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

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

PINEHURST, N.C. — As the date of his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame neared, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington said the preparations held a certain familiarity.

“It’s like a wedding,” he said. “The invites and the speech and all that goes with it.”  

Harrington, who claimed three major-championship victories and is one of four players to have hoisted consecutive titles in the British Open (2007, 2008), is to be inducted on Monday evening in a ceremony at Pinehurst Resort ahead of the 2024 U.S. Open. During his long and prosperous professional career, which also included a victory in the 2008 PGA Championship, Harrington recorded 39 worldwide victories – 15 of which came on the DP World Tour and six more on the PGA Tour.

He represented Europe in six Ryder Cup Matches and later captained the team in 2021. Among his many achievements and honors, Harrington topped the European Tour Order of Merit in 2006 and was named the European Tour and PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2008. 

After representing Great Britain & Ireland in three Walker Cups (1991, 1993, 1995), Harrington won the 1998 Spanish Open during his rookie season on the European Tour. He went on to spend more than 300 weeks in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking. 

During a typically brilliant interview covering all facets of his life as a golfer, Harrington remembered his earliest days in the game when his father, a former Gaelic football star and policeman, helped build two courses for the local police officers. Harrington grew up at Stackstown Golf Club in South County Dublin, and still remembers leveling the 12th green and chasing rabbits there.

“From the age of 4,” said Harrington, the youngest of Paddy and Breda’s five sons, “that was my playground, where I spent my summers playing 45 holes a day. All I wanted to do was beat my brothers.”

By age 15, Harrington was playing off scratch. One of the last times that one of Harrington’s brothers got the better of him, he lost a pound, which his brother pinned to the wall.

“It stayed there for some 20 years,” Harrington said, “just as a reminder that he beat me.”

Despite an undefeated record in singles matches between 1990-96, Harrington never considered turning pro. He changed his mind when he kept beating all the players that were joining the pro ranks.

“I assure you if I had an intention to turn pro, I’d never have spent four years going to night school to become an accountant,” he said.

Harrington was competing in a tournament on the European Tour’s Challenge Tour in Nairobi when he was invited to compete in a tournament in Durban, South Africa.

Six players had already declined but Harrington jumped at the chance. Playing with clubs 4 degrees too upright and suffering dehydration, Harrington finished 46th and won 1,480 pounds.

He rang his mother on a pay phone and proclaimed, “You’ll never believe it. I made the cut and they’re just giving it away.”

That proved to be a pivotal moment in his career.

All of a sudden, he sensed he could do it, that he belonged. In 1998, he played his best golf at the U.S. Open, but only finished T-26. Convinced he needed to improve, Harrington switched to instructor Bob Torrance. Sports psychologist Bob Rotella also played a big role in Harrington going from a frequent bridesmaid to a champion.

“He has one of the most upbeat attitudes,” said Rotella. “I remember the first time he told me he was going to win majors was on a Friday at the Masters 10 minutes after he missed the cut by one shot. I met him at the putting green and he tells me, ‘I just found out today that I’m going to win majors. I got my mind and body to do what I want to do.’ You don’t often hear a guy say he’s going to win majors after he misses the cut on Friday.”

Another critical moment came in defeat at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot when he made bogey on the last three holes and finished fifth. Despite falling short, he realized he had played good enough to win.

That led to his major championship run of two Claret Jugs and the Wannamaker Trophy.

He continues to work at his craft as hard as anybody, but seems at peace with the fact that his best golf may be behind him.

“At some stage, there is a tipping point between innocence and experience and scar tissue and the game tends to get harder as you get more knowledge,” Harrington said. “I still love the game. I’m fascinated by it, I’m obsessed by it, I’m addicted to it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Padraig Harrington is assisted by his teammate Jody Flanagan during a match at the 1995 Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl Golf Course in Wales. (Photo: All sport)

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Clearly winning the last one. I might have struggled to turn pro if I didn’t win the last one.  

GWK: Really?

PH: Yeah, I like closure. Every part of my career, I’ve finished what I was doing. I finished my accountancy — I stayed patient in turning pro, but I kept going and finished my accountancy.  Four and a half years of night school. I like to do what I’m doing and finish it.  

Playing three Walker Cups was great but we hadn’t had a winning Walker Cup, and having a winning Walker Cup in 1995, it was a big deal. It gave me a good bit of closure with my amateur career.  

I played a couple more amateur tournaments. Probably the most important, amateur tournament I ever played was my last. The week before I turned pro, I played the Mother and Son in Ireland and we won it. It’s an all-Ireland tournament, so myself and mom, it was our third year having a go at it.  We finished third, second, then we finished first in the last year. That was a big highlight.  

2008 Open Championship

Padraig Harrington poses with his mother and the Claret Jug after winning 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. (Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Because she didn’t play. There was my dad, my two oldest brothers, myself, maybe my next door — yeah, four of the five boys and my dad were pretty into golf. I could say that four of us out of the five were obsessed, and then my mother didn’t play, and until she started playing she had to battle the golf talk because we would come home and we would discuss a ruling or something that happened at the club, something crazy, and it could take the whole of dinner arguing over this decision or ruling or what should have been done. So my mom banned it for a while. But then, of course, eventually she had to join in. She couldn’t stay out of it long enough. She took the game up herself, and yeah, then it was her who was instigating the golf talk.  

PH: I’m personally fascinated by people’s environments, how it shapes their style of play, maybe because I feel Stackstown completely shaped my style of play. So Stackstown was a very windy, exposed golf course. It’s on the side of a hill, so it had a lot of slopes on the fairways and greens.  You could have brought the best golfer in the world at the time up to Stackstown when I was growing up. If you hit six greens in regulation, that was it. I’m not exaggerating, as in it just was an incredibly tricky golf course. You ended up always having to play smart, avoid big trouble, keep it in play away from the big trouble, make sure you keep the ball out of the hole even if that meant missing the green. Sometimes when you did get it wrong, you just have to have an unbelievable short game to get it up-and-down.  

I kind of laugh at it now because all these stats guys are coming up with strategies to play, and I’ll go, yeah, I was doing that 20, 30 years ago. I learned to be a smart golfer, and I learned how to have a great short game. But in those sort of rough conditions, weather-wise, exposed-wise and no practice rounds, I never really became — ball-striking wouldn’t have been my forte at all. So when I got out on Tour and I’m presented with these driving ranges and brand-new golf balls and all that, I was like a kid in a candy shop, and I couldn’t help myself. But what I had to do was get better and improve my ball-striking because it was just something that wasn’t available to me in my formative years I would say.  

2008 Open Championship

Padraig Harrington with the Claret Jug and Bob Rotella (left) and Bob Torrance after winning the 2008 Open Championship.

PH: You know, everything. There’s a number of people at different stages that have had a big influence on my career, and as I progressed, I suppose as I played better, it opened up new avenues to me. Howard Bennett, who coached me, he was my only coach as an amateur. He’s in his 90s and he’s actually coming to the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. He had a great influence over my mental outlook and my practice and dedication.  

Then a couple of years on Tour, I really wanted to focus on this ball-striking, and having access to Bob Torrance was a big step. I started working with Bob Rotella, and that was like lightbulb stuff when I started with him. I wish I had the innocence and belief to be able to do the Bob Rotella stuff as well as I did the very first day or first week I did it. It’s hard to believe I played so well. I didn’t win the tournament because I hit too many good shots. It was a different world. I could tell you that I’ve never hit a shot with using a swing thought since I started working with Bob Rotella. Yeah, sure, I have, of course, but it’s like 99.9999 percent of my tournament golf shots are without a swing thought.  

Unfortunately, you get caught up by too many swing thoughts when I’m not in a tournament, so I’m kind of not as I should be in that area. You can’t switch it like a light switch. But I’ve always enjoyed working with Bob Rotella. He’s never changed his tune. He gives you responsibility, which I think is — if I’m ever talking to people about psychologists and working with them, I definitely prefer the ones that don’t become a crutch. I prefer coaches that don’t make a player reliant on them, and Bob Rotella is brilliant for giving the players the tools to become self-reliant.

I say he’s a bit more like a schoolteacher. Here’s your homework, go do it. The better you do it, the better you’re going to be. But he ain’t going to do it for you. He can’t do it for you. He knows he can’t be that crutch for you and he knows he doesn’t want to be that crutch. That’s been a stalwart throughout my career.

Bob Torrance
Bob Torrance at the 2010 Ryder Cup with Padraig Harrington.

And then Bob Torrance was fabulous because between the two of us, we were a match made in heaven because I already had the short game. I had the mentality. I had the psychology all going, and he had — I don’t think there was ever a man who’s been as obsessed with the golf swing as Bob Torrance. Every player he worked with became a great ball striker, became a winner.

What’s interesting with the Bob Torrance stuff, everything that’s been rehashed in the modern times with all the modern technology, it’s exactly what Bob says. Everything. You couldn’t say a thing that Bob Torrance taught — you couldn’t go back and say, hey, with new technology that’s different.  Everything lines up.

The great thing about Bob Torrance, he’s a fabulous person to be around. He’s an incredibly good person, good personality, fun person to be around, so he’s brilliant around golf, tournament, practice. We used to practice for 12 hours a day. I used to go to up Scotland and we’d start at 9:00 in the morning, go down and finish at 6:00 with a half an hour break for lunch. Then once dinner was over, we’d start again talking about golf, sometimes go and hit shots in the garage, but we worked for 12 hours, no problem, and he just loved it.  

One of the things that’s kind of constant around all the people I work with, they’re all as obsessed with the game as I am, and Bob was certainly — I said with Bob, we were a match made in heaven.  He said it himself; finally got the guy that wants to stand at the range all day with him.  

2007 Open Championship

Padraig Harrington holds the trophy after winning the 136th Open Championship at Carnoustie, Scotland. (Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images)

PH: You know what, he had many, but my favorite, the one that I live by, he’d say to me every day going out on the golf course after we finished practice and going to the tee, he’d say, these are the happiest days of your life. When you’re young, you don’t realize what that means. He was getting older and he realized, you can’t have the past, you can’t have the future, you can only have today. These are the happiest days of your life. There’s no point in waiting for tomorrow and there’s no point in wishing backwards. It’s just, these are the happiest days of your life. He’d say that every day when you’re going out to the golf course, that enjoy today. That’s what it meant. There’s no waiting for tomorrow. You can’t have the past. You might as well forget that. These are the happiest days of your life.

2022 Alfred Dunhill Links

Padraig Harrington looks on from the 15th tee holding an umbrella in the rain during the second round of the 2022 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns Golf Links in Kingsbarns, Scotland. (Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

PH: Well, probably my greatest trait seems to be that I am very determined, but I would shy away from putting in — I love the game so it never feels like work, but probably the greatest trait I have is I’m an optimist. So every day I get up, doesn’t matter how bad the golf has gone the day before, the minute I start hitting shots, I’m dreaming of the future. I put my head down on the pillow at night and I’m thinking I’m going to find the secret the next day.

Like everybody else, I’ve lost tournaments and you’re miserable on the Sunday evening when you’ve lost, but the minute that I get to the golf course I’m happy, I’m dreaming, I’m hopeful. It’s one of those things, when you can get yourself back up there, the world is your oyster. You really do believe that anything can happen.  

Doesn’t matter how logical or not that is. It’s probably my greatest trait, my optimism that I’m going to get better, that I’m going to find the secret. I know you’re not going to find the secret, but hey, even at this age I’m still practicing, enjoying the practice because of the hope in it. 

2006 U.S. Open

Padraig Harrington reacts to a missed putt on the 18th green during the third round of the 2006 U.S. Open Championship at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York. (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

PH: None of them bother me. There’s a few majors that I came close. Three pars would have won me Winged Foot, and I hit three great tee shots on the last three holes, so I broke in the back of it, 2006. It was an interesting story; I walked off the bleachers into the beautiful garden in front of the clubhouse. The lawn, it’s beautiful. Bob Rotella is waiting there at the clubhouse thinking that he needs to talk to me and that I’m going to be devastated. I hit a 9-iron into the last hole. If I make birdie I’m into the playoff and I three-putted. I played the best golf of my life for 15 holes, got nothing out of the rounds and still had three pars to win.

I should have been devastated, but it was the first time that I had played a major that I could have won it, walked away knowing that I had lots in reserve and I came close to winning it, whereas in 2002 I bogeyed the last to miss the playoff, but I had no idea how I got there. It was nearly like an out-of-body experience that week. I didn’t know it. Whereas in 2006 I was completely in control of where I was with three holes to go, and I played those holes well to a certain extent but made bogeys. So, I was in a great place, I had a plan in place to get my head in the game and it was working. That led to the wins in 2007 and 2008.  

But the Y.E. Yang/Tiger PGA (in 2009), I got into the lead the front nine there. I played in the zone, played great golf. I took a 6 at the par-3 8th and had another chance on the back nine, I came back into it. So there’s plenty of majors further down the road — and to be honest, it’s only majors. I had 40 second places or something like that, so I had messed up plenty of tournaments. Over the years, I’ve had some great finishes to finish second.  

I would do things differently, but I don’t regret anything. They all built to where I got to what I was doing in the game. It all led to that point. I could tell you, the Irish Juniors when I was 18 years of age, I cried after that one because I bogeyed the last three holes there to lose by a shot. It’s not really relevant, but that’s one I cried about. I don’t regret it now.

I’ve been quite lucky that I’ve won at each level as I’ve gone along, so I’ve always progressed. Rather than winning way above myself, I’ve always got to a level and then won there and kept going. It’s been a very nice progression throughout my career.  

Padraig Harrington

Padraig Harrington is watched by coach Bob Torrance during a practice session at Celtic Manor before the 2010 Ryder Cup.

PH: I’ve played my whole life based off fear in golf. I worked with Bob Rotella for years, and you listen to all the psychologists, and Bob was good enough to leave me alone, but other psychologists, they try and tell you fear is a bad thing. Fear always helped me focused. When my back is to the wall, I focus great, and when I’m overconfident — all these situations I’m talking about were overconfidence, and I still get it today. The worst shot you’ll see me hit on the golf course is if I birdie a hole and walk on to the next tee, that’s danger for me because I’m feeling good. Danger.  

The ones that I play well are the ones that keep me awake at night. I fear them, but fear is worthwhile for me.

I only turned pro because I was beating the other guys who were turning pro. I really thought I wasn’t good enough. Look, even with that, if I saw my game — like my first tournament I played here, where I practice 40 minutes from my home at the K Club here, I played with some senior pros. One of the senior pros went into the clubhouse afterwards and told everybody, why is he turning pro, he’s not good enough. Told all the members, everybody who would listen to him, why is this guy turning pro, he’s not good enough.  

So you could say, geez, that was pretty tough, right? If I saw myself at 24 years of age, I would have said I wasn’t good enough. I was dogs that chase cars and pros that putt for pars don’t last, but I was that pro. But I didn’t know any different.  

As I look at it over the years, I spent too much time worrying about Thursday morning and not enough time worrying about Sunday afternoon. What would make my game the best it can be on Sunday afternoon, and you have to assume that you’re going to be there. That was something I would have done when I was at those majors when I was winning. I would have had the confidence to say, I’m going to be in contention here this week. What do I have to do so that Sunday afternoon I feel good about everything? Not Thursday morning, Sunday afternoon. 

2014 Ryder Cup

European captain Paul McGinley and his vice captain Padraig Harrington during a practice round for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.

PH: I don’t. I think it was a necessity for GB&I to expand to Europe, because realistically we were playing for the European Tour. That might change going forward. There will be a lot of Ryder Cup players going forward who don’t necessarily have an affinity to the European Tour, so will play for their country, whereas Ryder Cup was all about the atmosphere that was unique to Europe, the likes of Seve and Sandy Lyle and Woosie and Langer, all created this chip on the shoulder, lack of access to the U.S., to the majors. It was very much the European Tour against the PGA Tour. That hasn’t changed. But it definitely was a European thing.  

As regards the Walker Cup, I think we do well enough in that. If GB&I pulled together further, would it make it stronger? It would definitely make the team stronger. Yeah, there’s plenty of arguments for or against it. I really haven’t got a thought about too much. But it was certainly a necessity in the Ryder Cup. We win enough in the Walker Cup just to keep it taking over that it does need to change, but the Ryder Cup was certainly not going our way for a good while there.

92nd PGA Championship

Padraig Harrington and John Daly walk up the 10th fairway with during the first round of the 92nd PGA Championship on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits on August 12, 2010. (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

PH: Well, he was a great player, for starters. He was a phenomenal player during his heyday, and just incredibly suited for the team environment. With the match play format, foursomes and four-ball, great driver of the golf ball, yeah, there was one in particular that he really could have been picked. The support he gets even today, those are one of the big things on the Champions Tour that stands out. I remember only a couple of years ago playing at Wyndham (Championship) and played in the pro-am on Wednesday, and there was probably 2,100 people on the golf course watching golf on the Wednesday pro-am, and 2,000 of them were watching John. I think from a European perspective, I think players would be a lot more intimidated by John Daly than they would be by the 12th-ranked player. Just the way it is.  

1999 Ryder Cup

Miguel Angel Jimenez and Padraig Harrington of Team Europe during the 33rd Ryder Cup in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo: Harry How /Allsport)

PH: Well, you’re talking about me walking up on the 17th. So I certainly did walk up slowly and I certainly did walk back slowly. I walked up knowing that I was walking up and that I decided that because the green had gotten crusty on 13, the par-5, where the balls were bouncing to, it was on the top tier and I wanted to see how crusty the green was so I walked up, and I did not take the decision lightly to do that. That was an extremely ballsy move for me to take the flak for doing but something that I would have regretted if I pitched it on the top tier and bounced it over the green because I was too afraid of what people would think. But I certainly did not do it slowly. I’ve never used gamesmanship except when I’m playing with my brothers. Wouldn’t ever want to. I’m tough enough as it is.  

Obviously I’ve heard that criticism since then. I did not take the decision lightly to do it, but I knew I couldn’t live with myself, and that’s my personality, if I did not look at that because the greens were getting burned out, and it was on that top tier. If you pitched it up there, it would have gone over, so I wanted to have a look. It was a bit determined, but it wasn’t to influence his game. It was purely to do with my own.

2022 Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Padraig Harrington shakes hands with Bernhard Langer after the second round of the 2022 Dominion Energy Charity Classic at The Country Club of Virginia. (Photo: David Berding/Getty Images)

PH: Well, you never get over them, but you try everything. Went as far as to ask Bernhard Langer what he did on the putting. His was very faith orientated: it’s God’s will, which I couldn’t get my head around so that wasn’t going to work for me.  

The crux of it for me — this is really not going to go down well — it’s actually not practicing as much. So when you start putting badly, you start practicing, and of course your mind is running riot because it’s trying to control many different options, and the problem with putting is no matter what you do, you could hit the best putt, best routine, everything about it perfect, and it misses, and you’ll use that miss to analyze what you’ve done so you’ll actually go, well, I must have done something wrong. So this feedback loop is really, really poor in putting.  

Ultimately you’re going to have to find something that gives you peace to do when you’re putting, just to calm your mind. So pretty simply, everybody has a cue when they’re under pressure. When you start hitting bad putts, you’ve got five or six cues. You don’t have the one thing that you think, this is what I do. It doesn’t matter what your thing is. It really doesn’t, as long as you continually do that one thing, keep going back to it, and that’s your crutch to lean on rather than change it.

So by adding in a bit of technical, by it being a little bit more on edge or a little bit more — feeling like I needed it more during the week, I ended up it all came rushing back, but actually the following week it was fine.  Guys would tell you it will never go away, but I can certainly have plenty of good weeks so I don’t stress too much about it.

2022 Charles Schwab Cup Championship

Padraig Harrington plays his tee shot on the first hole during round one of the Charles Schwab Cup at Phoenix Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

PH: I love it. I love coaching my amateurs in pro-ams. I’ve always been more than curious, fascinated with why everybody is where they are in golf. Like the minute I watch the guy off the first tee, I’m trying to judge what handicap, what ability in the pro-ams. I’m really tuned in from the moment they pick their golf bag up. If somebody exceeds what I think, I wonder why, and if somebody is terrible compared to what I think, I’m wondering why. It’s a fascinating game that I play in my head and I enjoy that bit.  

I used to get frustrated with my amateurs, like just practice your short game from 50 yards in and you’ll get your handicap down. I’d really get annoyed with people over it because they’re not buying into it. It took me a few years to realize that over 90 percent of people who play golf amateur-wise are only interested in hitting a good shot. They don’t care about their score. There’s only a small minority who are very focused on winning, scoring, getting the job done.  I’m a winning, scoring, getting the job done person.  

I think one of the reasons why I put my stuff up on the internet, at some stage you realize there’s no secrets. You might as well tell everybody what to do, so I’m happy just to tell everybody and let them have it. I’m just happy to do it. I’m not trying to make anything out of coaching. I don’t even chase that on my YouTube channel. We don’t put advertisements or anything. I just do it because I like doing it. I want everybody to have a go at enjoying golf. You want everybody to have a chance.   

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)

PH: I’m giving them the winning clubs from the 2008 Open, bags, shoes. Because I have them at home and what use are they to be here? Better off on display somewhere. So the winning set of irons, a driver I used in Carnoustie, 5-wood from that era, not the actual 5-wood, the 5-wood is a replica. I don’t think I put a 3-wood in. Then there’s a couple of odd things in there, golf balls and shirts and things like that.  

2022 Masters

Padraig Harrington looks up to see his shot on the sixth green during the first round of the 2022 Masters. (Photo: Danielle Parhizkaran-Augusta Chronicle/USA TODAY Sports)

PH: I’ve got to give credit to Shane Lowry. He said he thinks he’s going to win tournaments even the weeks he’s not playing. I’m just trying to catch lightning in a bottle. I love playing the Champions Tour because I have a genuine chance of winning, and I love playing on the regular tours because I really am trying to catch lightning in a bottle. I still think I can do it.  

Everybody burns out, but I consider myself of the older generations of golfer, so older generations of golfers, their careers lasted 20 years. If they got 15 good years and five years of a tail-off, and after 20 years they were burnt out, and you could pretty much go through all the careers, and you will find pretty close comparisons, and in that period they get two good years, 18 months’ peak, which will be two seasons but 18 months.  

I recognized this early on in my career, and I still fit the mold perfectly. I was burnt out in 2015, ’16, and I considered doing coaching, I considered doing commentary, and then one day, I’ll tell you what happened. I missed out on the playoff in the States, and I went back and played five tournaments in Europe — Prague, Crans in Switzerland, Hamburg, Amsterdam and London.

There was a couple of Irish lads on tour, so I hung out with those for the five weeks and just had a great time. Just a great time socially, and I kind of realized that I actually go and play the best golf courses all around the world, get treated so well, and nobody wouldn’t want to do this. So why am I burnt out? Why am I finding the drudgery? So I looked at it and I got rid of a lot of the rubbish.  Basically I couldn’t keep up the pace I was keeping. I couldn’t get up three and a half hours before my tee time and do the hour at the gym and the 45 minutes of physio. I just couldn’t do it. In my career, in my heyday, I wouldn’t have eaten a french fry. I didn’t eat a burger for years. I didn’t eat red meat at night for years. I went 10 years not doing this.  

I remember I hadn’t eaten a burger for years, and I went maybe five years when I won the Order of Merit down at Valderrama (in Spain) in 2006. We were in the airport rushing back to get a flight home, and the only thing available was Burger King. So we went to Burger King. There was about six of us. My family were there. We came back with 12 burgers. We were all hungry. I had two Whoppers. I think that was the nicest piece of food I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Bear in mind, I had not eaten a burger for at least five years before that.

GWK: And that was strictly because you thought it would affect your performance in golf?

PH: Everything was about my performance in golf. I still go to the gym. I work out relatively hard when I’m in the gym. But I was two tee times behind Scottie Scheffler at the PGA when he got arrested. So 20 minutes after him on the time sheet. I was in my bed when he got arrested. I would have stayed, whatever, 15 minutes at the course. I was Scottie Scheffler. In that sense, I would have been up three and a half hours before my tee time. I would have done 45 minutes in my room. I would have done two different workouts then when I got to the golf course. I had one with my physio for 30 minutes and then I had a 15-minute dynamic warmup, so that’s an hour and a half before I got to the range, and then I’d practice until dark afterwards. You just can’t keep that up. You burn out, so you look for different things.

I say this anytime I’m talking to businesspeople. You get to that stage in your career, plenty of people feel like they should retire, and I often think, you’ve really got some great skill level to what you’re doing. You’ll never be an expert in anything else than what you’ve spent your last 30 years doing. So what you need to do is stay in what you’re doing but get rid of the rubbish, whatever that is. Whatever is upsetting you. Whatever is something that’s not letting you use your experience and your genius.  

With me, like a perfect example how I describe it to people, in my career, if the Irish lads said to me, hey, we’re going for dinner at 8:00, I’d look at my watch and go, well, I’ve got physio for an hour, I want to go to the gym, I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to be early to bed. Whereas if the Irish lads were going for dinner at 8:00, I’d be going, yeah, that’s great, as in I’m changing my plans. I’m going out for dinner because I know I need that social interaction. I always had social interaction, but it was always on my terms, I suppose, would be a better way. I always had my own crew. My family traveled, so everything was based around my timing, whereas now I go with the flow.

2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge

Gary Player shaks shands with Padraig Harrington on the first tee during the first round of the 2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player CC in Sun City, South Africa. (Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

PH: That might be because, whereas I always had defined goals and would write them down, I probably don’t have them now. I just kind of go with the flow. I struggle with organization now. My poor manager tried to organize interviews and things, the idea of having an appointment in two days’ time would stress me, whereas I’m happy to do the interview, I just do not want the appointment. I don’t have those goals. I want to play great. I’m trying to play great. I’m working on it. I really enjoy the practice.  

GWK: Do you think you’ll play as long as Bernhard Langer?

PH: I’ll play as long as Gary Player. He’s my role model. As I say, if somebody is prepared to bring me out when I’m 80 years of age to wave at the crowd, I will do that. I enjoy it. I probably will be Gary Player. I’ll be probably punching some young person in the stomach saying you’ve got to get your ribs. I will be Gary Player, yes.  

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