The fate of next year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be the hot topic of conversation when European Tour CEO, Keith Pelley and PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan meet at the Open Championship at Royal Portrush next week.
A condensed schedule next year given its an Olympic year on top of a Ryder Cup year, coupled with the already cramped reforms that came into effect this term mean scheduling space is at a premium on Tour for 2020. With talk of the FedEx Cup’s St Jude Invitational eyeing Ireland’s July date next year, the future positioning of the Irish Open certainly seems to be up in the air ahead Pelley & Monahan’s friendly chat.
One thing’s for sure, however – this year’s tournament host, Paul McGinley will be relinquishing his duties whenever, and wherever, our National Open sits in the 2020 calendar.
“We’re on a five-year rotation, we’ve all agreed that,” said McGinley after he oversaw a sellout weekend in which Jon Rahm delighted the crowds at Lahinch when lifting a second Irish Open title.
“I don’t know if Padraig’s [Harrington] going to do it. The condensed schedule next year has put challenges on us. Next year is accentuated by the fact that it’s an Olympic year and also a Ryder Cup year. When you put all those into the melting pot, it makes it difficult.
“I met with Keith Pelley on Friday. He doesn’t know either. He has no idea where we’re going, he doesn’t know the host yet. It might be Padraig but we haven’t confirmed that yet, we haven’t confirmed the venue and we haven’t confirmed the date. Like all things, it will be resolved. It mightn’t be resolved in the perfect way because I don’t think there is a perfect way, but we will resolve it.”
Just how it gets resolved is anyone’s guess but the tournament’s current position in the calendar will once again be debated when Pelley and Monahan sit down for their traditional Major championship meeting in Northern Ireland next week. While Harrington believes its place two weeks before the Open is ideal, the likes of Shane Lowry have said that a more international field could be attracted should the event move to a September standing. Whatever the outcome, McGinley believes that sacrifice will be needed to find the best possible solution.
“We’re working very closely with the PGA Tour, a lot closer than we ever have done,” he added. “Relations between the two Tours are strong, harmonious and I know this date is high on the agenda in the communication between Keith Pelley and Jay Monahan for Portrush in two weeks’ time.
“Would I give it up? I don’t know. I’ve kind of side-lined myself from it. We have JP’s Pro-Am on next year two. It’s a very condensed schedule. There’s a lot of moving parts.
“But I know the Irish Open date is high on the agenda. The relationship is very harmonious at the moment but we may have to go into two opposing tournaments. What can we do? We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again but next year is just really tricky.”
Understandably, the fate of next year’s competition wasn’t McGinley’s primary concern upon meeting journalists after what was a thrilling week had by all in County Clare. It was the perfect mix of top-quality golf and off-course entertainment as pedestrianised streets filled with music and craic the likes of which only a sporting event in Ireland could produce.
The Dubliner has created a blueprint that should prove bulletproof in terms of creating a festival atmosphere around our National Open from now on, while his meticulous planning was rewarded with beautiful weather and a champion McGinley and the tournament can hang its hat on for years to come in Jon Rahm.
“The man above shone a spotlight on us with the weather,” said McGinley. “Highlighted what a great place Ireland is and what a great place Lahinch is. To be honest, outside one of the Irish lads winning, our first choice would have been Jon Rahm who’s the highest ranked player in the field. It validates the course set-up and it validates Lahinch as a chosen venue.
“Of all the young guys coming through around the world and there’s a lot of talent, Jon Rahm is the one for me who… I don’t see a weakness. Just more experience. I think he drives the ball long, he drives it straight. His iron-play, his chipping, his putting, his heart. His ability to win – he went into an extra gear today when he saw the finish line.
“He’s a guy who I think has got it to do something special. He’s probably earned enough money at 24 not to have to worry about it again and he’s driven to want to go on and win Major titles. He’s perfectly set up now to have a real good go at winning at Portrush. I don’t think it will be all to dissimilar to what we had here.”
After a week that delivered on all of his promises, McGinley should be able to bask in a hosting masterclass, though humble as ever, he rightly admits that it was a team effort that elevated this year’s Irish Open to arguably its best renewal yet.
“I’m a great believer in the team around you and we had an amazing team,” added McGinley. “John, Paddy, Sam, Pat Dowling in the County Council – he paid a lot of money to put things on and bought into the whole family festive atmosphere, and the Gardai were amazing.
“Everyone thought it was going to be a nightmare with the one-way systems in Ireland but John Galvin was amazing in fronting that. Every request we went to them with was a ‘yes’. It was a dream to work with people like that. They really wanted to empower what we were trying to create.
“The day that we got permission to close down the streets was massive because that was a big, big ask. The day we got the OK for that I thought, ‘right, we’re right on line for this festival’. Then we rode in with the music, fireworks, etc – those things flipped when we got the pedestrianisation done. That’s the importance of having a great team on the ground.
“It was just so important to create the craic. The golf was always going to take care of itself, the players are great but Irish people love the craic so putting the auxiliary stuff around it was crucial to making the whole thing a success.”
And what a success it was.