Padraig Harrington earns his first USGA title at US Senior Open Championship

BETHLEHEM, Penn. – When the series of books are published under the title “Golf: The Game That Cannot be Explained,” a chapter will surely be included – be it in Vol. I or II or III or perhaps IV – on the 2022 US Senior Open at Saucon Valley CC.

Should emphasis be given to the drama that unfolded in Sunday’s final round with Steve Stricker’s torrid back-nine, 4-under 31, that would be understandable. But what would be most appropriate as an introduction would be the observations spoken Saturday night by one Padraig Harrington.

Then in possession of a five-stroke, 54-hole lead, Harrington offered this: “I could play good (Sunday) and have a nice comfortable day. I could play average (Sunday), and someone will have to come at me. Or I could play badly (Sunday), and I’ll still have a chance.”

What we got Sunday, golf fans, was door no. 2 because while Harrington didn’t do anything wrong to possibly lose this senior major, Stricker indeed came at him with a fury that made for a spirited finish.

Into the record books will be entered Harrington’s final-round, 1-over 72 for 10-under 274, just clipping Stricker’s 65 – 275.

But record books always need ample context and there was plenty of that on the final day of a four-day celebration of demanding conditions at a course that has now hosted eight USGA championships.

Consider, first and foremost, how Harrington had piled up 15 birdies and an eagle through three rounds, steamrolling the par 5s in 9-under. Then try to comprehend how he made just two birdies though 14 holes Sunday and made birdie on just one of the three par 5s.

Consider, also, how Stricker in Saturday’s third round made bogeys on two of three par 5s and made just four birdies in a dismal 73. Then try to comprehend how in Sunday’s closing round he played near perfect golf and charged home with birdies on six of his final 11 holes, including shots stuffed inside of 6 feet at the par-3 17th and par-4 18th.

Consider how Harrington walked off the ninth green with a five-stroke lead, then heard roars several holes later, and realized Stricker was within two.

You cannot explain, of course. It’s golf.

Stricker, for one, didn’t choose to go deep. It was simple. “Hats off to him,” said Stricker. “I played with him yesterday (when Harrington outscored Stricker, 66-73) and he played great.

“It was close, but he was the better player this week.”

Showing off the beauty of golf, what took a back seat in Harrington’s victory was the power he demonstrated Saturday when he reached a 608-yard par-5 and made eagle; instead, sitting proudly up front was one of the game’s most underrated skills.

The two putt from long range.

But kids seem to only dream of making that one 15-foot putt to win that most special tournament. Never do they say to themselves, “This is a two-putt to win a major.” Why is that?

“Because there’s no glory in that,” laughed Harrington. “There would be no glory (in trying to two-putt for a win).”

Yet, what will forever be remembered is how clutch two-putting nailed down this victory for the Irishman – from 25-to-30 feet above the hole at the par-4 16th, from miles away at the par-3 17th, and from perhaps 20-to-25 feet at the 18th.

So, chalk up the glory, if you want, for the 25-foot birdie putt made by Harrington at the 15th, the shot that ultimately won. Arguably one of the game’s clearest thinkers said he would savor other aspects to the win.

It was, Harrington noted, his first USGA victory. “I’ve added something I’ve never had,” he offered with clear pride.

And at some point, Harrington interrupted his own train of thought to remember last fall’s Ryder Cup and how this would have looked had he been beaten by Stricker.

“The Ryder Cup,” he chuckled. “It would have to be Steve Stricker chasing me down. Steve, give me a break, please.”

Yes, it was only nine months ago when Harrington captained the European team and got soundly defeated by the Stricker-led Americans. And it was only 13 months ago when then 49-year-old Padraig Harrington finished tied for fourth in a PGA Championship won by 51-year-old Phil Mickelson.

Stunningly wild, that championship at Kiawah Island. In some ways it revitalized Harrington. It made him even more excited to come into the world of the PGA TOUR Champions, earned him an invite to the 2022 Masters, and inspired him to commit to more ball speed and power.

Such thoughts seemed to make Harrington smile, even as he conceded that so much has gone in the world of golf since then. But mostly, what has truly shined is the competitive fire that burns deep within these golfers of all ages.

“When you come to the PGA TOUR Champions, you’re here to win tournaments and win the big tournaments and win the majors,” he said.

Harrington has himself firmly on that road with his first PGA TOUR Champions win – and a major one at that.

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