from my eyes that I was ready to go and win.
Does it matter who you are playing against?
Absolutely, every player is different. If you are in a play-off with a number of players you have to take your chances quickly, if you are in a play-off with an inexperienced player you might be more patient but it all depends on the momentum of the player and your own feelings.
One-hole play-offs might be on a certain hole that you like or don’t like. When I beat Daniel Berger at the Honda Classic in 2015 he had the length advantage at 18 so I was desperate to win it at the par-3 17th. So I was more aggressive. You have to read into the situation.
You had lost to Sergio in a couple of play-offs previously so does that play on your mind?
I lost the Linde German Masters in 1999 when I bogeyed the second hole so that doesn’t sit as badly as the PGA Tour one.
At Westchester in 2004 I had an eight-footer to win at the first extra hole, I hit a beautiful putt but it didn’t go in. Then I made a dog’s dinner of the next, I tried to chip in and with hindsight that was a rash decision.
But at Carnoustie I was in a good place mentally.
You said afterwards that you were waving to the crowds and in your head you were waving the Claret Jug around?
The key was I thought I was going to win. I didn’t tell anyone how I was going to win, I didn’t tell myself. I put no conditions on myself and that is very important, if you put conditions on your goals or visualisations when they fail the visualisation fails.
I was holding the trophy aloft in my head but I didn’t mind if I made bogey, I was just going to win. People will tell themselves they need a birdie and then worry if they don’t so there was a lot of mental visualisation throughout the week and I told anyone who would listen that I was going to win.
It doesn’t work with every win but when you do it you have to back it up by not having conditions.
You had worked with Bob Rotella long time for a long time. Given what happened at the 72nd hole could he have helped you in the same way if you weren’t so close?
No, there is always an initial success especially when you start working together for the first time. You get the honeymoon periods, I read his book in 1997 and I went out at Madeira and I’ve never hit the ball as well as I had in my entire life. I have only ever equalled that.
I couldn’t sustain that on my own so I went to see him. He is like a schoolteacher, he gives you your homework and you go away and do it. What I love about Bob is that he is so dependable, he gives you the responsibility, it is consistent. Over the years we have discussed different things but he doesn’t change the way he goes about things. He’s not going to tell you a different story. It’s solid.
The consistency is very important to me, I need that. If he told me something different then I wouldn’t believe him.
I had nearly won the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, three pars to finish would have done it, so we knew we were close on what we were saying and doing and what my caddie was saying and doing.
It would take me two full weeks and the week of the championship to get myself fully mentally focused. I would start working completely on my mental game two weeks out with no technical stuff whatsoever. It would take me that long to shut that bit down and to start reacting rather than thinking too much.
When you talk of visualisation, what level are we talking about?
I would have done the whole day Sunday on the Saturday night, the whole morning onwards. And then the round, at least twice the night before and twice on the Sunday morning. So four times playing every hole, some good, some bad but I will have played every hole. I would have the pin positions and mentally rehearse the whole round.
If you had a speech to make it would go a lot easier if you practise it.
How does that then help when you play the 18th as you did?
Oh, I would picture bad shots. Bob would always make you visualize hitting a bad shot or missing a putt so I would go over where I have messed up in the past but it has worked out. I have won plenty of tournaments where I have hit one out of bounds but still won so the 18th could be used as a big positive in that if you could mess up a hole as badly as I did on the 72nd hole of the Open and still win then why would you worry about any mistakes?
It is all spin, you are creating your own reality here. People who don’t believe in this stuff, they sit there and think this doesn’t make logical sense. It has nothing to do with logic, you are creating your own reality to get a better outcome. It doesn’t always work but over time it ends up with a better result.
Someone who plays angry golf can have success when they play angry and they think that was why it worked – but if they had a better outlook and smiled they might have more success. The cause and effect can sometimes be misinterpreted. Life is easier when you don’t get angry.
People say why did I hit it in the water with my third shot but I was over confident. And a small bit of doubt manifested in an extreme outcome.
How much did you think about Sergio’s mindset?
I was more focused on me. You do have a sense of other players and I would have feared Sergio and his game so I was more playing as though I was playing against Tiger and that was by focusing on what I was doing. And make him come and beat me.
In the play-off it was about me doing my thing, If it was a rookie or an inexperienced player I might have been watching them more.
How did you get on today at the 18th?
I hit a beautiful drive off the very back tee, it went straight down the middle and I hit it to 18 feet and I holed the putt! Had I done that in the tournament how unexciting my life would have been…