He didn't find the reversal easy to live with. It's weeks later, and Harrington is due some good fortune. Since the Belfry he has listed badly, losing weight and losing confidence. Two finishes outside the top 30 have hurt, and he feels golf grinding him down. Now he is in Pebble Beach, putting himself back together. It's the Friday night of this hurly-burly U.S. Open, and Harrington is trying to get his second round finished.
He is in an awkward situation, taking his putt here on the 10th hole. It's—well, to be frank, it's dark. The sky grew inky quickly, and scarcely anyone is around. He's leaning over this 10-footer. It crosses his mind to mark his ball and head for a bath, a nice dinner and a warm bed, but sometimes golf makes even the accountants crazy. He gazes at his putt for the longest time. Finally he takes the putter back, and as he does, the ball falls backward on the grass. Ever so slightly, as if fairies were pushing it. It moves maybe a quarter of an inch.
At least he thinks it did. It's dark, after all. He looks around for his caddie, for his playing partners. Nobody is near him, just some shapes. Not a soul within 10 yards. He's due a break, isn't he? The ball didn't move, he tells himself. Or did it? Character, though, is what you do when nobody is looking, and Harrington, standing in the dark, calls a shot on himself.
The shot makes the difference between finishing in a tie for fifth and a tie for fourth. The call makes the difference between being able to live with himself or not. "At the end of the day it cleared my mind by calling it," he says. "I'm 95-percent sure it wasn't an optical illusion, and I had to call it. You accept these things and hope you'll get a break somewhere else down the line."
Somewhere down the line. Madrid again. Last month's Turespa�a Masters. Harrington is winning from the front at last, but pieces of his game are falling off as he goes. He three-putts the 9th to drop a stroke. He's all over the place, and on the 13th it looks as if he'll pay the price. He hits a drive way left and takes double bogey. He's only a shot clear now and looking at the possibility of losing a tournament he should have won. He doesn't read the next hole very well. Here's a poor drive to the par-5 followed by a shot way left of the green.
He's struggling. Accountant debates with golfer. Ease the losses. Be careful on this one. Maybe you'll finagle a par that would be a fine dividend for this reporting period.
The rap has always been that he plays like an accountant. He doesn't, though. Not always, anyway. This time the golfer wins out. He sees the chance to play a pitch from under a tree and up and over a bank and a bunker. He plays the shot, and it comes out six feet from the pin. Holes the putt for a birdie. Never looks back.
So you're interested? This golfer is for the long haul. You'll find him wherever he needs to be. He'll be on the course or in his hotel room with Caroline. They'll be watching the History Channel or laughing over a Gary Larson cartoon.
He has played on five continents in the last 18 months and feels he's moving to the next level. He studies the strong elements of everyone's game and then, with Bob Torrance, his coach, models his own components accordingly. More and more that means imitating Tiger Woods. They'll be in proximity again this week at the American Express Championship at Valderrama. Harrington will be watching patiently and quietly.
Come Ryder Cup time you'll see him at the Belfry, striding the fairways where he should hold the course record but doesn't. If you watched him on the final day at Brookline, you would have seen him conversing with the Irish in the crowd. Men with mobile phones were listening to the All- Ireland football final. Cork was losing again. Harrington had to know the score.