Padraig Harrington: 'I've always been optimistic I would come back'

The Irishman scratched his seven-year itch earlier in March when he triumphed at the PGA Tour event at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, winning a playoff with American Daniel Berger.

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But Harrington -- whose last win on either the PGA Tour or European Tour came at the U.S. PGA Championship back in 2008 -- told CNN he had always been fully attuned to the ups and downs of life as a professional golfer.

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And the 43-year-old said his love for the game and optimistic outlook had kept him going as he continued his battle to return to contention for prizes.

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Harrington's three major titles all came in 2007-08, a golden spell that saw him twice lift the Claret Jug as the winner of back-to-back British Opens.

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But fast forward to 2014 and an out-of-sorts Harrington missed his first U.S. Open for 15 years when he failed to advance from qualifying -- part of a tumble in form and fortune that saw him slump to 279th in the world before he rediscovered the winning touch in Florida.

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He explained: "I peaked in 2007-08. It's impossible and foolish to think that you could keep that up.

"You know, peaks are peaks, and so you always follow them with a down period -- and then hopefully you'll have more peaks.

"There is really no downside when you're a PGA Tour pro. No matter how bad (form and results can become) it's still a really nice life.

"So no, I've never felt like I've had a downside. Yeah, my performances dis-improved (sic) and that's tough ... that's really tough.

"It's a lot easier to play golf when you're playing well, I can tell you that. But I didn't feel bad about it. I've always been optimistic. I've always been sure that I would come back."

Harrington said that although he felt he had played "my best tee to green golf ever in 2012," he had been afflicted by the yips -- a problem with putting -- in both that and the following year.

"That held me back, and it was something to work through," he said. "But I love the game of golf -- I just love playing it. I'm fascinated by it, I'm intrigued by it. Really intrigued by it."

His enduring love for the game began at Stackstown Golf Club, outside Dublin, where he was soon displaying a natural talent under the watchful eye of his policeman father -- one of the course's founders.

"Policemen struggled to get into golf clubs then, so himself and some other policemen got together and they built their own course," he explained.

Even in those days, the attitude that has stood Harrington in good stead during the tough times was in evidence -- he never, he says, considered golf to be hard work, and he still doesn't.

"It wasn't until I was about 14 years of age that I started giving up other sports to play golf," he explains. "At 14, I still thought I was going to be a Gaelic footballer.

"That was still my first love -- but I started winning tournaments, winning golf events, and it's a lot easier winning an event on your own than it is letting in three goals as a goalkeeper.

"So it was an easy choice for me to make eventually, but it really was circumstantial. That fact I had the facility (Stackstown), somewhere to come and play, just gave me the opportunity."

Opportunity led to enjoyment, and enjoyment led to the idea that he could make a living from golf -- but he never felt he would amount to much more than a "journeyman pro." And, until he started playing in tournaments, did not realize how well he might be capable of doing.

Any thoughts of being "just" a journeyman were blown away by a confident start to life in a faster lane, but it wasn't until he became a winner on home soil that Harrington found the belief that he could become a contender for major honors -- even though he had already triumphed 10 times on the European circuit, twice in the U.S. and three times in Asian events.

In 2007, he was crowned the first home victor in the Irish Open for a quarter of a century, something he describes as "a huge, pivotal moment in my career."

"The biggest win that really set me on a path was the Irish Open," he said. "By crossing the line at the Irish Open, it gave me the confidence that I can handle this. I can manage this. I can deal with the outside pressures and get the job done."

He tied for 43rd at last weekend's 2015 edition at Royal County Down and is struggling to win at place at this month's U.S. Open after missing out at a qualifying event ahead of his home tournament.

Ranked 86th, he needs to propel himself into the top 60 with a big result at the PGA Tour's St. Jude Classic next week.

So which, of all his facets, is the quality that has kept Harrington, for all his recent frustrations, coming back for more?

"I'm very much an optimist by nature," he says simply. "I can have a bad day on the golf course, I can have a bad tournament -- but the minute I get back on the horse I'm always looking forward. I'm somebody for whom the glass is always half full.

"You know, I'm still hopeful of improving every day, and that's what keeps me motivated. The day I don't feel like I can improve is probably the day that I'll be retiring."