As the race for Ryder Cup selection begins to take shape, it’s looking more and more likely that Rory McIlroy will be the sole Irishman competing.
Irish born and bred, being a golf fan who cut his teeth in the mid ‘90s has provided a skewed sense of right and reality. Aside from watching Sam Torrance bury what seemed like a routine nine-footer (ahh, the naivety of youth) for eagle and victory in the ’95 Irish Open, Philip Walton’s singles victory to clinch the Ryder Cup later that year is my earliest memory of golf as a spectator.
As a player, an old 8-iron, a lack of understanding of swing arc safety distance, and a younger sister incredibly lucky not to lose an eye are much earlier memories, but that’s a story for another day.
Walton’s performance at Oak Hill, followed by the emergence of a certain 20-year-old named Tiger Woods the following year, triggered a passion that would encapsulate arguably the most dramatic and explosive years in the sport’s history.
And on golf’s most dramatic stage, the Irish were omnipresent. In ’97, a young Darren Clarke made his debut, to be joined by Padraig Harrington for the infamous “Battle of Brookline” two years later.
In four of the five stagings that followed, despite containing less than one percent of Europe’s population, Ireland could boast to providing 25 percent of the European side. The 2008 edition was the black sheep of the family, but the general consensus is that Nick Faldo erred in failing to select Clarke as a captain’s pick to join Harrington and rookie Graeme McDowell.
The prodigious talent of Rory McIlroy had been added by 2010 – right in the middle of what will surely come to be known as the golden years of Irish golf. Starting with Harrington at Carnoustie in 2008, Irish golfers would win nine major titles out of a possible 26 by the end of 2014, and would be instrumental as players, as vice captains and captain of Europe’s most successful stretch in their Ryder Cup history.
But times have changed.
Our sole representative in 2016, with just four months until the 2018 side is finalised, it is looking increasingly likely that Rory McIlroy will be the lone Irish player at Le Golf National in Paris this September.
With five missed cuts in his last seven starts, Padraig Harrington’s admission of intent to run for captaincy in 2020 is effectively admission that his Ryder Cup playing days are over. Graeme McDowell has fared better than Harrington of late, making the cut in four of his last five starts, but a best result of T22, and four consecutive cuts missed to bookend the new year, only a drastic upturn in fortunes is going to see G-Mac making a fifth cup appearance.
After such a promising finale to 2017, culminating in a tie for second at the DP World Tour final in Dubai, Offaly’s Shane Lowry’s form has failed to sparkle this year. Based entirely in the United States thus far, Lowry began the year ranked 58 in the world, with top-50 consolidation and a place in the Masters as the early season goals. Five cuts made in seven starts paints a brighter picture than the scorecards, however, and Lowry sits at 172ndplace in the Fed-Ex Cup Standings and has dropped to 82 in the world.
At present, Greystones native Paul Dunne appears the best prospect in joining McIlroy in France. Currently sitting three places outside automatic qualification, as a rookie, Dunne is unlikely to garner a captain’s pick.
The BMW PGA Championship sees the points race heat up significantly. Tournament points earned from then until qualification ends on September 2ndwill count 1.5 times in an effort to ensure that the European side contains players in form.
Dunne recently said that the Ryder Cup is not on his radar, but as the event looms, the shadow it will cast is undeniable. He will desperately want to be on that plane.
As Irish fans, we’ve been spoiled in the last 20 years. But success breeds expectation. Irish fans won’t need much encouragement to descend on the city of romance. But what’s a romance without a couple?