He came to the European tour equipped with a devastating short game and the discipline to be a sedulous student of the swing. He acquired his first pro tide quickly, a smash-and-grab raid on the Spanish Open in 1996. Not that his family allowed it to go to his head.
In his parents' house back then there were only two pictures having to do with golf. Padraig picked up one in the pro shop at the 1993 U.S. Amateur, a sepia shot of a kid in Depression times wafting a hickory-shafted club. Underneath is the caption, "Tomorrow's Champion."
The other sat silver-framed on the mantelpiece. After his win in Madrid, Harrington flew to Oxfordshire, in England, to take part in the Benson & Hedges International Open. He was already a big boy on the tour and drew Nick Faldo as a partner, this being a time when that meant something.
And? In the second round Harrington took a 13 on a par-5. Things got so bad that the accountant lost track of his score and could calculate it only by performing a quick audit on how many balls he had left in his bag and comparing that with how many he had when he started. The Times of London was sufficiently tickled by the catastrophe to run a color diagram the next day, complete with arrows and splashes—Harrington had hit four balls into the water—that detailed the disaster. Harrington knew nothing about the diagram. He never reads a word that's written about him. But when he got home to his parents' house a week later, The Times' diagram was there in the silver frame in its place of honor. "It's still there," he says, "keeping me where I'm meant to be." HARRINGTON DISCOVERED where he was meant to be when he was 18 and getting ready to leave school. He was captaining his school's Gaelic football team in the city final at Dublin's Croke Park, the great cathedral of the game, where his father played. The ball was thrown in to start the game, and Dessie Farrell, who would become famous in this arena, skipped past Harrington at a speed that Padraig associated with motorized vehicles. Harrington spun in Farrell's wake and hit the deck hard, badly spraining his left wrist.
He played on, because it was Croke Park, but a problem other than Farrell loomed. Harrington was due to travel that evening to Northern Ireland to play golf in the junior interprovincial series. He'd been warned about the dangers of combining sports. Now he was going to get an earful. So he watched Farrell shoot past him all afternoon and concluded that the sport of his father ended here. He would be a golfer.
Not long afterward he graduated from school—a bright guy with great grades and not a clue as to what he wanted to do with them. A brother led him by the nose to night classes in accountancy and told him to buy some time and some options. By the time the course was finished he could be either a golfer or an accountant.
Nightly the benches would fill with the bespoke gray suits of Dublin's up-and-coming business community, and then young Harrington would blow in, swaddled in jeans and sweatshirt, his cheeks red from the windburn of a solitary afternoon on the fairways. They would gaze at his careless youth and shake their heads. The kid's going to fail twice over, they'd say.
Harrington is coming up the 8th fairway at Pebble Beach, and his face is scanning the crowd. "Uh-oh," says a blonde woman in the gallery. "He's looking for me."
Harrington keeps scanning until his eyes meet those of the blonde. She gives him a wave. He winks back at his wife.
He was 18. Caroline Gregan had come to join Stackstown Golf Club. He was playing in a competition. Caroline watched on the 18th to see how it would pan out. Their eyes met. They've been inseparable ever since.