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Irish Open is all about the venue – Padraig Harrington

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*Padraig Harrington pictured at the DDF Irish Open Pro-Am in Lahinch Golf Club on Wednesday. Photograph: Brian Arthur

Sporting events in Ireland tend to be unique according to Padraig Harrington who maintained Lahinch Golf Club hosting The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is no different.

“You can go to a lot of events around the world, and if you pulled out of the golf, went down the road a mile and pulled into a petrol station, they wouldn’t know the event is on. If you do that in Ireland, you pull into the petrol station, you can guarantee you’ll be asked for a couple of tickets,” two time US Open said on Wednesday, “it has only taken twenty five years to learn how to say now”.

“It’s very important for the Irish Open that we create this festival atmosphere, that we create more to the event than just golf. And that works both ways. You know, it works from the players’ perspective. We want more. We play around the world all the time, so we appreciate when we come to an event and you can see as a collective we can see the effort that’s gone in by everybody in the locality, that everybody is behind the event. And secondly, to create a good event, you do need to have the buy in of the locals, of the spectators, of everybody who’s coming in working or paying to come and watch the golf, if they buy into the event it just makes it all the more special if it gives a buzz. This is okay, we can separate ourselves in Ireland by having different type of golf courses. There’s not that many links golf courses around the world. But the way we really separate ourselves is by creating this atmosphere and festival that’s unique”.

Ahead of The Open Championship in Portrush later this month, Padraig has noticed that Lahinch Golf Club is very similar “in the style of golf course”. He is of the view like Paul McGinley that The Irish Open is the perfect preparation for The Open which he won himself in 2007 and 2008.

“Some guys don’t want to play three weeks in a row. Some guys feel like they peak in a week off, some guys feel like they peak after playing one tournament. Other guys feel like they peak after playing two tournaments. We’re all different in that sense. I was always mightily impressed when Tiger Woods would play in a major without playing the week before. I’d be a basket case if I didn’t play the week before. Different personalities, completely different”.

Currently a wrist issue is proving problematic for Harrington as he partakes in his twenty third Irish Open. “The wrist injury was very mild. I’ve had a number of injuries in my career through overwork and over practice, and every time the minute I’ve been cleared to go back, I’d literally get back on the golf course and go, yeah, I’m ready to go. This one has been a lot harder. It’s now July, and it feels like it’s January to me. I just haven’t got going. I haven’t played enough competitive rounds. I haven’t been on the golf course enough. I’ve never gotten into the run of it. I’m still stuck in my winter, what am I working on, what am I doing. I just have not got going and playing. Has the wrist caused me problems? Yeah, I haven’t got quite the same range of motion, but I seem to have enough to swing the golf club. I’ve got a little bit of soreness if I overdo it. I’m told that will be there for nine months. Yeah, but now I suppose I’ve realised that I’m making more of an effort to get into a playing mode”.

Lahinch according to Harrington “is a very traditional golf course” which is accompanied by blind holes. “I want to know going out can I trust the person that puts the stone to tell us where it is. Yeah, look, that’s Lahinch. That’s what you’re getting. If you don’t like it, don’t come. There you go. It’s part of the it is part of the character, and it’s very much part of the beauty of Lahinch. Yeah, it’s fun, but it’s only an 8 iron. It’s not like anyone is asking you to hit a 2 iron out of bounds over the back or so it’s not a crazy shot or anything like that. It will give up a lot of birdies during the week, it’ll give up a lot of there will be more people walking off that hole with a smile on their face than not. That’s what we’re I was brought up that way when it came to links golf. Traditional links golf is meant to have a little bit of a it’s meant to be a bit of a mental test”.

“Golf was never designed to be a fair game. It was designed to test your physical and mental ability, and that mental ability is being able to handle good and bad breaks, and traditional links golf does throw in blind shots and things like that. You’ll get some good breaks and you’ll get some bad ones, and the mental fortitude is tested far more on a links golf course than it is on a perfectly ordered parkland course”.

An Irish Open winner in 2007 when held in Adare, Padraig praised the line-up put together for the 2019 equivalent by Paul McGinley. “I think it’s a very tough, competitive arena, the world of golf, attracting golfers, because you’re not just competing against the tournament that’s on the same week that you’re competing, you’re also competing against guys’ schedules whether they want to play two or three weeks into a major. Golfers are spoiled for choice. Certainly good golfers with spoiled for choice. I think this event has a really good field. But Paul has obviously put the work in. The European Tour has put the work in. I think the venue and the date does attract players who are interested in getting a bit of links golf in before The Open. From a player’s perspective, we’re very happy with the field. It’s as strong a field as you can get this time of year, or any time, because as I said, there’s just so many competing elements when it comes to choices for the good players”.

When asked what makes The Irish Open, Harrington repeated five times that “It’s all about the venue. It really is. The Irish Open has to have that offering for the players that’s not like anywhere else. We have to look, we know in Ireland our tourism industry is based on we are unique. You’re not just coming here to look at the scenery. You’re coming here to get a sense of the people, the country, and that’s the same when it comes to a golf tournament. It’s all about the venue. The players from both perspectives, as I spoke earlier, the players want to come to somewhere different, somewhere unique, somewhere they can enjoy. The players, they’re always fascinated with coming to Ireland. Sometimes fascinated with how we live in the weather. Now they’re looking at the sunshine, and it’s just so different. Our country is so different”.

He may get to apply such learnings himself and the forty seven year old admitted he would love to host The Irish Open. “I’m currently in the rota to be asked to host. There’s five of us in it at the moment. If we get Shane into it in a major, maybe we’ll have six in it pretty soon. Look, we’ve got great people to host an Irish Open. As I said, McGinley he keeps overdoing the work and making it harder for everybody following him. Yeah, he’s really gone all out with this Irish Open. The expectations have only got higher after just like the Ryder Cup. I think there’s four or five of us. I would love to host one in the future. I’m sure I’m on the list. But it will all come down to timings and venues and sponsor making decisions about getting the right venue and then the right person in that venue to do the job. There’s a lot of things that go into it”.

Being captain of the European Ryder Cup team may prohibit the Dubliner from hosting the tournament next year. “Nothing has been it’s a possibility, but nothing is there’s more things that have to be confirmed before it really does come down to where are we going, what’s the venue, what’s the sponsors want. But you can be sure that I will host the Irish Open in the next number of years. It just mightn’t be next year”.

Of the workload required with the captaincy, he said “It’s busy. I’ve obviously tried to not do stuff this week, but like I have meetings Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday next week. Each afternoon I’ve got stuff going on. On my off weeks I have meetings. Yeah, there’s quite a bit going on. I don’t know if it’s just busy at the moment because we’re literally picking and working through the clothing right now. I know there are details like that. Obviously I’ve been up there and seen the rooms and the team rooms and we’ve had other meetings going through I suppose the what’s the word for it? Like my team mantra, that sort of stuff we have to get a year in advance you have to start getting into what’s sort of what motivational stuff, videos and whatever that sort of staff, how you’re going to play that. So there has been thought in it. The best thing that can happen to me in my life is I have plenty of distraction away from the golf, so that’s not going to affect my golf. But certainly I knew a good distraction, but there’s more to it than you would think”.

Newmarket-on-Fergus native, Páraic McMahon is a freelance journalist and broadcaster currently working for numerous national and local publications including The Clare Echo, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times, RTÉ, TheJournal.ie, The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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