Graeme McDowell has game for Killarney
By Karl MacGinty
Location, location, location! That famous clarion call, first uttered by US department store magnate William Dillard, applies right across the business spectrum from real estate to movie-making.
It is, or should be, the first principle for the staging of professional golf tournaments.
In the case of the Irish Open, however, it had largely been ignored by the European Tour, resulting in the near-extinction of this august event and serious financial headaches for the Tour itself — until this week, when the ‘3' Irish Open at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club will see the dawn, one hopes, of a brave new era for elite tournament golf in this country.
For the first time in years and, as I understand it, at the point of a metaphorical gun from the event's new sponsors, this year's Irish Open will at least satisfy two of the three basic ground rules for staging professional golf events. Okay, the tournament's location on the Tour's annual schedule, key to the success of any event if it is to attract leading international players, is not ideal, despite its proximity to next month's cut-off point for Ryder Cup qualification.
Last week's Nordea Scandinavian Masters, for example, was far better placed to tempt to US performers to stay on in Europe after the Open Championship, as Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler did. Why should a tournament offering a purse of only €1.6m (against €3m at Killarney this week) occupy this plum position on the roster? Sincere apologies for asking such a naïve question.
Yet the pressure to attract star performers to the Irish Open from abroad has been alleviated by the fact that so many leading lights of the modern game hail from Ireland.
For instance, a big fuss was made when the late Payne Stewart played the 1991 Irish Open at Killarney within days of his US Open victory at Hazeltine.
Well, the current US Open champion, Graeme McDowell is suitably recovered from his sensational efforts at Pebble Beach, he'll tee it up at Killeen this week determined to win his national Open.
That the most exciting young player in world golf, Rory McIlroy, stands between McDowell and that ambition is a massive selling-point for this week's event, as is Clara hero Shane Lowry's defence of the trophy he picked up in such breathtaking fashion at Baltray last year (in fact, the first Irish Open would have been an unmitigated, rain-sodden disaster without him).
Ironically, this young man from Offaly has made such enormous
strides in 14 months as a professional, he's better qualified to defend the title than he was to win it in the first place!
Then you have the travails of three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington, the brightest star of them all, whose staggering loss of form this year has a weird fascination all of its own.
Throw the recent resurgence of Darren Clarke into this week's pot at Killarney and there's every chance of a climax as thrilling for the home fans next Sunday as Richard S Johnson's victory in front of his countrymen in Stockholm last weekend.
This year's Irish Open certainly ticks the boxes when it comes to those other two great ground rules for the staging of professional golf tournaments.
Its location on the calendar certainly is a marked improvement after five successive years of being battered by foul weather in May. Nothing is more effective in killing off the enthusiasm of visiting professionals for an event than having their golf swing and their morale broken year in, year out by brutal playing conditions.
It may rain in Killarney this week, with Thursday and Friday most likely to see a few scattered
showers, but at least the water will be warmer than in May.
To enjoy success, an event must be located at an appealing, atmospheric venue. While the courses at Carton House, Adare Manor and Baltray were all world-class venues, their staging of the past five Irish Opens was horribly undermined by the weather.
The beautifully scenic lakes of Killarney, and the further atmosphere lent each evening by the annual Summerfest in the town itself, should help restore the special feelgood factor which used make the Irish Open a must for Europe's leading professionals but which has been lost in recent years.
I'm informed advance ticket sales for this year's Irish Open are “nearly double what they were last year.” Bottom line, if 80,000 people don't pour through the gates this week, the Tour is likely to face another hefty six-figure shortfall on the event.
Informants tell me the Tour's board is growing impatient (and quite rightly too) at continually having to subsidise the Irish Open when there are many other pressing areas requiring investment. In short, it must be able to stand on its own two feet.
To keep their national professional championship alive, Irish golf followers must vote this week with their feet. With everything in place in Killarney for, potentially, the most exciting tournament in decades, it truly is now or never for the Irish Open.