Tournament host Rory McIlroy has explained the decision to rule out amateurs contesting next month’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart.
It is understood to be the first occasion since the inaugural event in 1927 amateurs will not compete in the event and it means that Shane Lowry, unless the eligibility criteria changes, will remain the only non-professional to have captured the event, in the process forfeiting what was a cool Euro 1/2m victory cheque in 2009 at Baltray.
“The Irish Open has moved on considerably this year, and I know there have been calls as to why there will be no amateurs competing at Portstewart but it is now a Rolex Series event, and to come under the Rolex Series umbrella, it does need the top players competing,” he said.
“So, it has moved on from the Irish Open of past years. It is a premier European Tour event and a field already boasting many of the top players in the world and unfortunately it does mean no amateurs”.
However it is understood that it was not a European Tour decision but the Golfing Union of Ireland that declined to afford invitations to Ireland’s leading half a dozen amateurs. This is because the six in question are set to contest the European Amateur Team Championships a week later in Austria. So, it was GUI’s CEO Pat Finn who confirmed it was mutually agreed with the Tour not to take up invitations this year due to the date clash.
“The conversation wasn’t one of ‘we have no spots for amateurs’,” said Finn who, on irishgolfdesk.com added the GUI would keen to take up Irish Open invitations in future, should dates change and that the Tour was open to requests for invitations for other non-clashing European Tour events.”
McIlroy will tee up later today for a first occasion in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut.
And both he and Jordan Spieth, currently ranked No. 6, are not in Connecticut entirely by choice but under a rule brought in by the PGA Tour where the leading lights of the Tour must contest one new event a year and if they contest less than 25 events a year are also not lifetime members of the Tour.
The current World No. 3 ranked McIlroy, having been replaced at No. 2 by Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, will contest the opening two rounds of the $US 6.4m event in the company of USA Ryder Cup Captain, Jim Furyk.
Twelve months ago, Furyk became the first player on the PGA Tour to shoot a round of 58 and there is a plaque on the cart path to the left of the 18th green that McIlroy could not be help notice in ending yesterday’s Pro-Am.
After missing the halfway cut in last week’s U.S. Open, McIlroy has a run of three events in the next four weeks … The Travelers, Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the Scottish Open .. before teeing up in July 20th starting Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. However, McIlroy stressed the three events are not about peaking for The Open but more about treating each event on its own merits.
“With everything that has gone on this year I am sort of taking it week by week and that is all I am doing”, he said. “I am taking a week off next week to take care of a couple of things that is the only time I will think of Birkdale before I get to The Open.”
“I am treating the Irish Open as a week on its own and I will do the same when I get to the Scottish, so I literally will not turn my attention to Birkdale till after the Scottish Open. Actually, I am going to head up and play Royal Birkdale during next week but that is it until I get down there from competing at Dundonald”.
And McIlroy was picked up on a point he made on the eve of last week ’s U.S. Open in virtually taking it personally when he learned Erin Hills green staff were out cutting back areas of the rough, after McIlroy had spoken of his fondness for the course but then to only suffer the embarrassment of missing the cut with scores of 78 and 71.
“I was a little hot after missing the cut and I was thinking oh no, I should not have said what I said on Tuesday, so it was just one of those thing”, he said. “In a perfect world, last week wouldn’t have been first week back at the U.S. Open. It’s a high pressure, high-stress sort of event. I just wasn’t — I just hit my stride a little too late.”
“I played well the last nine holes on Friday, and I was just trying to shake the rust off before that. I started well on Thursday, but it all sort of caught up with me. So, yeah, I think once you get into a run of events, there are certain situations on a course that you’re just going to handle better because you’ve played a little bit and you’ve had a scorecard in your hand and you experienced it, whether little things, but concentration-wise, there’s a little slope behind the hole, and you’re putting behind hills and you’re obviously trying to hole the putt, but you’re not really concentrating well. If this goes two feet by, it could roll another six feet type of thing. Some of that stuff where I was mentally just wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be, and that just comes from playing rounds of golf.”
“So, hopefully I can get on a good run over these next few weeks, and I can get all that sort of stuff out of my system and hopefully this is the start of that run.”
Joining McIlroy this week is fellow Irishmen Padraig Harrington and Seamus Power.
Harrington is returning to competition for a first occasion since withdrawing from last fortnight’s FedEx St. Jude Classic after a freak accident while hosting a corporate clinic when he was struck on the left elbow and with the injury needing six stitches.
Harrington has returned to Hartford for the eighth occasion and with best finish being T5th in 2010