The consensus is Pádraig Harrington would need to be out of his mind to take on the role of host at the Irish Open Championship next July, given that he is set to captain the European Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits less than three months later.
The possibility of Harrington taking on both roles in 2020 was one of the main topics of conversation in Lahinch this week and few, if any, felt it was a good idea.
The man himself is fully aware of all the speculation and smiled yesterday when the subject was raised shortly after his closing round of 70 saw him conclude this year’s event with a one-under total of 279.
“I have seen the work that Paul McGinley has put into this this week and it’s definitely not something I would take on lightly given that it’s my Ryder Cup year,” he mused, without in any way dismissing it out of hand.
“It’s decisions about where it’s going and sponsors and all sorts of things and there’s been no decisions, that’s for sure.”
Reflecting on the way McGinley’s influence as host was so significant in the massive success of Lahinch, Harrington quickly stressed: “This week would have scared the life out of me, put it like that”.
The conversation then turned to doubts expressed by Shane Lowry, especially, and also McGinley as to whether staging the tournament two weeks before the Open Championship was the best date for the Irish Open.
They seemed to be expressing a preference for a date in September when the event might attract a stronger field. Harrington was clearly amazed at that line of thought.
“Wow, I think this is the best date the Irish Open can get, you couldn’t get better than this. Two weeks before The Open, you’re going to get guys who want to play links golf and who don’t want to play a week before The Open, this is a perfect (date).
“It’s tough competing to get the players. Players won’t play in a week in September because they’re going to play a week in December. Sometimes it doesn’t come down to the actual tournament week, it comes down to ‘well, I’m going to be playing another six events for the rest of the year and I want to take a week off’. The only way this could be bettered is if this was next week, but that’s not a possibility.”
The JP McManus Pro-Am next year has attracted the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and virtually every other leading player in the world. Harrington is a close friend of McManus and a great supporter of the Pro-Am and believes it, in turn, may attract stars to the Irish Open.
“I would have thought it will be a big help. JP is going to have one of the best fields in golf. Those who don’t want to play the week of the Scottish Open will want to play links golf the week before. So you will have guys who want to play links golf playing the Irish Open before going on to JP’s event and hanging around to practise their links golf before going on to the Open.”
It probably helped McGinley in his role as host that he opted not to play at Lahinch. Because he was first round leader with a seven-under-par 63, Harrington admitted he didn’t take in all that was going on off the golf course.
“I know it’s been a great success and the crowds have been fantastic but when you start well, you put your head down so I did not take time off to look up and smell the roses,” he admitted. “Paul has done a tremendous job and been a great host and the community and the golf course and everything about it have all been excellent.
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“There are a lot of other courses in the rota now and I know the players would like to come back here. We’re in a good place with the golf courses anxious to host the Irish Open and we’ll look forward to getting back here some day.”
Harrington is far less sanguine about the prospects for Irish players, no matter their vintage, to challenge and win major championships and tournaments as time goes by.
“We’re definitely lacking on tour at the moment. There are three or four of us out sporadically, maybe five at times, so we need a few young guys out there.
“When I started out, there were at least 14. I know the strength of Europe now is much greater and there are fewer places but it’s time for these guys to come through. Cormac Sharvin does look like a very solid player.
“He’s been on the Challenge Tour and feeling his way in and he does look to have a bright future.
“Robin Dawson has only just turned pro and also looks a very good player.
“He has to find himself as well and weeks like this really do help. It’s nothing to do with physicial ability, it’s about believing that they are good enough. That has to be deep down.”