Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington talks us through the challenges facing those teeing it up at The Masters
Padraig Harrington Exclusive: “Augusta Tests Your Mental Fortitude More Than Any Other Course”
Padraig Harrington may be remembered for his exploits at The Open and his win at the PGA, but the Irishman has a pretty decent record at Augusta too.
He competed on 15 occasions between 2000 and 2015 and registered four top-tens, finishing joint fifth in both 2002 and 2008.
But it was in 2007 when he says he came closest to glory.
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He attacked the pin with his second shot on the 15th in an attempt to find an eagle and put pressure on eventual winner Zach Johnson.
His ball found the green but rolled back into the water.
With that, his hopes were gone – something that still irritates him to this day.
Here, the Irishman tells us about that close encounter and recalls some of the other memories that stick out from playing and watching the iconic tournament.
He also talks us through the skills needed to triumph at The Masters and reveals who he’ll be keeping an eye on this year…
What skills does it take to compete and ultimately win at Augusta?
It’s interesting, because Augusta has changed over the years.
The difficulty of the pin positions means it’s become a real driver’s golf course.
You’ve got to drive it long and straight at Augusta.
The fairways are narrow, but it’s not difficult off the tee in terms of missing a fairway and being out of bounds or in the water, you’re just in the tree line.
But to have short enough irons into those pin positions on the par 4s, you have to drive it long and you have to drive it straight.
The short game is so difficult.
Sometimes a good chipper can only chip it to 15 feet while a bad chipper can chip it to 20 feet, so it’s actually got to the stage where it’s a ball-striker’s course.
You’ve got to be relentless off the tee, the longer the better.
How long did it take you to feel truly comfortable there?
It took me seven or eight years – until 2007 when Zach Johnson won.
I think I had a great chance of winning that year.
I was two shots behind playing 15 and I hit a glorious hybrid into the back right pin.
In my head it was stone dead.
As it was in the air, in my head it was finishing six inches from the hole.
It pitched on the front of the green, stopped and ran back into the water. It was five yards on to the green!
Today they’ve changed that.
It’s amazing the amount of changes they make after I do something on that golf course!
The following year they changed the green and now they’ve changed the bank so no ball landing on the green would roll back into the water.
That would have tied me for the lead. You can see it’s still getting to me now!
So experience is key to success there?
You do need experience around Augusta, there’s no doubt about it.
There are some misses you just can’t afford and others you can get away with.
One of the things with Augusta is it asks so many questions physically, but the big questions are about temperament and mentality.
Can you handle hitting good shots, thinking you’re going to make a birdie or eagle and ending up struggling to make bogey?
There are so many risk-reward shots, there’s a lot of that at Augusta.
It tests your mental fortitude more than any other golf course. That’s the big issue.
You’ve got 72 holes and you’re just going to have to keep handling those things.
I would say to anyone going into it, just be wary of your temperament that week. It’s going to be called upon many times.
You were two shots back overnight going into the Sunday in 2007. How did you sleep that night?
I don’t think you really worry about Augusta until you’re two shots back with nine to play. It’s the strangest tournament.
More so than any other event it’s about getting into contention with nine holes to play.
The reason is you can gain five or six shots on the leader on that back nine. You can play it in five-under-par.
If somebody is being a bit cautious, they can easily play it in two- or three-over. You can gain eight shots!
If you’re within a couple of shots of the lead or even a couple of positions of the lead – five shots back but in third place, say – then you have a chance.
If you’re five shots back but in 20th place then you have no chance, because somebody is going to make the birdies on the back nine, there’s always a charge.
But if there aren’t too many ahead of you, you have a chance.
That’s the joy of Augusta, there are so many possible outcomes.
A lot of events don’t throw up as many possibilities, but it’s different at Augusta – we’ve seen it with Jordan Spieth, we’ve seen it with Frankie Molinari, guys in the lead.
It’s the toughest golf course to lead on but the best to be attacking the lead.
There are so many birdie opportunities in that last nine holes, and it even gives you some chances on the front nine now.
But by god, when you’re leading there’s a lot of fear.
Even on the simple holes like 13 and 15 you can make double-bogey; you can lose four shots in a hole.
Never has there been a tournament golf course set up as they do to give those variations in possibilities.
Do any particular memories stick out from growing up watching The Masters?
Like everybody over this side of the pond, golf doesn’t start until The Masters is on TV.
Once The Masters was on TV in April we all took our clubs and went to play, so as a kid I would have sat up and watched the golf.
It was only that and The Open on TV in the 80s, certainly that I remember. Of course, The Masters looked so beautiful.
I remember the European wins.
I remember Woosie’s drive over the bunker on 18, I remember Sandy Lyle’s 7-iron, Nick Faldo’s putt.
I’m actually struggling to remember the Bernhard Langer win in ’85, which is strange considering I admire him so much.
Woosie’s drive over the bunker was incredible, that was just unheard of.
Interestingly, instead of Seve’s wins I remember him dunking it in the water!
I think that’s the problem with The Masters. Because it’s on the same golf course, you build up the baggage of everyone else.
Who could have a six-shot lead at Augusta and not think of Greg Norman?
If that was another event you wouldn’t necessarily be remembering anyone else.
Also Scott Hoch missing that putt, it’s amazing how much you remember.
That’s the beauty of Augusta – same place, same drama and it continually delivers. No doubt this year will be the same.
Did Tiger’s performance last year change the way you think about playing and winning in your 40s?
The game changes when you’re in your 40s.
When you’re 45, you’re trying to do everything like you’re a 25-year-old and you start to get frustrated.
You have to step back and say ‘hang on a second, do you still want to do this?’
Some guys retire, but I looked at it and said, ‘I actually really like playing golf, I enjoy being out there travelling the world, so how do I keep going at this?’
What you’ve got to figure out is how you’re going to manage yourself.
For a start, you can’t do as much as you were doing at 25.
I’ve had a few injuries, I’ve had neck surgery, I’ve had knee surgery and I can’t afford to lose six months or a year of my career.
I believe I have another five years of being competitive so I can’t afford to lose a year of that to injury.
I visit the Schoen Clinic, and even though they’re an orthopaedic and sports medicine clinic and they fix you when you are injured, they are actually quite keen to do the pre-hab and the pro-active stuff so that you never have to have the surgery.
I go once a year and it makes sure I’m on top of things.
Do you have your eye on anyone to take the Green Jacket this year?
For me, all eyes on this side of the water are on Rory.
I think the world will be watching Tiger, but the golfing world will be watching Rory.
If you’re a non-golfer you’d certainly be watching Tiger, but golfers would understand what it means to win all four.
I know Jon Rahm is going to win Major golf tournaments, it’s going to happen. Is this too early? I don’t know. He’s still a young lad.
I also think Tommy Fleetwood is going to win Majors.
Those would be right at the top of the list of guys who I’m going to be intently watching to see how they get on.
Shane Lowry, he’s a Major Champion now, and that can be both good and bad.
You can be relaxed and puff your chest out as a current Major Champion, but you’re also trying to live up to it.
I’ll definitely be watching out for Shane as well.
Padraig Harrington has partnered with leading healthcare provider Schoen Clinic London, a world-renowned innovator in the treatment and prevention of sports-related injuries. Visit schoen-clinic.co.uk to learn more.