Lynch: As Padraig Harrington enters the Hall of Fame, a generation of Tour pros could learn much from his example

PINEHURST, N.C. — In the early days of his career — when he’d accumulated just a few of his 30-odd worldwide wins but none of his major championships and was on no one’s radar for the World Golf Hall of Fame, which he enters today — Padraig Harrington took pride in the fact that there were corners of Ireland in which he was better known for being Paddy Harrington’s son.

Harrington the elder, who died in 2005, was a footballer of some repute, but Gaelic games are an amateur sport so he worked as a cop for the Garda Siochána, Ireland’s police force. His team twice reached All-Ireland finals, the equivalent of a Super Bowl, losing both. By contrast, Brendan Lowry (father of Shane) was on a winning team in 1982 and probably hasn’t had to buy a drink in his home county since. Even against that fervent backdrop, Padraig Harrington would have to admit now that there’s not a village in the land in which he isn’t the best-known member of his clan.

And villagers from Mizen Head to Malin Head don’t need the Hall of Fame to tell them that.

Halls of Fame aren’t really a thing in Ireland. In the United States, regardless of the sport, HOFs are often a subject of heated debate about the appropriateness of the criteria or the admissions and omissions among its members. Golf’s is no different. Most folks deserving of a spot have gotten there, some via the express lane (Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson both won majors after being inducted in their early ‘40s), and some condemned to arrive on the slow bus.

Golfweek Q&A: First-ballot Hall of Fame talker Padraig Harrington shares wit and wisdom on day of induction into World Golf Hall of Fame

Peggy Kirk Bell, for example. She was a charter member of the LPGA Tour and a legendary teacher at Pine Needles, her family’s resort five miles east of Pinehurst, where the new Hall of Fame building debuts during this week’s U.S. Open. Bell was inducted in 2019, three years after she died at age 95. The 2024 HOF class includes seven deceased founders of the LPGA Tour who aren’t already in. One of them, Shirley Spork, passed two years ago. She was 94. Also being inducted is Tom Weiskopf, who left us in ’22 at 79. They aren’t the only new inductees who won’t be alive to give speeches Monday evening. Golf’s Hall is so inclined to posthumous awards that one feels a little extra gratitude when it chooses an honoree who is deserving and above ground.

With Padraig Harrington, the Hall got it right, and at the right time.

I first interviewed him almost 20 years ago at a hotel in suburban New York, days before he won the Barclays Classic. Our photographer brought a vintage box camera, and immediately Harrington fixated on it, utterly intrigued by its inner workings. It was my introduction to one of his defining characteristics: an insatiable curiosity about the world around him. That attribute would seem incompatible with another of his notable character traits — an unshakeable confidence that his considered viewpoint is correct. That combination turned a decent amateur into a world-beater and one of the game’s most beloved figures.

During that ’05 interview, Harrington told me that every January he’d fly to Sandy Lane resort in Barbados for an extensive practice session and on the journey he’d be terrified that everything he knew about golf had evaporated over the bleak Irish winter. I reminded him of that comment just before Christmas in 2007 as we sat at his kitchen table in Dublin. The Claret Jug was a few feet away.

“You know,” he said with a chuckle, “this was the first year I didn’t feel that starting my season.”

2008 Open Championship
2008 Open Championship

2008 Open Championship winner Padraig Harrington poses before his press conference with the Claret Jug and his Wilson 5 wood that he hit his memorable shot on the 17th hole to within three feet at the 137th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Even for the best golfers in the world, doubt is a constant companion. Determination is what defuses it, and they don’t make ‘em much more dogged than Padraig Harrington.

He won that Claret Jug in ugly fashion at Carnoustie, with two balls finding water on the way to a double-bogey on the final hole. But it was a gritty double, and he was flawless in the playoff. He stumbled late at the PGA Championship in ’08 too, but he left with the trophy. In those moments, he embodied a sentiment best expressed by Terence McSwiney, a long-ago playwright and politician from his dad’s hometown: “It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will conquer.”

It was fitting that his foil in both of those majors was Sergio Garcia, who could never equal his nemesis in maturity, grace, grit or professionalism. But then Garcia never had to shag his own practice balls on a wet, windy driving range in the grim Scottish town of Largs, as Harrington did any time he went to work with his late coach, Bob Torrance.

In some important respects, Harrington is dissimilar to many of his peers in PGA Tour locker rooms. He says he never reads his own coverage so it won’t impact how he treats the media. His advice to rookies is this: give your cell phone number to your hometown golf writer and make sure they never get beaten on a story about you. You’d struggle to find a single player on Tour who adopts those precepts, but Harrington practices what he preaches. At the ’21 Ryder Cup in Wisconsin, he exhaustively answered questions in his daily captain’s press conference. On one day, as a PGA of America official announced an end to the session, he insisted on taking a final inquiry from an Irish newspaper reporter at the rear of the room. “He’s come a long way,” the skipper said with a smile.

More than anything else, Harrington is an evangelist for golf. He simply loves it, adores the thrill of a fine shot as much as the challenge posed by a lousy run. All of it feeds his soul. He cannot comprehend how anyone else might not love golf in the same way, and he’s determined to convert them to the cause. On the range at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, I watched slack-jawed as Harrington — on his knees on a towel — took full swings with a driver. It was a new drill he thought would help. Today he passes along similar gems to a huge audience on YouTube. All part of his personalized mission to grow the game.

For most Tour professionals, mimicking Padraig’s approach would be ruinous. The constant seeking, the unquenchable interest in swing theory, the tendency to look at conventional stats from unconventional angles in case a greater truth reveals itself, the giving more than he takes. But the current melancholy moment in which professional golf finds itself is a reminder that in so many respects — in dedication, in decorum, in disposition, in decency — this game would be a damn sight better off if more guys were like him.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek