The European Ryder Cup Captain turns 50 in August and has reserved aspirations to play the Champions Tour. Here, he reveals his dream of inspiring Tour pros of his generation by winning a fourth major and what it will take to win the Ryder Cup on US soil later this year.
In the midst of all the Ryder Cup stuff you’ve been involved in recently, it’s been largely overlooked that you turn 50 later this year. What are your plans for that and beyond?
It is coming round. I’ve always said I would try to be competitive with the young lads. In some ways I’ve been obsessive about that. And I’m there at the moment. I can hit it far enough, farther than many of them on the European Tour actually. But the difference is that I’m on edge. If I miss a six-foot putt on the 12th hole in the first round, I’m thinking about the cut.
What I used to think is that, no matter what happened, I’d still be in touching distance of the leaders with nine holes to play on Sunday afternoon. When you feel like that, you play better. But I’m ‘tight’ out there now. And I don’t putt as well because of that. Then again, I see guys who putt just like me going to the Champions Tour. Then they putt well. Which makes me think there is something odd going on (laughs).
I look at the Champions Tour and know that it is incredibly difficult to shoot 20-under par out there. And I wonder if my strengths are suited to that tour. You don’t have to hit it long. But I try to keep in my head that I want to be the oldest-ever player to win on the European Tour. That keeps me out here. Even when I’m not shooting low scores, you can look at me and not know it. I try to stay positive.
Has the Ryder Cup captaincy shifted your focus at all?
No. It’s been a crazy time. I don’t want to sound selfish and say it was a good time. But I’ve been on the road for 25 years, so having five months at home with my family was brilliant for me. I’ve had a great time with my kids – who are 17 and 12 now. Although I’m sure that my wife is more than happy I’m out the door a bit now (laughs). I lived like a king for five months. It was brilliant being at home.
I’ve had time to practise. I’ve cleared up stuff in my own head. I’m out here to play, not practice. There’s no doubt I would spend way too much time at tournaments practising rather than playing. But because I’ve had that period at home, I’m not here believing I’m going to find a secret. I’m conformable with what my swing is doing. So all I’m doing is playing. And if I’m competitive I’ll keep going on the European Tour.
I do think that if you go to the Champions Tour you never come back. Once you go there, your mindset changes. It’s comfortable.
Bernhard Langer pops back in occasionally.
Yes. But when he does he plays great and finishes 27th … maybe a top-10.
On the other hand, if you don’t go to the Champions Tour at 50 you are missing out on your best period for winning. There is typically a five or six-year period when you can be the top dog. So all I can say right now is that I will play where I think I can win tournaments. If I can’t win here in Europe or on the PGA Tour, I look forward to taking on the over-50s. It’s nice to have that choice.
You became a bit of a social media star during your time away from the Tour in shutdown. Your tips have been massively popular. Did that help you too in a way?
My 17-year old son doesn’t play golf. Not really. But he did all the video work. If you saw him play and I told you he was a scratch golfer, you wouldn’t doubt me. Here’s why. One of the things I keep pointing out is that you have to have the mannerisms of a golfer to be a golfer. He has them all. He has all the old-school moves that make you look like you’re a player. He was listening to me all the while. And he was playing a bit too. That was a nice bonus for me to see.
For myself, doing all those tips actually made it a little tougher once I got back to playing. I had a chip shot off a tight lie at the Irish Open and I just got so nervous. I was thinking, ‘after all these lessons, I better not chunk this.’ It was an awkward one too. The ground was soft so it would have been easy to chilli-dip it. Throw in the fact that it was my first event back and I didn’t feel that sharp and I was nervous (laughs).
I’ve always loved coaching people though. I love pro-ams for that reason. I love telling people that they are wrong (laughs). There’s actually a massive disconnect in golf. Just about all the teaching out there is for obsessive, elite players. Telling a 14-handicapper that he needs to ‘lay the club down’ in the downswing is a waste of time. There’s so much stuff like that, all of it causing confusion.
What most people should be doing is looking at pictures and video of just about any player prior to 1990. Especially those from the 1950s and 1960s. They are the ones everyone should mimic. They have nice footwork. They waggle beautifully. In contrast, today’s players are more athletic. No normal person in their 40s or 50s can lock their hips up and swing a golf club. Or keep their left heels down in the backswing. Restrictions like that are crazy for the vast majority.
One huge misconception is that so many people think that having a ‘stable’ base means having a ‘still’ or ‘static’ base. ‘Stable’ actually means that you move and create pressure. Moving is how you keep your balance. You can’t do that as well by staying still. So most of the instruction stuff I see on the internet is for high-end players. Not for the average guy.
My goal is to help anyone and everyone to play off single-figures. If you do that, there isn’t a clubhouse you can’t walk into and not think ‘I’m a golfer.’ You will belong. There’s nowhere you can’t go. Of course, getting to single figures isn’t that hard. But improvement gets harder once you get to five or so.
“My goal is to help anyone and everyone to play off single-figures. If you do that, there isn’t a clubhouse you can’t walk into and not think ‘I’m a golfer.’ You will belong.” – Padraig Harrington
I’ve done a lot of 3-D work at home. It’s amazing how little rotation in the hips or shoulders makes to the speed at which you swing the club. I can get my rotational speed up to that achieved by the long drive guys, which is maybe 20 percent faster than most Tour pros. Yet I lose ball speed by doing that. So rotation only has a tiny effect if it is done correctly.
No one has yet come up with a commercially viable way of measuring the force on the handle of the club. The only way you can tell how fast you are swinging the club is through clubhead speed. But two things really determine speed: how much pressure you can put on the linear direction of the grip. And the length of your lever. High hands – not a ‘big’ turn – is key. That way you can get more ‘pull’ on the grip. But other than using a high-speed camera, there is no way of measuring that.
The bottom line is that I’ve gained length over the last few months through sheer guesswork. I’ve tried everything. ‘What if I do this?’ is my favourite question.