McIlroy and McDowell back idea of USPGA Championship at Portrush
Ulster duo believe Major could be hosted by Co Antrim course in the future
The 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush attracted record crowds for a European Tour event. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images
The Co Antrim course has emerged as a surprise contender to stage the season’s final Major if the PGA of America goes ahead with plans to stage the event outside the United States.
The PGA of America confirmed last month that a committee is studying the impact of holding the event around the world, with the earliest possible date in 2020.
It had been thought that Asia would be the most likely venue, but PGA of America president Ted Bishop told Golf Channel’s ‘Morning Drive’ programme on Thursday that he was interested in Portrush.
“Royal Portrush would be a great first international Major,” he said. “I think given the powerful effect that Irish golfers have on the professional game today, that might be a good place to start.”
Speaking after his second round at the DP World Tour Championship, McIlroy told reporters in Dubai that he has discussed the idea.
“I’ve spoken to Ted (Bishop, USPGA president) and to people at the PGA about this – they approached me a few months ago and I’d be all for it,” said McIlroy.
“It’s quite a long way down the road, 10 years or so, maybe a bit more, but I’d love to be able to play a Major championship at home,” added McIlroy, who shot a course-record 61 on the Dunluce links as a 16-year-old.
The R&A denied reports this summer that the British Open was set to be held at Portrush in either 2018 or 2019. R&A chief executive Peter Dawson admitted earlier this year that Portrush is “a fantastic golf course,” but concerns remain over the infrastructure required to stage a Major and Dawson feels the current nine-course British Open rota is “about right”.
The Northern Irish course has not hosted a major since the 1951 British Open, but the Irish Open was a huge success there in 2012, attracting record crowds for a European Tour event.
McIlroy is certain that there would be no problems in staging the event.
“Having the Irish Open there at Portrush made a huge impact, I think everyone saw how well it was supported so if they had 5-10 years to prepare it could be massive,” the world number six said.
The 24-year-old, who was crowned USPGA champion in 2012, also believes that moving the tournament around the world would be good for the sport.
“The US Open, Open Championship and US Masters can’t really go elsewhere,” added McIlroy.
“But if they’re thinking of moving the PGA around a little bit I think it’s a great thing for the growth of the game globally.”
Former US Open champion and Portrush native McDowell admitted the possibility was “very bizarre,” adding: “It’s always been a dream of mine to play the Open there but the US PGA would do nicely.
“It’s very bizarre and an amazing statement. I couldn’t believe it and read it three times. I had heard the US PGA was looking at going global, which is a very positive step forward, but I was expecting Asia, not the north coast of Ireland.
“Even if it never comes to fruition it’s a great boost to be mentioned in that breath. My brother Gary is on the greenkeeping staff there and he will have a spring in his step.
“Having three Majors in America with the way the game is growing is a little too weighted. It’s the fourth Major of four so taking it somewhere else would really boost the interest. Asia, Australia or Europe would really embrace it.”