Pádraig Harrington: Portrush could be catalyst for global British Open

Dubliner insists ‘there is nothing that I fear out here this week, I can definitely do it’

Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington practising for the 148th Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club. Photograph: Francois Nel/Getty Images

Royal Portrush Golf Club's return to the British Open rota of courses after a gap of 68 years is an historic moment. But could an even potentially more seismic staging take place on the island of Ireland? As in somewhere like Portmarnock Golf Club?

“I think this is the beginning of the Open taking its place as the Open and moving around the world,” asserted Pádraig Harrington, a two-time winner of the Claret Jug. “Where else would be the first place? Yes, Portmarnock would seem the logical first step, but in my lifetime it is possible to see it being played in the Netherlands or maybe Australia. These are all under the auspices of the R&A so it could move around the world.”

As it stands Portmarnock’s men-only membership policy would rule it out of the equation entirely, although the club is currently in the middle of a survey of its membership on the issue. However, the hugely successful staging of last month’s British Amateur championship on the north Dublin links once again showcased its potential to host the very biggest events.

As Harrington, who has been an R&A ambassador since lifting his first Claret Jug in 2007, put it of potentially moving outside the UK, “I haven’t heard it too much behind the scenes but there is no reason [why it can’t be]. Every bit of golf outside two or three countries [in North America] is under the auspices of the R&A, so there is nothing to rule out the R&A moving the Open around the world.


Down the road

“It is not something that is going to happen in the next five years, but it definitely could happen down the road. It would be easy to think we are on their doorstep that we should be first if it does move. Portmarnock is obviously a great championship venue. They obviously have their own issues [with men-only membership] but it is definitely a possibility. It would be a great venue, it has the infrastructure and, like here, I think people would embrace it.”

Harrington was one of those players who set in motion the possibility of the championship's return to Royal Portrush – a crusade that also had the huge support of Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell – and now that it is here the 47-year-old Dubliner is ready to have a real tilt at claiming a third Claret Jug on a links he cites as his "favourite".

“There is nothing that I fear out here this week, I can definitely do it. It is all about if I fall into a nice mental state. I am trying my hardest to get into that mental outlook, and if I get there I can be competitive and win this,” said Harrington, whose early season was disrupted by a broken bone in his wrist but who has shown glimpses – most recently in leading the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open after the first round – of a return to form.

Could it be a case of perfect timing?

“I’m trying 100 per cent every time I tee it up, let alone trying 100 per cent every time I tee it up in an Open championship, so I can’t try any more.”

What is for certain is that the pristine conditioning of the course has captivated one and all.

Pitch shots

“I’d say the Americans are loving this. I hit pitch shots there and normally when you come to an Open you have to grind the bounce off your wedge because the ground is so hard, so tight. And I’ve put bounce onto my wedge here, it’s just really nice and perfect. There’s a lot of grass and it’s manicured to the nth degree.

“I’d prefer it to be like this for the showcasing of the event, and the US guys are going to say ‘wow, this is beautiful’, not what they expect at all. When we were in Royal Liverpool, the year Tiger won [in 2006] with all the irons, that was maniac stuff, you’d put the club down on the ground and it was slipping, you were afraid you were going to hit your golf ball. So I think players are going to love this, but I’d be happier if everybody was unhappy!”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times