Where have all the tricolours gone?

Look down the leaderboard at any professional Tour event and you’ll be hard pressed to find many green, white and orange flags on there!

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Image from Getty Images 

Whilst watching the European Tour British Masters on TV a while back, a leaderboard popped up on Sunday afternoon and I couldn’t help notice that 8 of the top 10 were English. In the end 5 of the top 8 were representing England. It made me think why don’t we see more tricolors at the Irish Open?

 

If you take this year’s Irish Open as an example only 3 tricolors appeared on the final leaderboard. Shane Lowry 28th, Paul Dunne 40th and Simon Thornton 59th. Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell did also make the cut but now display the Ulster Banner as their country flag.

 

Twenty English players made the cut at the British Masters. How do so many English players do so well in their home country and how are there so many on tour? I know the answer is simple, England has a bigger population and 10 times more golfers with about 6 times more golf courses (2,500). 

 

But if the answer was as simple as numbers playing, surely England would also dominate at an amateur level? However, this is not the case as Ireland has won the Men’s Home Internationals in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and were denied a 5 in a row when beaten by England in the final match of this years Home International played in September. 

 

In this same period if you look at how Ireland has done in the European Team Championship, our Home International form doesn’t really carry forward. 

•   2014 IRE 2nd ENG 3rd

•   2015 IRE 5th ENG 4th

•   2016 IRE 6th ENG 13th

•   2017 IRE 7nd ENG 2nd

•   2018 IRE 10th ENG 2nd

 

There seems to be a downward trend in the Irish performances in Europe. While we were and are dominating the Home Internationals, this form wasn’t and isn’t transferring to Europe. 

 

I know you can say numbers again. But it’s not just that. Most top amateur tournaments are now played with a 36 hole stroke play qualifier and then the 64 top players play match play to decide the winner. When our players get into the match play stages they can be hard to beat. Just look at this year’s British Amateur we had 3 players in the last 8 and if 2 of them weren’t drawn together we could have had 3 of the last 4 Irish. 

 

Very rarely do you see the top stroke play qualifier go on and win the tournament. If my memory serves me correctly in his last few years of been an amateur Padraig Harrington led the qualifying in most tournaments he played but converted very few into titles. He did of course go on to win 3 majors. 

 

The format of professional golf is 72 holes of stroke play which is very different to match play. I think our amateur team competing in the home international is akin to the European Ryder Cup team. Europe consistently outperform the form book in the Ryder Cup. This year in France the Europeans were facing, on paper, one of the best US Ryder Cup teams ever assembled. I for one gave the Europeans no chance.

 

The format of the Ryder Cup suits sprinters, match play over 18 holes is hard to predict. The form book can go out the window. Get off to a quick start and the game could be over very quickly. If the format of the Ryder Cup changed to 12 singles matches played over 72 holes who do you think would win then? I would fancy the US.

 

Our amateur system seems to produce sprinters rather than 72 hole stroke play battle hardened players. If we want to produce world class golfers with the ability to win on the world stage the amateurs need more 72 hole stroke play events. 

 

Our top amateurs are good enough but they need experience playing 72 holes stroke play. They need to experience the pressure of going home after shooting a good score and coming back the day after and shooting another good score. They need to get into a habit of beating the whole field not just one guy in a match play scenario. You wouldn’t train a sprinter the same way you would a marathon runner. The GUI in fairness has changed some of the championships to more stroke play format which in time should help. 

 

I would also like to see the plan of the high performance coaching program to produce top professionals not just great amateurs who, once they turn pro, are left to their own devices. We are a great golfing nation but if we don’t change soon, seeing a tricolor on any European Tour leaderboard could be a rare sight.