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PGA Tour stars provide coronavirus relief via virtual lesson tee

Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald
Padraig Harrington (left) and Luke Donald, longtime teammates for Europe in the Ryder Cup, played a virtual two-ball of sorts during the coronavirus shutdown. Harrington and Donald took to social media to offer their insight to golf fans quarantined and eager to return to the course with some game-improvement tips.

Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington take to social media during the pandemic to share their insights on golf. For their large and growing number of followers, the game might even be just a bit easier upon returning to the course

Whether from pure boredom or a genuine desire to give back to a game that has made them wealthy and famous – probably a combination of the two – Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington have shared with golfers of all stripes a rare and unique look at how they play the game and how they think you should, too.

While the coronavirus pandemic kept tens of millions of people at home for weeks, Donald and Harrington have taken to their social-media accounts and provided dozens of video golf lessons – for free. Most PGA Tour pros won’t walk across the street without getting paid, but England’s Donald and Ireland’s Harrington have gladly given of their time – and they didn’t have to walk across the street. They filmed most of the lessons in their backyards – being from the British Isles, they refer to it as the “back garden.”

Both players posted the video lessons to Twitter and Instagram. Donald has 798,000 followers on Twitter and 222,000 on Instagram. Harrington has 158,000 on Twitter and 33,500 on Instagram.

Harrington’s back garden at his estate outside Dublin has better practice facilities than perhaps any club in Ireland. It features five target greens and a putting green designed to USGA specifications. He has 170 yards from one end of his practice area to the other. And over the years, there’s been the odd broken window pane from a shot gone awry. To boot, Harrington has an indoor simulator for hitting drivers and long clubs.

Donald’s garden isn’t nearly as extensive. He lives at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla., and while he filmed a number of tips there, he couldn’t hit shots of any distance. Without the aid of a golf course, Donald demonstrated how to hit out of a plugged bunker lie by piling up dirt around a ball sitting on the grass. And he talked about how to hit from uneven lies by using a chair cushion to demonstrate the stance.

He did share some wisdom of his short game, for which he is probably best known. And a couple of putting tips were filmed at a golf course, presumably The Bear’s Club. A number of Donald’s tips were shot indoors at a gym, talking, for instance, about how touring pros close the clubface earlier in the downswing or use ground forces when trying to get more distance out of a driver.

Donald shot one video in a hallway inside his house, about proper pitching technique. He did hit a shot but with a pingpong ball. His wife, Diane, would no doubt object to hitting a golf ball indoors.

Donald also posted a handful of guest tips, from Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry, Alex Noren and Justin Thomas, although Thomas’ contribution was about exercise.

Harrington also talked extensively about the short game, including a 6-minute video about his ideas as to how to hit chip shots with spin, which is but one of the things that separate the best players from the rest of us.

One of Harrington’s lessons was how to curve an iron shot, and he used his children’s swing set as the obstacle to move around with a slice or hook. One of the most unique things about Harrington is his imagination. By seeing his children's jungle gym as a stand of trees in his mind's eye, you can't help but wonder that when he faces a similar shot on the course, he might envision the trees as a swing set.

Harrington is one of the smartest, most thoughtful and fascinating players in golf. As Europe's captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, he recently selected Donald as one of his assistant captains. Harrington spoke at length in a couple of videos about the mental game.

“I embrace fear,” he said. “Fear makes you focus.”

Not only did Harrington provide swing instruction, he also let us in on a couple of his extraordinary shots. One was from the Players Championship, when he had a pitch shot to the 18th green from deep rough. He took a lash and three balls came out, his and two others.

And he described what he considered to be the best shot of his career. It was the 48-yard wedge for his fifth shot at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie. He had a one-shot lead going down the last hole, and he had just hit two balls into Barry Burn.

“I was feeling horrible,” he said. “I had choked and maybe lost the Open. My caddie talked to me for what seemed like the longest time, and he said he believed in me. To get back in the zone after what I had just done, when I hit that wedge shot, I was like a teenager showing off.”

Harrington went on to win that Open in a playoff with Sergio Garcia. And he’s still showing off. But this time, along with Donald, it’s their vast knowledge that’s on display – to the benefit of anyone who plays golf.

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