It may have struggled to attract the same attention as a certain Open Championship set for Royal Portrush in a fortnight’s time but the Irish Open, pencilled in this week from July 4-7 at Lahinch, has all the ingredients to eclipse any golfing event held this summer.
Under the direction of tournament host, Paul McGinley, the spotlight shines on County Clare from Thursday with 12 of the world’s top-50 in action at the Rolex Series event, all honing their links skills ahead of a final shot at Major glory in 2019 up the road at Portrush two weeks later.
To entice as many of the world’s best players to the surf capital of Ireland, McGinley has been in close contact with the R&A to attempt to match up his challenge as close to that of which Royal Portrush will present for The Open, the idea being that the Irish Open, although brimming with merit on its own, can act as the ideal dress rehearsal for the year’s final Major.
“I’m a great believer in preparation and with The Open Championship in Northern Ireland in Portrush in a couple of weeks’ time, straightaway I always wanted to have a similar setup here,” he said.
“Obviously we’re not copying exactly everything because of the different designs of the holes. But we have information on the greens speeds and we have information on the rough heights, the fairway widths, the run-off areas.
“And the players who come here will feel really well prepared to win a major championship in a few weeks’ time.
“It’s not a big course, just over 7,000 yards long. But when you make it a par 70, that makes it a long golf course at par 70. And like any links course, it relies on the wind. It’s built for the wind.
“(The players) love it. They love the condition of it. They can’t believe how good the condition of the golf course is.
“I don’t want to make it too difficult. I’d love to have a winning score here, ten to 15 under par. That to me would be a tremendous week. It’s a great golf course. And if we get the ten to 15 under par I’ll be absolutely thrilled.”
McGinley’s meticulous thinking has been rewarded with Rahm, Fleetwood and Oosthuizen amongst those trusting the blueprint. Indeed, it’s difficult not to admire how McGinley’s gone about his work, particularly given that his new hosting role got off to the worst possible start when Rory McIlroy signalled his intention to give the event a miss.
Instead, McGinley accepted that the scheduling demands of the modern player make him powerless to prevent such decisions and moved on to making the Irish Open the best renewal it can be, while focussing on those who will feature on the fairways of Lahinch come July.
“The days of old when Seve, Faldo, Langer, Woosie and all the top players played in an Irish Open, those days are gone,” he added.
“Any tournament around the world, even on the PGA Tour, outside the Majors, the WGC events and The Players Championship, if you have two or three or four of the big names, then you fit the guys who are top-50 in the world around that, it’s a very good field.
“We’re well on our way to having sellout crowds for the weekend which is unbelievable really considering the Open is also going to be on here in a few weeks’ time in this country of ours. We can sell out, hopefully, two golf tournaments in the space of three weeks.”
Where at one time the absence of McIlroy might’ve threatened such an event, McGinley’s reputation has ensured not just a highly competitive field but a potential sell-out, and with the weather forecast good, all that’s left now is for supporters to secure the last of the tickets. Roll on Thursday!