Headaches begin as 2020 questions remain over Irish Open

Jon Rahm and tournament host Paul McGinley share a joke during the trophy presentation following the Spaniard’s victory in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch. Picture: Ramsey Cardy.

Paul McGinley is confident the scheduling issues around next year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open can be resolved by European and PGA Tour bosses in the coming weeks but admitted it will be a difficult and challenging task and the outcome may be less than perfect.

The engraver had barely finished inscribing Jon Rahm’s name on the Waterford Crystal trophy at Lahinch on Sunday evening when the issue of the 2020 edition of this increasingly successful $7 million Rolex Series event came up for discussion.

For all the plaudits coming the way of the European Tour, Lahinch Golf Club, its historic links course and tournament host McGinley after an outstanding week in West Clare, the tournament’s future for next year is uncertain.

Only committed title sponsors Dubai Duty Free are firmly in place for 2020 with the tournament they have backed since 2015 in limbo for the moment, still awaiting confirmation of a host to succeed McGinley, a venue to pick up the baton from Lahinch and, most importantly, a date in the schedule.

Having occupied its current position, two weeks out from The Open Championship since 2017, next year poses problems because it is an Olympic year and the season is set to be condensed to give the Tokyo tournament centrestage in August.

That was the case in 2016 when golf was reintroduced to the Summer Games in Rio and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in the United States shifted from a fortnight after The Open to two weeks prior, clashing with the Irish Open’s predecessor in that spot, the French Open.

With the Bridgestone event’s latest incarnation the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational reported to be planning a similar move, European Tour board member McGinley, confirmed his Tour’s chief executive Keith Pelley was scheduled to meet PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan at Royal Portrush next week at The Open and that the Irish Open date was high on their agenda.

“The condensed schedule next year, talking about this to the board last week, the condensed schedule, it’s put challenges on us,” McGinley said. “Next year is accentuated by the fact it’s an Olympic year and Ryder Cup year.

“When you put all those into the melting pot, it makes it difficult. It makes it challenging I met with Keith Pelley on Friday. He doesn’t know; he has no idea where we’re going, and we don’t know the host yet. It might be Pádraig (Harrington) but we haven’t confirmed that honestly and we haven’t confirmed the venue and we haven’t confirmed the date.

“But like all things, it will be resolved. It mightn’t be resolved in a perfect way — because I don’t think there is a perfect way — but we will resolve it.”

McGinley, who ruled himself out of continuing as tournament host, suggested that relations between the Tours were on a better footing than in 2016, when the Europeans withdrew its sanction of the WGC event, meaning no world ranking points were available to its members and increased Ryder Cup qualification points for the French Open to encourage participation.

He did not foresee similar measures next year.

I don’t know if that would really work. We’re working very closely with the PGA Tour, a lot closer than we ever have done. Relations between the PGA and European Tours are really strong and harmonious.

"I know this date, this Irish Open is high on the agenda in the communication between Keith and Jay Monahan in Portrush in two weeks… they have scheduled meeting like they always do at all the majors.”

Having a blue-chip winner in Rahm at the weekend in Lahinch, with the victorious Spaniard, also the champion in 2017, promising to defend his title and urging American stars to play in future Irish Opens, would seem to boost Pelley’s bargaining power with the Americans but McGinley added:

“It’s not so much ammunition. As I say, we’re very harmonious. We are getting on really well with them, and we want to continue that, and we don’t want to go into a brinkmanship situation. We may have to go into two opposing tournaments, but what can we do?

“We’ve done it before. We’ll do it again. But next year is difficult. It’s really tricky because of the moving parts and so on.”

An alternative, backed by Shane Lowry and hinted at earlier this year by McGinley himself, would be to move the Irish Open closer to the new date of the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, previously held in May but switched to September from this year on.

Following his final round at Lahinch, Harrington was strongly in favour of sticking to its present position, particularly with the JP McManus Invitational pro-am set for next July and a star-studded cast of American stars, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson already committed to the charity fundraiser.

McGinley, speaking on Sunday night, said: Would I give (the July date) up? I don’t know,” the outgoing host said.

“I don’t know. I’ve kind of sidelined myself a little bit from it. I’ve done a big, deep breath now this one’s over.

We’ve got JP’s Pro-Am on next year, as well, too, remember. I don’t know where they are going to go and I don’t think there is a perfect resolution.

"We’re going to have to concede on something. It’s their decision.”

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