It is not exactly a heartwarming story, John Catlin’s hard-headed calculation that leaving his native United States to play the Asian Tour was more economically viable to earn prize money than the PGA Tour. Yet after five years away from home, he has cracked the world’s top 100 by picking up two European Tour wins in his last three starts. His approach in the final round at Galgorm Castle was also laudable, two shots back of leader Aaron Rai with four to play, he went for broke. Three birdies later he was top of the leaderboard, the pressure applied to Rai and the chasing pack. The pressure told and there was Catlin, king of the Castle.
Against all the odds, Irish golf got the job done and got its national open championship into the record books last night. That was no small feat given the way competitive golf has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. As European Tour events fell by the wayside, the Irish Open's postponement on March 30 looked like it would follow suit.
The original date of May 28-31 came and went but the work did not stop. It needed a move away from Mount Juliet to Northern Ireland but the Tour and Galgorm Castle worked wonders to deliver. The course gained rave reviews, the greens were described as the best of the season and the winning score of 10-under par showed this was not target practice but a genuine golfing test producing a worthy winner.
The importance of getting the 2020 Irish Open played should not be underestimated. Having four days and 20 hours of live television coverage on Sky Sports, America’s Golf Channel, and dozens more besides around the world is the best possible exposure for Ireland’s golf tourism industry in what has been an extremely challenging year due to the wiping out of international travel, worth €270 million per annum in years gone by. With golfers waiting eagerly for the chance to go on their travels again, this week’s coverage has laid down an excellent marker for future bookings.
It may seem an odd question, whether there is a shortfall in Irish professional talent. Yet as the final leaderboard shows, there does seem to be a vacuum between Ireland’s major champions and its elite amateurs.
Of the 10 Irishmen who teed it up at Galgorm Castle on Thursday, only five made the halfway cut. Two of them were amateurs, two more PGA professionals and only one, Jonathan Caldwell, a touring pro, who was the leading Irishman home in 54th. We need more Irish pros at the top of leaderboards week in, week out.
Forget the final-round disappointment for James Sugrue, for two of Ireland’s three amateurs in the field this week to make the halfway cut is some achievement, no matter their eventual finishing positions.
Sugrue and fellow international Mark Power handled themselves brilliantly all week, on the course, and in dealing with the media attention their good play in a professional field garnered.