BETHLEHEM, Pa. — At the risk of wearing this hit out of a current playlist: The aching beauty of professional golf tournaments lies in the adventures a golfer endures along the way. to the bottom of the 72nd hole. That has been true for a hundred years and more. Who can forget Walter Hagen at the 2022 Open Championship at the notorious RSG? He turned over a pair of 300. The odds have been coming in steadily ever since.
Which brings us to Sunday. At Gee Chun for a shot at the LPGA Championship in Congress. (Great!) Xander Schauffele for two at Hartford. (Dude!) And then there was Padraig Harrington in Saucon Valley at the US Senior Open. (Paddy!) He managed three white-knuckle cross-country putts on 70 and 71 and 72 to beat Steve Stricker by one shot.
His screaming correspondent, watching closely, could barely breathe, so wracked with anxiety was he.
By the way, at one point in the tournament, Harrington had a six-shot lead (as did Chun with seven and Schauffele with five).
Stricker posted an early 9-under, following an impressive 65 at the par-71 Old Course at Saucon Valley, which features three 18-hole courses. After a birdie on the 15th, Harrington rode 10-under 16 to the house.
Maybe you saw the sign on the way to the airport:
Golf tournament. It makes you feel alive. Pass it on.
This question comes from one of our new sponsors, Twilight Zone Golf Queries, makers of great golf trivia questions:
Q: We all know that Phil Mickelson, at age 50, won the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah. Name two 2021 Ryder Cup captains who also made the cut in that championship.
A: Padraig Harrington (Europe) and Steve Stricker (USA).
Yes, Harrington finished three shots behind Mickelson. Stricker finished 10 shots behind Mickelson. Harrington’s T4 on the Ocean Course got him into this year’s Masters. Mickelson did not play in this year’s Masters. He also did not play in the US Senior Open at Saucon, although he had a spot waiting for him.
“I wish Phil would have played here, I wish I had a chance to try and beat him,” Harrington said Sunday night, Sharpie in hand, signing country club flags, as winners are always asked to do.
Here’s a quartet of great golf talkers active in the game today: Paddy; Geoff Ogilvy of the Fire Pit himself; born conversationalist Colin Montgomerie; and (by his own admission) Phil himself. You may remember Mickelson at the CBS booth with Nick Faldo and Jim Nantz at the 2020 PGA Championship: “Thank you, it’s good to be here. There are three things I do well: play golf and talk about golf.”
As for Harrington, the Golf Writers Association of America threw a party when he was announced as the European Ryder Cup captain. Jokes aren’t his thing, though he has delivered a steady stream of them. (Years ago, at the Masters, a Scottish fan on the course said to him, “Would you sign this for me, Mum? You’re his favorite golfer.” To which Harrington replied, “I would have thought your are his favorite golfer”). Harrington’s main thing is the long, discursive and nuanced response.
Below are some questions I posed to Harrington after his win at Saucon and his answers, with a bit of editing for speed and style. The questions were asked at Harrington’s USGA press conference, as he headed to the USGA winner’s reception and later, at a Saucon Valley men’s pub with a ping pong table and, on Sunday night , a recorder.
Q: It’s hard to believe that just 13 months ago you finished three strokes behind Phil Mickelson in the PGA Championship. A lot has happened in golf since then, with the Ryder Cup and everything else. Does it seem like forever ago?
Harrington: You remind me of the Ryder Cup. It would have to be Steve Stricker chasing me. Steve, give me a break, please!
Steve is a tough competitor. He certainly seems to have one on me over the years. So it’s nice to have one back in it this time.
Has it only been 13 months since that PGA? Wow. I had a lovely partner, Shane Lowry, at the PGA that Sunday. He is a great partner to play with. Gene Sauers was excellent to play today. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes to how well you play on a Sunday, if you have a good group, someone you feel very comfortable with. Gene was very nice to be with, as was Angel, his caddy.
Thirteen months and a lot has happened in that time, no doubt. As they say, “interesting times are a curse.” Something like that.
Q: I know this question is a little crazy, but if you took you and 155 guys from last week at Brookline and brought them here this week and had them play on the exact same golf course, do you think anyone would shoot for below 274? ?
Harrington: I think so, yes. But she would have shot under 10 under par if the other guys were here. I wouldn’t have been defending. I would have been attacking. I would have shot lower. If there was someone in front of me, I think I would have shot lower.
But if you put a field of those young people, the depth is very strong. You imagine your chances playing one-on-one against one player, but when you play one-on-one with 155 of those youngsters, they’re pretty good when they’re fit.
Q: Have you ever heard Seve say that there is nothing more difficult in golf than playing with a big advantage?
Harrington: Some players are good with an edge. I never, ever felt comfortable out there. It’s easier to be one shot behind with nothing to lose. I can do it, but it’s not fun when you always have in mind not to make mistakes.
Q: Are you worried at all that LIV Golf could hurt Champions Tour golf, that you could have golfers like Phil and, in a few years, Sergio and Dustin Johnson and others who will never play on the senior tour?
Harrington: I hadn’t thought of it that way. We’ve already seen what LIV money has done to the US tour. What my main concern is what it will do to the European Tour. You don’t want it to become a second-tier tour. But it could have an impact on the Champions Tour. Phil could have played here this week. But he played last week at the US Open and now he has a LIV event this week. I wish Phil had played here, I would have liked the opportunity to try and beat him. It would have been good for the tournament to have him here.
By the way, Harrington’s victory paid him $720,000. It’s not exactly a Chicken Scratch, though sixth place at the LIV event in Portland this week will pay out $800,000. On Sunday night, Harrington didn’t focus on the size of his payday, even though it is one of the biggest of his long career. He was looking at the trophy, which is named after Francis Ouimet, and the names of golfers who have won two or more British Opens came to mind. Y a US Senior Open, as he has done.
“Let’s see. Player Gary. Jack Nicklaus. Arnold Palmer. Lee Treviño. Very good company. No tiger!”
Woods has the British Open – three, in fact! – but he won’t be 50 until the 2026 US Senior Open. I could imagine him turning the senior triple crown, the Senior PGA Championship, the US Senior Open and the Senior British Open, into something.
One more thing from Paddy Harrington as a warm and quiet Sunday night settled in at Saucon. This was for a group of club members and USGA officials:
“I think the biggest compliment I can give you is this: I would like to bring my friends here to play golf.”
That implies a lot of things, and one of them is this: the boy likes to play golf.