One thing that’s often struck me when watching the Tommy Tiernan Show – aside from his captivating comfort amid deafening silence – is the way he signs off every single interview with the words “it was a pleasure talkin’ to ya”. So I felt somewhat validated when I heard Hector, speaking on the Tommy, Hector & Laurita Podcast, call out his co-host on the matter, saying ‘it can’t be a bloody pleasure to talk to everyone!’ And it’s not. Not for me, not for you, and not for Tommy Tiernan.
For the record, I love the show. Tommy has a way of getting to the bone quickly, touching a nerve with an intrusive flick of his brow. And most respond well to it. They open up to his warmth, often revealing more than they probably intended. But not everyone.
I thought of Tommy a lot while listening to player interviews at last week’s Irish Open. To a man, every competitor said it was their favourite stop on the calendar. That Mount Juliet was incredible. The Irish people so knowledgeable. The Guinness like mother’s milk.
But listen to what the same players have to say about this week’s Renaissance Club in Scotland and I bet it won’t be much different. People are nice like that. Happy to plámás because memories are short, and sure, aren’t we only too glad to hear it? Only, this week will be different, not least because the event boasts more than double the prize fund, double the ranking points and somewhat of a links test prior to The Open. Scotland makes sense this week. Mount Juliet didn’t.
It was only two years ago that the Irish Open was a Rolex event played at Lahinch with Jon Rahm as Champion. Its identity had been restored, showcasing all that is unique about Irish golf, from quirky blind tee shots to the town spilling onto the golf course. For all Mount Juliet’s beauty, the vastness of the Estate and how it lent itself to the Tour bubble, it was the equivalent of showing a tourist around Ireland and taking them to cocktail bars and Eddie Rockets. If you really want to show someone Ireland, a Jack Nicklaus designed American-style parkland simply won’t do.
So what’s the solution?
For both Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy, a date change to the week after The Open would be advantageous. The pair liked the idea of getting the last of the Majors out of the way before a relaxed week back home, but surely the tournament needs to have more ambition? How many of the game’s greats will stick around having given their all at The Open? And the players might want a relaxed week, but they have 21 days annual leave for that, at least! The fans want anything but.
In my mind, the current date works, but its success hinges on two things: sponsorship and venue. Fair play to Dubai Duty Free and Mount Juliet for stepping up and scrounging a prize pot superior to most European Tour events this year but until we can return the tournament to Rolex Series status, the depth of field at an Irish Open will have to lean on its home grown talent and not the pull of its illustrious past.
However, if we can get the pot back up towards $7million, and onto one of our uniquely Irish seaside designs, then a links swing can work. OK, in an ideal world, the Irish and the Scottish would alternate the week before The Open each year, but given Abrdn, with all their money and lack of vowels, have prime real estate, that won’t be happening. But that’s not to say a trip to Royal County Down, Portrush or Portmarnock two weeks out from The Open wouldn’t be an attractive proposition for the game’s elite. They’re willing to travel to Saudi after all, and there’s no craic to be had there.
Sure, they won’t be enticed over by appearance fees, but shouldn’t the prospect of three weeks of links golf be enough? Bulk up the prize funds, beef up the ranking points and create a product that, for setting alone, would inspire more creativity and traditional play than 99% of PGA Tour stops while taking in some travel and culture along the way and hey presto, we’ve got ourselves a golf tournament.
It was no surprise to see Rory McIlroy tee up at Portmarnock on Monday. He was crying out for links golf every step of the way at Mount Juliet. How much better off would he be heading into The Open with two weeks prep under his belt? Instead he played a parkland, and although he said it was his pleasure to do so, somehow I didn’t believe him.
I know it’s a long road back for the Irish Open but embracing our true identity would be a big step in the right direction. Tradition can be built. A tournament that once compelled the likes of Norman, Seve, Faldo and Langer to never miss it can aspire to such greatness again. Just give our fields of dreams a chance.
Listen to more on this debate on this weeks Irish Golfer Podcast Below