Out of Bounds: GolfSixes absence is wake-up call for Irish golf
No new Irish player has managed to break into the world’s top-200 since Shane Lowry
Leading amateur Rory McIlroy and British Open champion Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie, Scotland in 2007. Photograph: Getty Images
Did you ever get a smack in the face, a wake-up call when reality truly bites home?
That’s what it felt like the other day, talking to a friend on the phone. “Why is there no Ireland team in this new GolfSixes tournament?” he wondered. Ah no, he had to be wrong. Except Greg Allen isn’t the type of bloke to have his facts wrong.
And, sure enough, this new-fangled tournament - with 16 teams - which European tour chief Keith Pelley claims will “broaden the appeal of our sport to the millennial demographic” and use player mics and caddie cams to, let’s say, sex-up the sport will go ahead at St Albans outside London in early-May with absolutely no Irish playing involvement.
It is 10 years since Pádraig Harrington opened the floodgates for a golden generation of Irish golfers by claiming his first of three Major titles when he won the British Open at Carnoustie. The young man beside him at the presentation ceremony was Rory McIlroy, who accepted the silver medal as leading amateur and who, since, has gone on to win four Majors. Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke added one each of their own. Nine Major titles captured by Irish golfers inside a decade.
We’ve known that if you scratch under the skin a bit, though, that the depth is a bit thin. Yet, that Ireland hasn’t managed to earn a place in a 16-team tournament which is part of this new marketing drive to keep golf out of the rough is a real eye-opener.
Okay, the timing of the event - on the weekend of May 6th-7th - effectively rules out Ireland’s top-ranked players straight away. It clashes directly with the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour and is a week ahead of The Players Championship, with its near $2 million pot of gold to the winner and piles of world ranking points. So, Messrs McIlroy, Lowry and McDowell were always going to be looking stateside for their playing commitments. And Pádraig Harrington too, except he’s now in rehabilitation for neck surgery.
Paul Dunne was effectively left holding the deal on his own, and - in a way - he is unlucky not to have earned an Irish team a place in the field. If the qualifying criteria had been off the current PGA European Tour Road to Dubai rankings, he’d have easily earned a place for Ireland.
He’s currently ranked 55th on the order of merit, which is ahead of the likes of Thorbjorn Olesen (Denmark), Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand), Paul Petersen (USA), Bradley Dredge (Wales) and Richie Ramsay (Scotland) who are the players who earned their respective countries berths in the field.
Except, those R2D rankings were not the ones used. Instead, the criteria used was to rank players off the official world rankings at the qualifying cut-off point . . . . . and all of those players are ranked ahead of Dunne, who has improved his world ranking from 275th at the start of the year to a current position of 229th. It still left him adrift of the country with the 16th ranked eligible player, Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia.
It’s also a remarkable statistic that no new Irish player has managed to break into the world’s top-200 since Shane Lowry made the leap after his Irish Open win in 2009.
So it is that Ireland is only the third reserve for the 16-team field, with Chile and Germany above them in waiting for any possible withdrawals. Effectively, Ireland is ranked 19th.
As it is, the 16 countries who will fire the shots to shake up the PGA European Tour are England, Italy, Thailand, India, Australia, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Scotland, South Africa, USA, Wales, Belgium and Portugal.
That Ireland is cast adrift from such company is, indeed, a tough pill to take. Another wake-up call.