While four Irish are going for Olympic glory in Tokyo, 25 others will be looking for home soil success in the mixed men and women’s ISPS Handa World Invitational.
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry will have completed their opening rounds in Japan before their compatriots join a total of 144 men and an equal number of women take to the at Galgorm Castle & Massereene courses while Leona Maguire & Stephanie Meadow will get underway in Tokyo on August 4th.
The ISPS Handa World Invitational will be two separate tournaments with a 36-hole cut made in each, followed by a further cut after 54 holes to the top 30 players (and ties) to set-up the final day.
The women’s field will be split equally between the LPGA and the Ladies European Tour. The $2.35 million purse will be split evenly, with men and women competing for two equal prize funds.
As well, this week’s tournament will be the first time an event of this kind is tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour in the northern hemisphere – following in the footsteps of the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia which has the same format.
Heading the field of 23 Irish men is Clandebone’s Jonathan Caldwell and coming after his victory in the similar format Scandinavan Mixed six weeks ago in Sweden.
“It’s going to be great,” said Caldwell.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces, family and friends out there throughout the week, so yeah, I’m hoping I can find some form and give them something to cheer about.”
While many in the field are familiar with Galgorm Castle, Massereene will be new and it’s located around a 20-minute drive to the south, overlooking Lough Neagh.
“I’m more familiar with Galgorm obviously having played quite a few events over the years there,” said Caldwell.
“It’s certainly playing differently this year than it has in years past, a little firmer, less rough. I mean, I can see the scoring being better than it was last year at the Irish Open with the rough being so thick and playing softer and longer.
“I suppose the danger would be for guys that haven’t played in hard and fast conditions recently, positioning their ball, probably not a lot of drivers for guys, more getting the ball sort of on the ground and running off the tee.
“The fringes are also quite firm, so pitching the ball on the green is key. If you land it on the edges, you’re going to get that bounce.
“So, it’s going to play differently than what the guys have been playing the last few weeks”.
Joining Caldwell are his European Tour Irish colleagues including Niall Kearney, Paul Dunne, Gavin Moynihan along with Michael Hoey, Simon Thornton and rookie pro Tom McKibbin.
There’s just two Irish players in the women’s event – Tandragee’s Olivia Mahaffey and Lahinch’s Aideen Walsh.
“This week is very special to me,” said Mehaffey.
“Growing up we never had an Irish Open when there would have been a time that I would have been playing in it; it was kind of before my time.
“So, to get to play here and to play here as a professional is also very, very special, close to home, and I’m sure I’m going to have a lot of people out this week supporting me.
“I don’t get to compete that much at home, so it’s very, very special to me this week for many reasons”.