Lowry’s form and Lahinch experience could prove pivotal

Defining a great golf links course is trickier than you might think.

Lowry’s form and Lahinch experience could prove pivotal

Defining a great golf links course is trickier than you might think. Outside of the Open Championship rota, for example, the most difficult challenge is that posed by Carnoustie. Why? Because it relentlessly asks you to hit one great shot after another.

The same could be said for Portmarnock here in Ireland but where does that then rank the legendary St Andrews or indeed Lahinch Golf Club, the venue for this week’s DDF Irish Open?

All great golf links courses, in my opinion, have their own personality and never is that demonstrated more than around Lahinch where the premium is placed on your ability to shape your shots to accommodate a mixture of elevational changes from the tee boxes and into the greens, to accelerate or nullify a bouncing ball and to negotiate the wind which at all times, is both your friend and your enemy.

For those playing this course for the first time this week, they will quickly learn the fastest route around the Lahinch course is, more often than not, down the right side of the fairways. It is there that you will also find the most trouble, with bunkers that show no mercy. Placing a premium on ball control, players who can easily fade (left to right) the ball at will, have a huge advantage in the days ahead.

Lahinch’s first hole offers a great snapshot of what is in store. A birdie on the day when the pin is tucked in the front right-hand corner will be quite an achievement for any of the best this week. In order to have a chance, players must first have the correct yardage from a violently sloping fairway that always wants to push the ball into the rough. For his second shot the player must then negotiate a shot into one of the most exposed greens on the course where anything short or right of the hole is dead. As simple as this hole looks, expect most to favour safety over potential calamity.

And so, it continues down the second where you have to challenge the right hand rough in order to keep the ball on the fairway before hitting into a green fiercely protected by bunkers.

If there is any controversy at all this week, it will most likely come from the disgruntled few in the media centre who have missed the cut. You can expect them to take dead aim at the Dell, purely because it is like nothing they have witnessed before. In their eyes, the modern game has no place for holes where chance and luck can be so influential. But surely the bouncing ball is what links golf is all about? One hopes that most will see this great hole for what it is. That said, don’t be too surprised to see the European Tour, ever sensitive to criticism from their players, manage (or tame down) the full potential of this hole as much as possible.

Lahinch, in my opinion, really comes into its own from the sixth hole onwards. It is then the true golf test comes to the fore with players constantly being forced out of their comfort zone.

The real shot-makers who can easily move their ball in either direction to ride a favourable wind or to hole it up against a heavily contoured green like the ninth will have a distinct advantage especially on an exposed coastline where nothing can be taken for granted. The finishing stretch in particular, from the 15th in, is as strong as any championship course, with the 18th offering endless permutations for drama before a golf savvy gallery who will appreciate and understand the permutations of every moment.

A par 70 represents a fair test for many of the world’s greatest golfers but none competing this week will have a greater advantage than the Irish, all of whom honed their early skills around this course as amateurs playing in the South of Ireland. With the weather set fair with light breezes, I expect the scoring to be low and an Irish challenge down the closing stretch, on what are some of the best putting surfaces in Europe.

Lowry and McDowell are the form Irish players but I expect big performances from all of the Irish, none more so than Lowry, who launched his professional career at this event 10 years ago. If he plays well this week, he is in my mind the man to beat but other shot makers like Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and Matt Wallace would like nothing more than to spoil any victorious homecoming for the Irish.

On and off the course, Lahinch will deliver this week and for that reason, it has every right to be considered as one of the very best golf venues in the world.

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