Irish Open crowd phones it in on a buzzing opening day

Mobile phones were all the buzz in the days leading up to this week’s Irish Open but the only sounds puncturing the quiet of the tenth tee early yesterday as a trio of Irish players got their rounds under way was the birdsong from beyond the surrounding dunes.

The River Bann flowed lazily along to one side and the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean lapped gently onto the shore of the nearby Strand as Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, and Pádraig Harrington took their first swings between eight and half-past.

So much for Lowry’s prediction of a golfing apocalypse brought on by a soundtrack of bleeps and clicks, one delivered on the back of the European Tour’s relaxation on rules regarding the use of phones for photos and a competition offering prizes for the best of them.

A first for the tour, it was a policy writ large on signs around the course. “Mobile phone photography is permitted ALL DAYS in all areas of the course. Mobile phone video capture is allowed ALL DAYS in non-competition areas only.”

It’s golf, Jim, but not as we know it.

“Ridiculous,” Lowry had said. It would be “carnage”, he warned.

Such emotive words seemed superfluous amid the assiduous silence of the early-morning few. It was broken only when an on-course reporter spoke too loudly into his microphone.

Media be damned, eh?

This is a tournament renowned for the volume of boots on the ground but turn up before the work day kicks in, regardless of whether the venue is north or south, and you are all but guaranteed a prime perch to watch some of the game’s finest do their thing.

There was no rush-hour traffic yesterday morning. More a trickle.

No more than a hundred early birds clustered around the breakfast brigades as they teed off and this despite the fact that the trio of ‘local’ attractions were joined by such luminaries as Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, and the irrepressible Miguel Angel Jimenez.

The Spaniard never fails to make an impression. Virtually everyone inside the ropes merited a meaty handshake and a ‘hello’ on arrival before he strode forward and swung his driver back and forth with the rhythm and gusto of a Flamenco dancer.

The music was supplied elsewhere.

The European Tour has tried to jig things up with all manner of ‘modern’ ideas: Cue the strains here of U2 and Lynyrd Skynyrd wafting towards the recorder’s hut at the back of the 18th green yesterday as the players examined the entrails of their rounds.

Lowry had a pop at that sort of carry-on earlier this week too — when did he get old and grouchy? — but if he heard Bono crooning about life ‘With Or Without You’, then he hid it well. And those snap-happy punters? Had any forgotten to put their phones on silent?

“Only a couple,” he said with a knowing smile. “It was grand.” He didn’t exactly deny it when asked if his very public criticisms of a few days before had earned a frank talking-to by the tour’s blazers but it was the McDowell, Rose, and Fleetwood group ten minutes back and counting who risked a rap on the knuckles for slow play.

That’s golf for you. It can embrace all the technology it wants, book Niall Horan for every pro-am this side of Singapore, and throw in a kids’ zone, but that grand old tradition of the world’s best taking an eternity over a straightforward nine-iron remains a staple of the pro game.

“On 17 I was a bit uncomfortable on the tee shot and there was a couple of little distractions around the tee,” said Rose. “It was one of those situations where I may have backed off it. I wasn’t on the clock but I went with it and hit a poor shot. So it can have an effect.

“G-Mac and I, it was funny, we kept playing out of turn and the rules official must have been so confused,” the Olympic champion laughed. “It’s probably a great strategy if you are on the clock: Everyone just play out of turn and he won’t know what’s going on.” Hey, if it speeds things up then what’s not to like?

Boil it all down and there are a handful of very basic ingredients needed to make any Irish Open a success. Secure a decent course, preferably one with a pinch of breathtaking scenery, beg the gods for some blue skies, and pray that some of the Irish guys are in the mix come Sunday.

Day one delivered on all three counts.

Now, excuse us please while we edit all those selfies.

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