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Rocky Roots

Out of mountainous terrain in Ireland, Harrington's father helped found and build the course where the three-time major champion got his start.

September 17, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

DUBLIN, Ireland -- You're kidding, right? You mean the world's latest iconic golfer, winner of half of the last six majors, best player on the dynastic European team entering the Ryder Cup in Kentucky . . . he learned and ripened on a course his father and other policemen built by hand and opened in 1976 with nine scraggly holes?

Oh, sure. And these members of the Garda Siochana -- police force -- wearied of exclusion from snootier clubs so they took picks and shovels and pried rocks from the hillsides and built greens as Paddy Harrington so competently built the seventh? And they ignored those course architects who found them loopy for choosing this scruff overlooking Dublin from the south for this nouveau Stackstown Golf Club?

And then the fifth son of one of the bedrock founders turns out to be Padraig Harrington?

"It genuinely beggars belief," said Stackstown Golf Club founding member Patrick Power, who remembers when police Commissioner Edmund Garvey first took him to view the land in 1972 or 1973. Garvey, who never played golf but thought a club worthwhile, peered in, and Power saw no green except in the ditch on which he stood. And founding member Mick Greville, the club captain in 1996, said, "It was kind of grazing land. Cheap." And three-decade member Michael Giltinan said, "It is literally dug out of the mountain." And the 1994 club president Power said, "There was an awful lot of manual work clearing shrubs, stones, trees," which he learned when he passed cinder blocks one day and "couldn't swing a tennis racket for two weeks."

And Paddy Harrington before his death in 2005 said to Dermot Gilleece in the Sunday Independent, "With the indulgence of my superiors, there was hardly a day when myself and about eight or nine colleagues weren't up there moving earth and shaping greens."

Roughly 150 garda joined up at first. Greville recalled it cost 50 Irish pounds plus 52 per year. Giltinan recalled the clubhouse, a hut where "six people could go in and change their shoes and leave their shoes there while out to play."

Founding member Terry McMahon recalled how Dubliners would say, "Stackstown? What's that?"

"Older courses would look down their noses at us," he said, and winked, "Now we're looking down at them!"

So Padraig Harrington, born 1971, formed here, in this collegial club. Remember, he's the plodder who thought himself inadequate to turn professional, who studied accounting and reckoned he'd work somewhere in the golf industry, who turned pro only because he noticed amateurs he kept beating doing same, who yearned to finish maybe 100th on the money list in his rookie year of 1996 but finished 11th.

And besides, everybody has a story of the toil spotted in Paddy's fifth son, the one who grew to win the 2007 British Open and say, "I was no boy star." It's almost as if his every swing conveys he hailed from a course they built with picks and shovels dislodging rocks from a mountainside.

They'll tell you he "was the most dedicated man that was ever a member of this place" (Tom Daly, president, 2007). They'll recollect the January after he got his tour card and they arrived to see him on No. 16 (McMahon). They'll speak of his "total commitment" even at ages such as 12 (Giltinan). They'll tell you how nobody could putt the 12th one day, but he knew every millimeter enough to line up a putt for fellow junior member Caroline, his future wife, so she could sink an 18-footer (Greville).

Then one Sunday in July 2007, as he simmered along in a very good pro career, the Stackstown 19th hole whose side windows overlook the Irish Sea quieted for a moment. Sergio Garcia's eight-foot par putt to win the British Open rolled toward the No. 18 cup at Carnoustie while Harrington waited in the hut having double-bogeyed the last to trail by one. Garcia's ball met the hole on its left lip and turned away.

Harrington steeled himself and won that playoff, admitting he would have "struggled to come back out and be a competitive golfer" had Garcia's par sank. He brought a champion's gait to the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale and won that, then a fierce gaze to Oakland Hills for the 2008 PGA and won that.

Now as you drive the meandering road into Stackstown past the gorgeous grass and the three deer hanging out, there's a billboard aside the club showing Padraig in three photos with three trophies.

Now there are the necessary reassurances of an abiding humility. McMahon said, "If he was here at the moment, you know where he'd be sitting? He'd be sitting behind that blackboard. Just a total gentleman."

Power recalled playing some snooker in the clubhouse with Harrington's father-in-law when Padraig walked in, Power's son chided him for not getting some promised T-shirt, and Padraig ripped off his own shirt, handed it over and stood there shirtless.

Over at Kimashogue Cemetery, there's a stone bench beside Paddy Harrington's grave where a fast inscriber has listed the three major titles just below this:

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