Professional golf may be tearing itself apart but the cream of the game’s crop will still pitch up as one happy family for two days in rural Limerick early next week for the star-studded JP McManus Pro-Am.
Players from the nouveau-riche LIV Golf experiment will rub shoulders with compatriots still wedded to the two traditional tours at Adare Manor. In all, ten of the world’s top eleven male professionals will be on site. Half of the world’s top 50.
And Tigers Woods.
McManus is a man with deep pockets and a padded contacts book but the question still stands: how is it that a field of that wattage can be so turned on to a non-competitive gathering in the southwest of Ireland in the middle of the season’s primetime?
“Yeah, it is very impressive,” said Padraig Harrington. “No appearance fees, no fees to go and play in the JP McManus Pro-Am. But JP asks nicely, and he supports… He will support every player who comes to his pro-am. JP will support them for the rest of their life and their charitable endeavours. That really is it.
“Whenever they're running a charity event, JP will be first on that list to support them, right around the world. He will become… Anybody who helps JP out will become a friend to JP, and JP will always remember that and work with those players whatever they're doing, help them out.”
If that’s the meat of it then the side dishes don’t hurt either.
“It is a bit of a bonus that you are going to Adare and you're going to enjoy yourself. It's going to be… It's one of the highlights of the year in Ireland, and certainly in golfing terms it's a huge highlight with the people that will be there.
“All the pros will have the time of their life, will have a great experience.”
Harrington is due to be among them when the latest hosting of the event starts on Monday morning but that’s just one commitment among many for a man still trying to find his feet after the high of that US Senior Open win in Pennsylvania last Sunday.
The Dubliner has since had to fly home, answer the deluge of congratulatory texts and phone calls, sit in on a succession of Zoom calls and then unpack and repack his suitcase for this week’s Horizon Irish Open in Kilkenny.
“I'm a little stressed, put it like that.”
All told, the schedule doesn’t really thin out until the few days leading up to the Open at St Andrews given he also has the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club and, probably, a few meetings with tour officials to discuss Ryder Cup qualification matters vis-à-vis the LIV Golf scenario.
It may be later in the year before he retreats from fifth gear but the sense of satisfaction at his success last weekend has started to trickle through. That was clear when he was asked to compare the Senior win to the two Opens and the US PGA claimed in the past.
“I've got to say, I enjoyed it more than a lot of victories over the years. When it comes to the actual, let's call them, the ‘real majors’, there's an awful lot of tension involved. Your whole career is defined by those majors. So yeah, winning those can be… Yeah, it takes a huge amount out of you.
“I enjoyed the US Open more. Maybe I enjoyed it more at this stage of my career. I enjoyed the whole experience there at the Seniors. You could see, as people will point out, I had those eyes again. Not quite as intense maybe as some of my other major victories, but I was into it. There was a sense of relief at the end and a sense of joy.”
It’s a win that invites intriguing possibilities.
Go back only 13 months and he was finishing joint fourth in the US PGA, behind Phil Mickelson who is 13 months his elder, and his victory last week was built on straight hitting off the tee, a high dose of greens in regulations and some clutch putting on the Sunday.
Colin Montgomerie has voiced fears that the big hitters could destroy St Andrews but Harrington knows it like the back of his hand and expects the R&A to come up with some quirky pin placings to protect the old place on the occasion of the 150th championship.
Stranger things have happened… As for this week, well, this is almost certainly an ask too soon, what with the abrupt turnaround, the adrenalin and stress, and the fact that he is in the middle of a run that involves six tournaments in five weeks.
If there is a plus to all that it is in the fact that it allows him little time to practise and get in his own way. Harrington’s capacity for introspection is legendary so it may be that his absence from the driving range proves to be something of a blessing in disguise.
Other mental obstacles remain.
Irish players can carry a heavy burden at this tournament. A nation expects and they know it. Harrington would love to live up to his billing, and his recent success, this next few days but there is a determination to savour the achievement just recorded regardless.
“I'm going to walk around like I won last week. It just doesn't happen as often as people would (think). I know back in the day, I know myself, I've won tournaments and the next day you're thinking about what you're doing with your swing and what you're working on, where you're going. Now I just enjoy the wins.
“They don't come around often enough. Hopefully, no matter what happens this week at the Irish Open, I will just walk around and wave at the crowds, even if it's not going well, and try and embrace that energy rather than look to be… I hope I'm super competitive, but I don't have to be to enjoy this week.”