Out of Bounds: Travelling to play still a step too far for US players

None of the big name PGA Tour players are at Portstewart, despite the impending Open

Rickie Fowler was the last big name American to compete in the Irish Open at Royal County Down in 2015. Photo: Matt Mackey/Inpho

Rickie Fowler was the last big name American to compete in the Irish Open at Royal County Down in 2015. Photo: Matt Mackey/Inpho

 

“Why,” the email from Philadelphia wondered, “...so few American players in the field?”

The correspondent was of course referring to the DDF Irish Open field, which is headlined by its host Rory McIlroy, the world number four, and by Japan’s upwardly mobile Hideki Matsuyama, the world number two.

As a loaded question, it nevertheless makes sense.

Why so few?

In fact, there are four American players in a tournament which has a record purse of $7 million and part of the European Tour’s new Rolex Series, effectively the blockbuster events on the circuit this side of the Atlantic.

The four USA players are Peter Uihlein, Paul Peterson, David Lipsky and Daniel Im who – like US Open champion Brooks Koepka before them – chose to embark on their professional careers through the European Tour route. Some day, they could be household names. Uihlein certainly is tracking that way.

But, without taking anything away from a field that is one of the strongest ever assembled for an Irish Open, it is a pity that more established American players based on the PGA Tour didn’t go out of their way to include the DDF Irish Open on their itinerary.

With the tournament just two weeks before the British Open, it would – you’d imagine – have provided a splendid opportunity to get in competitive links play with a scorecard in hand, and also a chance to acclimatise to the conditions and get over whatever jetlag you get when flying first class.

The irony is that next week will see a number of Americans land in Ireland to play links courses – among them world number one Dustin Johnson – as part of their preparations for Royal Birkdale. The pity, of course, is that they didn’t come a week earlier, and include Portstewart, which has been superbly set up for the tournament, in their plans.

So be it, they’re not here. Which is their loss.

One man who is here is Jon Rahm, and the 22-year-old Spaniard has the bigger picture in what it is all about. He wants to be a global player, and, in truth, probably already is.

Ranked 11th in the world just over a year into his professional career, Rahm is a likely superstar of the sport going forward and his relaying of how he came to be here at Portstewart is refreshing in that it comes to personal links with McIlroy and also an awareness of how travel broadens the mind as well as improves the game.

That contact with McIlroy actually came earlier in the year when the pair played a practice round in Austin, Texas ahead of the WGC-Dell Matchplay championship. There was a vague promise that if he committed to coming, then he would play with McIlroy in the tournament. Rahm had it on his mind to come anyway, but the carrot of playing with the host was the icing on the cake.

So it is that the marquee three-ball for the first two rounds features three of the most exciting twentysomethings on the planet. McIlroy. Matsuyama. Rahm. Not an American among them. But so be it.

Hopefully, going forward, American players based on the PGA Tour will be more open-minded in travelling . . . just as Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green et al did in gracing past Irish Opens. Life goes on without the big name Americans this week, and it will be a great tournament, but the door will always be open to those wanting to play going forward, especially given the existence of a category to accommodate players from the world’s top-50.

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