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THE HONDA CLASSIC


February 21, 2017


Padraig Harrington


Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

DOUG MILNE: Like to welcome the 2005 and 2015 Honda Classic champion, Pテ。draig Harrington.

Thanks for joining us for a few minutes. Obviously a place to come back to that's very near and dear to you. If we could get some comments on making your ninth start here in the Honda Classic.

Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, always love being here. I'm surprised I missed out a few years. I would have thought I played every year. I love the venue here. The golf course is great. Obviously West Palm is really nice to visit. I've got my whole family here this week.

So yeah, it's one of those weeks that every year that you would never miss out on.

Q. What's your strategy on the Bear Trap?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, I think I start thinking about it the night before for sure. You're never quite comfortable on this golf course until you're through the Bear Trap. The two par 3s are, you know, certainly 17, is probably one of the toughest holes we play in golf full stop.

You come into 15: 15 is all about getting the right club. You have to be brave and hit the shot, but you really, you're looking at getting the right club. So you're probably starting as you're walking down 14, you're watching the wind, watching the guys ahead of you: Have they gone long, have they gone short. You really do take that impression from the match in front. If they have all hit it long, it might be playing shorter than you think; and if they have gone short, it might be playing longer. You are very much conscious of what the groups around you are doing.

You hope to miss the short putt on the 14th green so you're not up first on 15. You love to see your playing partners birdie 14. I really mean that; so you get another feel for the hole. Then you've just got to man up and hit the shot. You've got to hit a great shot in there. But it's usually about a 7-iron, and again, anything on the green. There are a lot of twos made on the hole because it's a small green, but the reality is everybody will take a three at the hole all the time.

I think 16, believe it or not, 16 is a little bit of a breather. You try and get your tee shot as far down the right as you can. Short right is better than long left, generally, on the hole.

So I would take a club I'm comfortable with off the tee on 16 so that I could hit it down the right-hand side of the hole and keep it as tight as I can to that right bunker. It can be 4-iron to a 6-iron in there, but it's a big target.

So again, it's a fairly generous target that, touch wood, the water doesn't come into play on the right. Again, this, when you don't make many birdies on, but you should be able to make four.

You go up to 17, and the problem on 17 now is it's enclosed. You really struggle to tell exactly what angle the wind is coming at. It can play, you know, 210 yards into a wind. It can be 4-iron into that back right hand pin, and like 15, if you hit it in the left-hand traps, at times, if the green is firm, you're struggling not to chip it in the water.

So yeah, if you hit it in the two traps on 15 and 17, and you get into the middle of the trap or close to the face that you have a good lie; it's a relatively okay and easy up-and-down. But it always seems to go plug up the left-hand side of the bunker, so you're trying to avoid those bunkers nearly as much as you're trying to avoid hitting it in the water. Neither outcome are great.

But 17 certainly is a pressure-filled golf shot no matter what. Because often times you're trying to hold it up into the wind and as I said, there is water on the right-hand side and any mis-hit like I had last, 2015, is going to fall short in that water.

So again, the three holes, certainly 15 and 17, you are thinking about those holes for a long time and trying to figure out your strategy and just really praying to get through them.

Q. Have you decided on surgery?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: No. No, as I said, I seem to have a trapped nerve. I do have a trapped nerve in my neck. My one recommendation is surgery. At the moment, I'm going through trying to calm down the nerve with a cortisone injection.

The problem I get from it is I've pins and needles; I've had numbness in my right hand. I have atrophy in my right triceps. Probably lost about five miles an hour of clubhead speed. I saw last week at the stats that I hit it 50 yards short of where Dustin did last week.

Q. A lot of guys did, didn't they.
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: Well, at 40 or 30 might be acceptable, but 50 is a lot to give up. As I said five miles an hour clubhead speed, eight miles an hour ball speed is 20 yards. And you feel it.

You know, when you are used to having it and you don't have it, that's a lot worse than if you never had it at all. Yeah, it's hurting at the moment in that sense; that it's a bit of a struggle off the tee. And nearly more of a struggle with the irons in terms of, like I struggled to hit an iron over 200 yards at the moment, which that's a bit of a battle.

So hopefully the injections work, and as I said, I'm not in much pain with the neck. But it's hard to tell if they are working because the pins and needles and the numbness take longer to go back and obviously the muscle strength will take even longer to come back. But at the moment, the plan is rehab, get through it.

But I will definitely get another opinion when I get home.

Q. What's the leeway time to Birkdale?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: I have to make that decision reasonably quickly for Birkdale. They are talking up to 12 weeks without hitting a shot and then a couple of weeks. So if I go and have it done, pretty much immediately, I'd be ready to go back playing just sometime in mid-June. So I'd be in good time for The Open.

And the only issue I have is if I delay surgery, thinking I'm getting better, and then I end up having to have surgery in May or something like that; that would be a disaster to miss out obviously on Birkdale and miss out on the PGA, as well, during the summer.

Q. Just speaking of Birkdale, and obviously that clouds things a little bit, but how much have you been looking forward to The Open, going back, and have you been there much at all since you won there?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: I don't think I've been back since I won. I am really looking forward to it. I'm selfish enough at the moment that I'm kind of trying to -- I was focusing on trying to have a great start to the season so that I could get into the Masters, and after that, I would have been focused on trying to focus on having a great midseason to get into the U.S. Open.

The injury has kind of changed my focus, saying, well, looks like I won't be getting into those first two events; that I'd better get ready for The Open Championship. And it is all about that now. My focus has moved to being sharp and ready for The Open.

The annoying thing about the injury, if I do have to take the 12 weeks off, if somebody turned around and said: You have to take 12 weeks off and you're allowed practice, I'd actually be delighted. But having to take 12 weeks off and do nothing is going to be difficult. (Laughter) it's okay. It was meant as funny.

Q. When you won here last, Daniel was nine strokes back and you had a lot of ground to make up. Is that the nature of the course, explosive nature, anybody can run into big trouble?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: This is not a golf course that it's easy to defend the lead on. You get cautious on so many holes out here. I know the Bear Trap takes all the glory. But holes like, you know, I found 2 difficult; 5 difficult; 6 has got to be one of the toughest holes in golf. 10 is a big hole. 11 is okay. 12's okay -- sorry, 11. 11 is probably one of the tougher holes out there.

There's a lot of holes that if you get cautious on, you get defensive; you're racking up a double-bogey. Leaders have always found it hard to lead here whereas if you're a little bit out of the lead, I'm not saying you go out there and relax but you gain some momentum. If you gain some momentum and you've made a few birdies, it's a lot easier to play the Bear Trap when you're going into it feeling good about your game.

So like you could be shooting 5-under par coming into the Bear Trap and you might be 12-under for the tournament. Well, you're feeling a lot better than the guy who is 1-over par and 12-under for the tournament standing on the 15th.

So even though you're both in the same score, both in with the same chance of winning the tournament; one guy is feeling great about his game and the other guy is feeling horrible. And that's what often happens on a golf course like this where you have so much risk/reward.

As I said, 15, as tough as 15 is, it throws up a lot of birdies. So a guy playing well is making birdie and a guy playing badly is making double-bogey. It's one of those golf courses that we all want to be leading on, but ultimately, momentum is a huge part of it on Sunday.

Q. Can you kind of narrow it down to two or three really bad things on No. 6 as you go to that hole, make that hard?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: You know, look, it's a very narrow fairway with water all the way down the left. You know, some trees and bunkers down the right with a green that's built as a par 5 green. Everything about it is as tough a par 4 as you're going to see. It mightn't get the glory because it's the sixth hole on the golf course. If that was the 16th or the 18th, it would be known as a beast on the TOUR.

For me, trying to get through 5 and 6 is my big ordeal for me on the front nine and then once you get around the turn, trying to get through 11, 15 and 17 are the ones that give you sleepless nights.

Q. Speaking of 6, if it were played as a par 5 this week, how would you look at it? Because you're actually probably a little bit closer to the green, aren't you?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: You know, I am a professional golfer, and all of my fellow pros, we should be big enough and old enough to realize that the score on the card doesn't make a difference. But we'd all be a lot happier if it was a five. You know, that's just the nature of it. You made four and you made birdie, great.

It's like the first hole last week at Riviera. You know, it's a giveaway birdie, and it's such a giveaway birdie, but you feel great when you make birdie. If they call it a par 4, it wouldn't make any difference to the score; at the end of the day you played the hole at the same length, but we like making birdies.

Yeah, I think it just makes it tougher if I call 6 a par 4, for sure. Even though maybe guy who is make bogey on it can legitimize it by saying it's a tough four or it's like a five. But for sure, it's one of those holes in golf that certainly gets your focus and concentration. Like I'd be already thinking about how I'm going to play it this week, my strategy.

So yeah there's a lot of holes out there. But those are the ones that take your interest.

Q. Question about Birkdale made me think about something. Do you get anything from Birkdale for winning there? Did you get like an honorary membership at Oakland Hills? Some courses do that.
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: You know, I got, I'd say I'm an honorary member at practically every course in Ireland for winning my majors (laughter). That's actually true. I think every one of them.

I'm not sure -- I should know. But this is the problem when you win three majors in 13 months. A lot of things happen and you don't have time to cover all bases and do everything you would like to do. So I'm not 100 percent sure, no.

Q. What made that one special? Why are you so looking forward to going back there? Did you really particularly like the course?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: I won three majors and they are all different. You know, winning your first major is incredibly exciting. You can only win your first one once. It lacked a little because I double bogeyed the last hole when I was leading.

I was delighted I took my chance in the playoff, but certainly in the back of my mind, there was always questions to be asked. But when I turned up at Birkdale, I was favorite. I played the game the way I would have dreamt of playing as a kid. I hit the ball well. I swung the club well.

I was somewhat -- you know, I was good tee-to-green. I did everything you would want to do. It was very satisfying the way I won the tournament. I won it by four, and I was in the last group on Sunday. There was no coming from behind. I was the favorite. All that sort of stuff made it very, very satisfying. Not as exciting as winning your first major but very, very satisfying, and if anything, it added to my first major win.

It kind of said, yeah, that I didn't just -- you know, it took away the element of me maybe getting a little bit lucky, but that double-bogey down the last in Carnoustie; and then obviously I won my third major, which was ugly and I stole it, but that was so much fun.

So I had three different experiences: A very exciting one, a very satisfying one, and one that, you know, really wasn't mine but I just got an opportunity and I stole it at the last moment.

Q. You also, if I recall, were in kind of the wrong end of the draw at Birkdale, off early.
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: Yes.

Q. When you hear people, I don't know, say complain, maybe whine, like Troon last year --
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: Well, didn't Sandy Lyle walk off the golf course in front of me. The toughest weather I ever played golf in was the six holes, the hour -- actually, no, I probably played three or four holes because it was probably an hour of rain, at Muirfield. Mainly because it's probably the only time I've ever been in a golf course where I wasn't prepared for the conditions.

Obviously Birkdale, it was really, really bad in that morning. It was cold; it was windy; it was wet, but somewhat prepared for it psychologically. The hardest part about Birkdale was I perform well and shot 74. And I remember on the 16th hole, par 5 -- sorry, 15th hole, the par 5, I think I hit three woods to the green; it was that tough day.

I can remember going back to the house, I wandered around the house trying to keep myself busy, but my family are in the lounge ensconced watching the TV. And I walk by and the door is open, and I look in and there is Adam Scott hitting a 3-wood onto the green for a two. I nearly tore my hair out; that that's how got conditions were in the afternoon compared to the morning. Adam would be longer than me, is getting there in two. So that's a good reason why not to watch the golf, and that was the frustrating moment.

Thankfully it stayed blustery during the week. You want the conditions -- well, ultimately you want conditions to be in your favor, but if not, you want them to even out for the week. And the fact that it did stay windy and blustery meant that even if guys got away with it a bit on Thursday, it would catch up with everybody for the whole week, and that's what it did.

Q. Shouldn't it set an example for those that do wind up on the wrong side of the draw?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: I use it as a good reminder. There's no doubt that I can win from the wrong side of the draw. There's a lot of things, you know, I can win a major double-bogeying the last. I can win a major -- I've won tournaments hitting it out-of-bounds. I can win The Honda Classic hitting in the water on 17.

All those things I use as good in the memory bank to say, actually, I can survive what otherwise people would think, you know, you can't win a tournament. If you're going to double-bogey the 72nd hole, surely you can't win. Well, I proved them wrong. Like that, I got the wrong side of the draw.

And obviously I have an advantage in bad weather. I don't like it but I have an advantage. If only I had a penny for every time somebody says to me an a wet day: "You must really love it, you come from Ireland." There's a reason why I play golf in the States and not Ireland. It's the weather I leave. (Laughter).

Yeah, I'm good in it but it doesn't mean I love it. I actually don't like driving the ball in wet weather. It scares the life out of me, because with the gearing effect, it just really slides off the clubface. But we can manage it.

Q. Could you talk about when you won here, how important was that to your psyche to know that you could be competitive and know that you could win again?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: This 2005 or 2015?

Q. '15.
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: I was winning anyway. I was winning tournaments. Winning out in Asia, winning Grand Slam tournaments. Winning here was out of the blue at the time. What it said to me, and I've reversed the way I've played my golf in my career. Up to my major wins, I got into contention an awful lot of times.

Probably up to 2006, I used to get in contention an awful lot of times. I had 29 second places. Obviously had third and fourth places with it. I had some wins, obviously, but not a huge amount. Since I started winning majors, I haven't gotten into contention that much. But when I do, I win. I've got a seriously high conversion rate compared to what I had in my early career.

So winning in Honda, all it did for me was said, wow, I'm so much better of a player when I have the bit between my teeth; when I'm under pressure; when I have the goal of winning and not just playing okay or doing okay. It really gave me a good boost. And I had seen that in the other tournaments I'd won. Like I have such a better chance at hitting a big shot when failure is out of the -- you know, hitting -- I do much better under pressure, at the end of the day, my focus is better.

If you look at Players over the years, every one of them will tell you, when the game wets out of them is when they lost the butterflies, when they lost that sort of buzz on the Thursday morning. I'm still fascinated with the game; I still like the idea of getting into contention, the excitement that brings and the nervousness, and it certainly seems to make me that much sharper.

I do not fear losing. That's my biggest advantage. I don't care if I make a mistake down the stretch. Maybe because, I was saying to Doug, maybe because of the fact that I have seen myself make mistakes and still win coming down the stretch, and it's a very positive reminder when you can do that.

But yeah, I like to say, I can put my neck on the line and I don't mind it getting chopped off. Because if I get -- if I lose, you know, the more times I lose, the more opportunities I have to win and ultimately the more wins I get.

Q. Came in late, so sorry. Post winning at Birkdale, did you ever hear from Greg Norman? Did he ever make any sort of approaches to you?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: I talked to Greg a bit afterwards. You know, he couldn't have been nicer on the day or afterwards; as in, too nice. You've never seen somebody as gracious, as happy for me to have won.

Yeah, you know, I wouldn't have known Greg in his heyday but I would have assumed he's like most golfers; he'd be a lot harder. But I think, you know, at the stage of his career, I'm assuming he has mellowed, and I see it happening to myself.

I look at young guys now and I'm happy to help them. Whereas 20 years ago, they were my competitors; I keep everything to myself. If I thought I had the secret, it was mine. Whereas now, I think there's enough for everybody out here.

So I'm a little bit more giving, let's say, to players. I think that's what I kind of felt from Greg. He was so gracious. He played fabulous golf on the Sunday. He really did hit the golf ball well and things just didn't fall in place for him on the given day and he still came very close to winning.

So yeah, he was exceptionally gracious and I've talked to him since, and again, always stayed that way and genuinely seemed to get the feeling that he was happy for me to win.

Q. Curious about one thing. I noticed last week, you don't sign golf balls unless they are yours. Phil doesn't sign golf balls, a number of others.
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: Actually it did come from Phil to be honest. I don't actually think he signs them at all. We give the golf balls to the marshals as a thank-you for the work they do, the standard bearer and the scorer. So to try to keep the golf ball a little bit special, you only sign them and hand them out to those -- clearly, I sign all my golf balls. If I give out a golf ball, I sign it. So my own golf balls, I will sign and that.

I think the problem is with signing golf balls, it comes, as well, from the fact that you're moving. You can't sign a golf ball unless you stop. I'm not saying it's a difficult thing but there's a little bit of a knack to signing a golf ball. It takes a little bit of time.

So you'd like to sign the golf ball in an isolated situation, but when you're moving down a line, okay, Riviera, I might have 50 signatures to do, something like that, maybe a bit more. Obviously the golf ball is taking twice the time. So just to get through people, and things like that, it's easier to just to keep it to your own ball and keep it somewhat special for the people you do give the golf ball to you.

Q. Did you get that from Phil or did he say something?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: I think I would have noticed it from Phil from playing with him over the years. I like the idea that there's something special there for the standard bearer and the scorer. It's not the only way you can get it but at least genuine if you get -- you can talk me into it to be honest. You saw that little girl talked me into it. But generally, making a speedway through the autographs and signing for everybody, it's a lot easier tear to sign a hot than a golf ball. Golf ball might be their first choice, but they nearly always have a backup.

Q. What's the strangest thing you've signed?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: I'm trying to think -- I know there's something funny. I really signed something very odd. I'll have to come back to you on it. There's definitely --

Q. Not any part of anyone's body?
Pテ.RAIG HARRINGTON: Yes. A lot of arms. A lot of arms in fairness. Strange. What did I sign strange? Been asked to sign a ball marker. That's difficult. (Laughter).

You know, if it's a fan, you genuinely will go out of your way to sign whatever it is. I've run away from one or two signatures on body parts. I've gotten a little bit older; I probably wouldn't do it now. Back when I was a young kid, yeah, I've kind of gone the opposite direction. (Smiling).

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