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Comment: Royal Portrush's 148th Open Championship was a huge success

Major hit: Tommy Fleetwood tees off at the first during his final round
Major hit: Tommy Fleetwood tees off at the first during his final round
Rory McIlroy
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

The biggest compliment that Royal Portrush can receive this week is the need to rephrase a simple question that needed answered by the end of the tournament. From the moment Portrush was awarded The Open, it has been a pertinent question and one which now has a resounding answer.

Had we come away from the north coast this week asking if The Open would be back at Royal Portrush some time in the future, then the week had not gone to plan. Everything had been put in place for it to succeed, from the infrastructure to the build-up from its local stars, and now that the ball had been lobbed up nicely, it had to be knocked out of the park.

Well, that ball is sailing over the boundary and the scorer has already put six in the runs column.

The defining moment may have come not on Sunday evening when Shane Lowry holed the winning putt, but when Rory McIlroy missed his cut-making chip.

Deflated like a balloon, the World No.3 trudged up to the green and holed his putt, as the crowd - stunned into silence - willed the ball in one more time.

But then, as if compelled to their feet by one united string lifting them up, the crowd rose in unison. They applauded. They cheered. They cried.

A journalist beside me at the 18th green commented: "That's a better reaction than the winner will get on Sunday."

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He was right, and if the winner was anybody but Lowry, it would have been all the more obvious that he was right.

Afterwards, McIlroy gave a tearful interview that gained traction around the world. He felt it, and the people felt it with him - he hadn't just missed a cut, he'd missed the cut.

In that moment, the question changed, and while it may never have been in doubt in the first place, now all of it has been removed.

The question is no longer if, it's when will The Open be back at Royal Portrush.

This is not a redemption story, far from it. The Royal & Ancient don't hand out pity awards and nor should they, and giving McIlroy another shot at making the cut in Portrush is not the reason it should be returning.

Rather, it was the reaction in the stands that night, and then behind the scenes.

Concerns over the infrastructure were blown apart by record crowds, and those crowds then proceeded to act both in a respectful way but also in a raucous one.

The noise was deafening at times - it was more akin to a Ryder Cup than to the usual decorum of an Open. Cries of "Ole, Ole, Ole" resounded down the fairway as Lowry holed out to lift the Claret Jug.

The players responded in kind. They raved about Portrush. Superlatives abounded such as "best links course I've ever played", a "fantastic place to play golf". Matt Fitzpatrick even went as far as to say it was better than most of the courses on The Open rotation.

Nobody had a bad word to say, and that was key. Forget all those pictures being beamed across the world, forget all the tourism commercials and advertising campaigns - if the players hated the course, they would never be back.

Instead, the work done by Martin Ebert as course architect, Harry Colt years before him and course manager Graeme Beatt was crucial. Between them, along with the work from behind the scenes by Wilma Erskine and all her dedicated team at Royal Portrush, they ensured that the resounding response from the players was a positive one.

With every apparent problem rearing its head, Portrush batted them away. By the time it got to the final putt on the final green from the final player, nobody cared that it had started to rain again and that the wind was cutting through them.

The R&A have taken notice. Reports abound that The Open will be back sooner rather than later, and the overwhelming belief among the players, caddies and fans is that if it isn't, it is a mistake on their part.

They'll have taken notice of that too.

And, even if it doesn't return, nothing and no one can take away the one thing that there is no doubt about from Royal Portrush's first hosting of The Open in 68 years.

It was a success.

Belfast Telegraph


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