Paul McGinley has revealed the European Tour are open to moving the date of future Irish Opens in order to attract the big beasts of the PGA Tour to these shores.
The former Ryder Cup captain will host the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch, Co Clare, from July 4-7, as the $7m (€6.2m) Rolex Series event kicks off a three-week links swing leading into The Open at Royal Portrush a fortnight later.
The switch from a late May date in the schedule closer to golf’s oldest major in 2017 was seen as a significant boost for the tournament, following the capture of a title sponsor in Dubai Duty Free two years earlier and a steady increase in the prize fund from €2m in 2014.
Yet, despite this year’s tournament being played on an iconic links and with a bigger prize fund on offer than that week’s US PGA Tour event, the $6.4m 3M Open in Minnesota, McGinley admitted he was facing a struggle to get the game’s biggest names to Lahinch.
Citing a rejigged and condensed tournament calendar, which has placed a World Golf Championship event, the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis, the week after The Open, he said modern elite players were unwilling to play more than two weeks in a row.
To date, the player announcements for Lahinch have all been European stars, with Pádraig Harrington this week adding his name to Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Danny Willett and Lee Westwood, while the tournament was hit by Rory McIlroy’s decision not to play his national Open this year.
McGinley, a European Tour board member, suggested it may require a move to September in the build-up to the repositioned flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship.
“We in the European Tour are going to reconsider and relook at this links swing, because a lot of players, three weeks in a row on a links is probably too much,” said McGinley yesterday. “I think realistically... an Irish Open, it is fair to say we need to be considering other dates as well.
“Three weeks has proven difficult, in Ballyliffin (in 2018), which was a fabulous golf course, to get the top players to play; it is very difficult, you put it in the best date in the schedule and the player ultimately can say, it doesn’t suit me or I want a week off. All the power at the moment in golf is sitting with the players. The bigger the player the more power they have, because they can make or break a tournament in whether they want to play or not.
“You are not going to get all of the players, so what you have to do is pinpoint three or four or five big strong names and, if you can do that, you are going to have a successful tournament.
I mean, look at the PGA Tour, look at the Valspar this week, look at the Honda a few weeks ago, it is the oldest sponsor on the PGA Tour and they battled for a field. So many of the players lived in the area, 90 players living within the West Palm Beach area, and only half played the tournament, even though it is on their doorstep.
“The PGA Tour are suffering from the same issue of the quality of the field and the idea of thinking all the top players are going to turn up, that’s not applicable anymore, unless you are playing a Ryder Cup, a major or a WGC or The Players. That’s the reality of professional golf at the moment.”
McGinley was, however, confident this year’s Irish Open on the Wild Atlantic Way would prove to be a success.
“I think we have a great venue this year and obviously $7m, it’s a huge money event, all the big European players will play and obviously the top players in the Order of Merit, and yeah, that’s where we’re at.
“The Irish Open is the Irish Open. It’s been going for years and years. We’ve had all the great players come in the past, like Seve, Ben Crenshaw, Langer, Olazabal. It’s had a great history of winners and will continue to do so.
"I personally, at this stage, wouldn’t say that the field is going to be a poor one.
“I think in relative terms, for the way the modern game is at the moment, we’re going to be certainly holding our own in terms of quality of field.”