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Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Hindsight 20/20 for Padraig Harrington

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Given all he had accomplished, and what he seemed to risk by messing with success, Padraig Harrington certainly set himself up to be doubted, questioned and second-guessed.

He had won three major championships over two years and was firmly planted among the top five players in the world. He had won a playoff over Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie, rallied to beat sentimental favorite Greg Norman at Royal Birkdale, then stared down Garcia again at Oakland Hills.

That was three majors out of six. And then he decided to change his swing?

Harrington
Since his victory at the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, Padraig Harrington hasn't won on either the PGA Tour or the European Tour.

Given Harrington's good nature and willingness to discuss such a move in detail, he was generally given a pass. And of course there was evidence to suggest that such a move wasn't all that crazy, given what Tiger Woods had accomplished in twice going through swing overhauls after winning majors.

But here we are nearly four years later, and Harrington has failed to win again on either the PGA or European tours. He heads into this week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am needing to finish first or second to qualify for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in two weeks. He also isn't yet qualified for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

Harrington, now 40, has slipped to 93rd in the world.

But you won't hear him lamenting his decision to change his golf swing. Quite the contrary. He simply wishes he had kept quiet about it.

"As you know, I talk too much. It's an Irish trait. I did what I normally do: I talked,'' Harrington said Wednesday at Pebble Beach, where he makes his 2012 PGA Tour debut after playing two tournaments on the European Tour. "I think it's interesting what I'm doing, and I hope other people think it's interesting.

"Maybe it's my ego, but I like to tell people. But the difference is there were more people listening. I had a bigger platform. So, over the other years when I talked, I didn't get as much noise back.''

Harrington's point is this: He has always made changes in his golf swing, it's just that, after he won three major championships, more people took notice.

"I made a massive change with [teacher] Bob Torrance in '99,'' Harrington said. "I've made changes. … When I won in Carnoustie [in 2007], I was playing with a draw. When I won in Birkdale [2008], I was trying to play with a fade. So I continually changed. But after 2008, I talked about it.''

Yet the changes have not produced results, which is why there are plenty who wonder whether Harrington made the correct moves. His only victory since capturing the 2008 PGA Championship came at the 2010 Iskandar Johor Open, an Asian Tour event.

In the past two years on the PGA Tour, he has had just one top-three finish. Last year, he dropped to 107th on the money list and failed to advance to the third leg of the PGA Tour playoffs.

It wasn't much better in Europe, where Harrington failed to qualify for the season-ending Dubai Championship.

And yet, ever-optimistic Harrington talks only about the positives. He began working with swing coach Pete Cowen this past August and with a new mental and practice coach named Dave Alred -- who also works with world No. 1 Luke Donald -- and left Abu Dhabi two weeks ago raving about the strides he had made.

As for his swing, Harrington said the biggest thing right now is "trying to keep my shoulders connected more. That would be it. It's reasonably straightforward.''

But in golf, it's always about the scorecard, and Harrington acknowledges that he needs to start putting up some results.

At the moment, aside from the majors, he is not eligible for the World Golf Championship events. And that very much puts his chances of making a seventh European Ryder Cup team in doubt.

"It's going to just come down to me winning tournaments,'' Harrington admitted. "I have a quantum leap to get into the team. It's not one of those years that I'm going to just play nicely and gather points. Whether I win in the U.S. or win in Europe, it will come down to just winning.''

That's something Harrington has done little of lately, but he hardly talks like someone who is worried about it.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.