McGinley confident top-class field will line up in Lahinch

Irish Open host working behind the scenes to lure as many top names as possible

Paul McGinley: “I’m doing my best to get as strong a field as I can. I think, all things considered, we’re in pretty good shape for what will be a great Irish open on a great golf course.” Photograph:  Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Paul McGinley: “I’m doing my best to get as strong a field as I can. I think, all things considered, we’re in pretty good shape for what will be a great Irish open on a great golf course.” Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

 

If you imagine Paul McGinley can simply speed-dial any of the world’s top-50 players and ask for a favour, then think again.

That’s not how it works in the real world. As tournament host of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch this coming July, the Dubliner’s task in accumulating a stellar field is more akin to that of a spider building a web with the aim of ultimately snaring as much tasty prey as possible.

As it happens, McGinley – using diplomatic means, in approaching players’ backroom members including agents and caddies – has spread the word to the extent that anyone who is anyone in the world of the professional game knows the Rolex Series tournament, with its €6.2 million purse, will take place over the famed Co Clare links on July 4th-7th.

Who will answer the call? Now, that’s the question.

Well, despite Rory McIlroy’s telegraphed absence, a strong European contingent – among them Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood, along with home-grown global players including Shane Lowry, Paul Dunne and Pádraig Harrington – has already committed.

The real parts of the jigsaw yet to fall into place will be in determining what American players commit, and McGinley is of the opinion it will be a case of waiting and seeing (possibly until after the US PGA in May) to discover what USA-based players will make it to Lahinch.

“You can only use strong-arm tactics if you’ve got leverage and, at the moment in professional golf, the players make their own schedules. I’ve contacted everyone in the top-50 in the world rankings and certainly the top players in the Race to Dubai but, at the end of the day, it’s up to them whether they come or not,” admitted McGinley.

McGinley’s task, it must be said, has been made more difficult this year given the tightening of the PGA Tour schedule stateside which will see the megabucks FedEx Cup playoffs (with $15 million to the winner) over by the third week in August. The challenge of getting those US players to fit in the Irish Open – which takes place the week ahead of the Scottish Open and a fortnight before the British Open at Royal Portrush – is just that, a challenge.

Fortunately, McGinley’s role as a Sky Sports commentator has ensured his presence on the ground at a large number of tournaments and an opportunity to plan the seed of playing in Lahinch.

“I’m doing my best to get as strong a field as I can. I think, all things considered, we’re in pretty good shape for what will be a great Irish open on a great golf course.”

He added: “Obviously Rory not coming is a big blow but we’re going to have some big names, household names. A lot of them still haven’t committed for various reasons but they’ve assured me behind the scenes, ‘yes, I’m going to be playing’. . . . a lot of players are still unsure as to what they’re doing, this condensed schedule and the playing of one big tournament every month. March. April. May. June. July. August. It’s making them going slowly but surely in terms of committing to any events.”

Honorary member

McGinley, though, has been going about the task of letting players at least know the date. Even Tiger Woods!

“I’ve spoken to Mark Steinberg [the player’s manager] for example regarding Tiger, and Notah Begay, who is his friend. That’s the way I’ve been approaching it rather than going in heavy-handed to a player who might be practising, getting ready for a tournament. I’ve been working their teams.

“It’s obviously highly unlikely Tiger [will play] but he’s certainly aware that the Irish Open is on, he’s certainly aware that I’m hosting and aware it’s in Lahinch. Again, he’s another guy who is going very softly-softly with his schedule based on injury, based on all the different things that are going on in terms of scheduling and not playing too much.”

And what of Phil Mickelson, who is an honorary member at Lahinch?

“Like Tiger, it’s unlikely. But they are aware of it and I’ve reached out to them. We’ve also reached out to them through some of the members in Lahinch, which has a great network of very wealthy and influential members throughout America, from politics through to business, and I’ve been leveraging that database that they have as well to get access to the players to hopefully make a decision to come over. It’s unlikely he [Mickelson] is going to play, but you never know.”

The waiting game may continue to see which players commit in the months and weeks ahead, and McGinley remarked: “The Irish Open is the Irish Open. It’s been going for years and years. We’ve had all the great players come in the past, like Seve, Ben Crenshaw, Langer, Olazabal. I think in relative terms, for the way the modern game is at the moment, we’re going to be certainly holding our own in terms of quality of the field.”

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