18 Jul 2023

On the bag: How Padraig Harrington nearly lost The 136th Open Championship

The 136th Open Championship may have ended with Padraig Harrington securing the first of his three Major Championships, but winning the Claret Jug for the first time was anything but simple after the Irishman ran into trouble on the treacherous 18th at Carnoustie Golf Links.

The infamous 18th had made a mockery of Jean van de Velde, just eight years prior, when he held a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole and on the cusp of becoming Champion Golf of the Year, only for all that to disappear when he made triple-bogey, which included him wading into the Barry Burn.

 

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The thought of ‘doing a van de Velde’ hadn’t even entered the minds of Harrington and his caddie Ronan Flood as they walked up to the 18th, with the Irishman the hottest player on the course and leading by one.

“He had played great, unbelievable, like the best I’ve ever seen him play for 17 holes on the Sunday,” said Flood, who is also Harrington’s brother-in-law. “He was six under par (for the day) through 17 and he could have been probably eight or nine.

“We had discussed the strategy of playing 18 in the practice round on the Tuesday, which was if you’re one behind, level or one ahead, you hit driver and try to win. When we got there he was one ahead. There was no question, there wasn’t even a thought, it was just, ‘ok, this is it’.

“We knew what we had decided, went with driver. For me, he’d played so well, he’d driven it so well for the weekend and particularly on the Sunday. I couldn’t see him doing anything else but hitting a great tee shot down the last.”

Instead, Harrington’s drive leaked right and into the Barry Burn. After taking a penalty drop, Harrington proceeded to pull his third shot left and his ball found a different part of the Burn.

“Initially, when he hit his third shot, I didn’t know whether it was out of bounds or not,” said Flood, “because it had gone left quickly and he asked me, ‘where’s that gone?

 

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“It was the walking referee who told us it was in the Burn. And he just went quiet and, yes, I was thinking about Van de Velde, I’m sure he was thinking about Van de Velde, but over the years we’ve had different times when things have gone wrong, so I just started talking to him just the same as we would normally, just telling him that the hole wasn’t over, a lot of cliches about we’ll just wait, get through this hole and see what happens.

“I just kept talking to him and looking for him to give me a response, just say anything. And I just kept saying, ‘come on, you hear me,’ whatever, and eventually he was like, ‘yes, ok, yes’. He wasn’t answering me for probably two thirds of the walk down and then he started talking and getting into it.

“He started answering me back more, talking a little bit before we got to the ball, so at least it was kind of somewhat out of his head. By the time we got down there, he’d worked out the yardage, he’d dropped his ball and he was back into playing golf, so he was fine at that stage.”

 

Harrington then produced what he would later describe as one of the best two shots he’s ever played, with a superb pitch before sinking the the resulting putt to rescue a double-bogey six. Although that left him one behind Garcia, the Spaniard then finished with a bogey to ensure a play-off was needed.

When Harrington and Flood returned to the 18th in the four-hole play-off, a two-shot lead over Garcia had been established. There was no chance of the driver making another appearance.

“I wouldn’t have given him the driver and he wouldn’t have asked for it because we had agreed,” Flood added.

There would be one last scare for the duo, with Harrington putting his third to around 30 feet before drifting a putt three to four feet past the hole.

“At the time in my head, I’m kind of thinking, ‘Oh God, it’s nearly five feet’,” said Flood. “It’s probably three and a half feet, four feet, something like that. I remember thinking, ‘God, what a disaster. If you miss this, what a disaster, we’re going down the next hole’.

“But we talked about it after, to him it was a tap-in. He only realised how long it was when he saw it on the replay. He thought that he had just knocked it up nearly stone dead, whereas I remember standing by the hole as it came up and thinking, ‘sit down, sit down’. It went that dodgy distance by alright, but thankfully (it was) a tap-in for him.”

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