The ‘bizarrely stupid’ reason Padraig Harrington won’t become a coach

Padraig Harrington isn’t interested in coaching elite golfers. The reason, he said, boils down to a “bizarrely stupid” phenomenon.

The post The ‘bizarrely stupid’ reason Padraig Harrington won’t become a coach appeared first on Golf.

Padraig Harrington isn’t interested in coaching elite golfers. The reason, he said, boils down to a “bizarrely stupid” phenomenon.

The post The ‘bizarrely stupid’ reason Padraig Harrington won’t become a coach appeared first on Golf.

A couple weeks ago, on Monday night of U.S. Open week in Pinehurst, Padraig Harrington was inducted into the into the World Golf Hall of Fame. His three majors and dozens of worldwide wins and life in the spotlight was being recognized on golf’s grandest stage. 

Inducted alongside him that night was Sandra Palmer, an 81-year-old former LPGA Tour pro who won two majors and 19 LPGA events, but whose career in the game isn’t complete. Palmer continues to teach the game (and occasionally even work in the pro shop!) at Shadow Hills Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif. She walked out on stage with the widest smile and her hands held high. 

It was fitting that Palmer and Harrington were inducted together, as they both seem to fall more deeply in love with the game as the years go by. They felt like kindred spirits that night, lighting up the room with their energy and zest for the sport. How, we all wondered, do they continue to do it? 

Naturally, two weeks later — at the U.S. Senior Open on Wednesday — Harrington was asked about a Palmer-esque future for himself. Given his YouTube tips series and endless swing tinkering, had Harrington ever given much thought to a career in coaching? His answer was long and layered, as Harrington answers often are, but in short he wants no part of it. At least not at the top level.

Why? He cited the “bizarrely stupid” reality of a 10-foot putt. 

Sandra Palmer and Padraig Harrington
Sandra Palmer and Padraig Harrington pose together during their Hall of Fame induction night. Getty Images

“One of the things that fascinates me about my own career — I see it in other people — and I see it when they have it wrong,” Harrington began, “I’m more likely to hole — if you give me a 10-footer this week, I’m more likely to hole it this week than I would be if I was playing in a PGA Tour event.

“That’s bizarrely stupid, but that’s the case, because here, that 10-footer on Thursday or Friday, hopefully I’m not really looking over my shoulder at the cut line at that stage, whereas if I’m up at the U.S. PGA [Championship] a couple weeks ago, every 10-footer is like do or die because, if I miss it, I’m going to miss the cut.”

In other words, the competition is too good for Harrington out on the PGA Tour right now. At his very best, he can hang around, like he did in the wind at the Scottish Open last summer. But mentally, the weight of 10-footers becomes immense when your game isn’t cruising along at the highest level — like it has for him at various peaks of his career. He gets uncomfortable, which is a bad feeling for any pro at any age.

“It’s amazing how aptitude and comfort zone and where you believe you stand in a field can help you perform, and it has nothing to do with physical side,” he continued. It’s just your beliefs. The Champions Tour has really shown that up to me. I kind of knew that all along, but it’s shown it even more.

“Like I can think of several players. I remember when D.J. was on his great run. He was holing those 10- and 12-foot putts all the time for birdies, and the reason being, if he missed one, he knew he’d have a 12-footer coming up on the next for birdie. So it’s not very hard to hole the first hole, and if he bogeyed this hole he knew he was making another birdie.”

Harrington isn’t wrong. Pro golf at the highest level is simply an assortment of averages. Whose average is best, allowing them to hover along and peak when the putts begin to drop? Back in the late 2010s, it was Dustin Johnson. DJ’s average gave him all kinds of looks for birdie from 10 to 15 feet, while players, like Harrington, who didn’t feel mentally like they were at Johnson’s level simply didn’t earn nearly as many of those birdie looks. The pressure to make the 12-footer in front of you isn’t as significant if you know you’ll have another three or four similar chances that day. But if your average is such that, in that specific week, you’ll have just two 12-footers for birdie each day, you feel they have to go in for you to stay competitive. 

To Harrington, that feels bizarrely stupid, and it probably should. Because the make percentage of a 12-footer is roughly 30% on the PGA Tour. You’re going to miss a lot more than you’ll make. So approaching those putts with the angst of feeling they need to go in is exactly the mental torture that makes coaching elite pros difficult. But it shows itself in 10-footers while playing on the cut-line, 10-footers for par vs. birdie, 10-footers downhill vs. uphill — the list goes on. It’s why Harrington, who gets approached more and more by players of the younger generation for swing advice, often pushes them to the short game, or just to their mental approach. 

“It’s amazing how we have this 18-month, two-year period where we just get into a zone,” Harrington said. “Good things are happening, and because they’re happening, it actually keeps happening. So the psychology of the game is more of an interest. If I went into coaching, I would become a psychologist, not a golf coach. Is that a simple answer? I drifted off the answer here. I’m absolutely rambling.”

No, it wasn’t a simple answer. But sometimes the best answers aren’t so simple. The good news is that Harrington does enjoy coaching up amateurs, so there may be a Palmer-like future for him there. But only once he feels he can’t play anymore himself. As he said Wednesday, “If I can play when I’m 67 years of age, I see myself trying to play.”

That still looks pretty good, too. On Thursday, at a spry 52 years old, Harrington kicked off his U.S. Senior Open with a four-under 66.

The post The ‘bizarrely stupid’ reason Padraig Harrington won’t become a coach appeared first on Golf.