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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington proud to be Rio-bound

Padraig Harrington of Ireland smiles after putting on

Padraig Harrington of Ireland smiles after putting on the 18th green during the third round of the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club on July 30, 2016 in Springfield, New Jersey. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Redington

SPRINGFIELD, N.J.

Truth be told, Padraig Harrington recognizes that many of his fellow golfers have very legitimate reasons for skipping the Olympics this year. The younger players are sincerely concerned about the Zika virus. Truth be told, Harrington is not crestfallen that those guys have decided to stay safe and sound at home.

Put it this way, as he did Saturday: “OK, I wasn’t the one sitting in the locker room telling everyone not to worry about it.” He said that with a smile that said even more. It told that, at 44 and through various circumstances, he is on the verge of getting the chance of a lifetime.

Harrington will represent Ireland in Rio de Janeiro next month because Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell both turned down the chance. So did Shane Lowry, who was expected to be his teammate. He understands their thinking and does not fault it. He also understands that they someday might wish they had not missed the opportunity.

“It’s amazing at my age, you look at the younger guys and you just go, ‘Wow, they think this is just going to keep going the same way.’ And it just changes so quick,” he said after shooting 5-under-par 65 early Saturday at the PGA Championship before thunderstorms stopped play. “Who would have thought Tiger would be where he is, stuck on 14 majors?”

His point is, life’s events can come and go like bad weather, totally unpredictably. It seems like only a little while ago that Harrington was playing amateur golf against Woods. Then Woods became perhaps the most dominant player in the game’s history. Harrington won three major championships, then became something of a graybeard on the circuit while Woods sat home with a surgically repaired back and an uncertain future.

The solid, sincere man from Dublin always has seized whatever moment he could, and he will do so again the week after next. He will lead a party of six to catch a charter from the Travelers Championship in Hartford, play a practice round in Rio that Tuesday, try his darnedest to win a gold medal and then stay an extra week — with his wife, their two sons, their nannie and his caddie — to soak in the experience.

Normally he would play in the Wyndham Championship, one of his favorite PGA Tour stops. But not this time. “I think so much of the Olympics, I’m going to take a week’s holiday and see the other events,” he said. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

So he has tickets to watch table tennis, cycling, boxing, diving and gymnastics. “I’m trying to do two things a day,” he said, adding that when he is at home, he enjoys watching those other sports. He can only imagine what goes into preparing for the Olympics in them. Those athletes don’t have four majors every year and a Ryder Cup every two.

“The Olympics is the pinnacle of it all being on the line. You get one shot, that’s it,” he said.

This might be his only shot to be among them, competing for the same type of medal. At this stage in his life and career, a gold would mean as much to him as another major title would.

Which is not to put down McIlroy and McDowell or Americans Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson or the other male golfers who will not take part. Is it fair to demand that they both support their country and evangelize for their sport? Is the latter what the Olympics are really about?

Still, Harrington is doing what is right for him. “It’s amazing, as you get older, you realize, ‘Wow, these things are much more volatile. It doesn’t keep going.’ I think the younger guys think they have time. Unfortunately, they don’t,” he said. “That’s the way it is. In four years’ time, who knows who will be the two best Irish golfers, going to the Olympics? It’s surprising how quick it can change.”

Truth be told, what hasn’t changed since Harrington became a pro, then a star, is that he is one of the class acts in sports. In the realm of being a decent chap, he always has been an Olympian. Here’s to his higher, stronger, faster trip to Rio.

New York Sports