“Mashed potatoes,” came the roar from a group of teenage boys as Rory McIlroy hit his tee-shot from the par three third hole, the idiotic shout that for some reason has found its way into the vernacular of a loud few who attend golf tournaments around the world.
It's a ubiquitous airhead cry that is actually abhorred by the vast majority of spectators; yet its resurfacing during the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Mount Juliet resort in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, served to provide proof, if it were needed, that a semblance of what amounts to normality could be not just seen, with the return of crowds, but heard too.
Some 2,500 spectators daily have been in attendance as part of the Government’s test events, where international golfers from 26 countries are competing for a top prize of €460,000 and a Waterford Crystal trophy that through the years has the names of many of the sport’s greats engraved onto its base.
And those visiting golfers have seemed to enjoy the interaction. During Thursday's round one, Martin Kaymer, a two-time Major champion, handed a golf ball to a young fan. In the second round, Aoibhinn Fennelly found a way to return the favour with a signed sliotar for the German.
Shane Lowry, for sure, has delighted in the return of crowds too.
“I struggled after lockdown and honestly when I look back I really believe that was from the lack of crowds. At the end of the day, we’re obviously out there doing our best, but we’re trying to entertain as well,” he said.
“I’m trying to hit the best shots I can and it’s almost when you get a difficult shot you’re nearly trying to show off when you can do and show people what you can do. I got a great reception going down 18, that kind of gave me goosebumps. Not sure if it was the cold or not, but it was nice, great to have people back.”
Australian Lucas Herbert, a 25-year-old whose only tour win so far came in last year's Dubai Desert Classic, shot a second round 67 to add to his opening 64 to retain the lead, reaching the midpoint of the championship with a 36-holes total of 13-under-par 131.
When the guillotine fell on the cutline, it came at three-under-par 141 with 69 players surviving to move into the weekend with aspirations on the title. Four Irish players – Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry (on 139), Cormac Sharvin (on 140) and Graeme McDowell (141) – were among them.
“It’s good for the tournament. It would be a disaster if one of us or a couple of us missed the cut. So, even though small crowds or whatever, it’ll be nice for the crowds to have the Irish lads out there [over the weekend],” said Lowry.
All four have ground to make up, but at least they’re there to get the crowd behind them.