First-time tournament host Paul McGinley has admitted he feared the worst for this summer’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open when Rory McIlroy decided to skip the €6.25m event but now believes the field for Lahinch is coming together very nicely indeed.
McIlroy’s decision not to play his home open championship this July 4-7 was revealed in February with organisers of the European Tour Rolex Series event insisting their tournament would not be defined by the presence or otherwise of the Irish superstar.
Since then, there have been firm commitments from European Tour stars Tommy Fleetwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood and defending champion Russell Knox in addition to homegrown stars Shane Lowry, Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, while in-form Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter was added to the roster of stars on Wednesday as the famous links at Lahinch played host to a Dubai Duty Free Irish Open sponsors and media day.
Further announcements on player commitments are expected in the coming weeks and speaking on Wednesday night at Lahinch Golf Club, 2014 Ryder Cup-winning captain McGinley felt the field was strong enough to allow him to admit his nerve had been rattled when world number three McIlroy, his predecessor as tournament host for the last three years, opted to play the Scottish Open instead in his preparations for the Open Championship at Royal Portrush. McGinley has since recognised that no regular season event has more than a handful of top-line stars and the Irish Open is no different in that regard.
“Yeah, it’s coming together nicely,” McGinley said. “This is not a spin in any way but being involved, and as they say in football, moving upstairs and seeing things from a different angle as an administrator or whatever you want to call it, a board member of the European Tour, and looking at how tournaments come up... Sitting with people like (tournament director) Simon Alliss and everybody in the golf club — how a golf tournament is constructed, this is a learning curve for me.
I learned it in the Ryder Cup but that was different because you had everything you needed when it came to the Ryder Cup. Every answer was ‘yes’. Every request the answer was ‘yes’. The players you knew were all going to turn up.
“This is different. I’m on the back foot on a lot of things here, I’m having to bob and weave and work through it and initially I was so despondent thinking, ‘I’ve not got a good feeling here, this is frightening’, then the Rory news was broken, ‘oh my God, where are we going to go, how are we going to fix that up?’
“Then I started talking to other administrators, not just on the European Tour but the PGA Tour and very quickly I started thinking, if we can get three or four of the big names, like a Poulter, a top 20 in the world kind of player, then you put in the Matt Wallaces and Eddie Pepperells, guys in the top 50 in the world and kind of pushing up towards top 20 and then put the rank and file behind that, that’s kind of the DNA of a modern golf tournament, whether you like it or not.”
McGinley, who proposed Lahinch to the European Tour as his preferred venue for this year’s Irish Open, also reached out to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan for advice. “He said, you know, if you had three or four of the big-name guys and those kind of tiers coming in, ‘that’s the DNA of a modern golf tournament’. Unless you’re running a World Golf event, a major championship or the Players Championship, outside of those three events, everything else is kind of in that bracket I’m talking about.”