Ryder Cup captains favour moving Irish Open to a later date

McGinley and Clarke would prefer event to be held closer to the British Open

Soren Kjeldsen  of Denmark is handed the Irish Open trophy by tournament host  Rory McIlroy at  Royal County Down. Photo: Paul Faith/Getty

Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark is handed the Irish Open trophy by tournament host Rory McIlroy at Royal County Down. Photo: Paul Faith/Getty

 

An Irish Open return to Royal County Down in 2019 as part of a links swing – including the Scottish Open and the historic return of the British Open to the revamped Dunluce course at Royal Portrush that year – is a strong possibility, but will ultimately be influenced by Rory McIlroy’s playing itinerary.

The back-to-back Irish captains of the Ryder Cup – Paul McGinley, who captained the team to success at Gleneagles last year and Darren Clarke who will lead the defence at Hazeltine next year – believe a new, late-summer date needs to be found.

“We’ve had too many dates in May that have not worked, we should be learning our lesson and finding a date in the summer,” said McGinley, who retire prior to the final round due to the back spasms.

As Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen won a three-man play-off with Eddie Pepperell and Bernd Wiesberger to end a six-year drought since his last tour win in 2009 and claim the €416,660 top prize, in a tournament that proved to be the toughest scoring-wise on tour this season, Clarke declared it “a huge success, playing on one of the best golf courses in the world in tough conditions . . . that’s what links is, it is how it is meant to be.”

Links build-up

When questioned on whether it would fit in as part of a links build-up to the British Open – the Major is yet to be confirmed for Portrush but is believed to be set for 2019 once the R&A complete revamping the Dunluce links on the Causeway coast – Clarke replied, “that would be great if that was the case. ‘19 is a long way off, (the Open) hasn’t quite been confirmed yet and hopefully it will be in the not too distant future.”

The belief is that the Irish Open could slot in to a date before the Scottish Open and onwards to the British Open to constitute a links swing that would likely appeal to a large number of players. As it is, the French Open is owner of the date prior to the Scottish Open but that could become available after Paris National plays host to the Ryder Cup in 2019.

Staging the Irish Open at Royal County Down in the week immediately before the British Open at Royal Portrush is unlikely, given how severe the test was this time around.

One thing is for sure, and that is McIlroy – who has assumed the role of host of the Irish Open going forward and who was on hand at the trophy presentation to Kjeldsen – will be a key factor in determining when the tournament is slotted into the calendar. “It will be all based on Rory’s schedule,” admitted McGinley.

Clarke remarked: “The European Tour have got a very difficult time in terms of scheduling and what they have to do. We have had the Irish Open in a later date (in the past) and now we are here (in May). It is just unfortunate, as we don’t always get bad weather . . . as long as the tournament keeps going in the right direction, with Rory’s backing, I think it is great to see it getting back up in terms of international recognition.”

Of a possible return to the links under Slieve Donard in four years time, Graeme McDowell said: “I would love it. I think the two courses we have used the last few years have been incredible, the crowds (at Portrush and Co Down) have been incredible . . . I think it has to be shared both sides of the border, from a golfing point of view there is no border, and it is important to take the tournament to the greatest golf courses and to showcase it and to keep driving it forward.”

McIlroy, for his part, revealed he would return favours called in to attract some of the game’s superstars to Co Down.

“I’m definitely going to go down to South Africa one of the next couple of years to play in the SA Open with Ernie (Els); I’m going to do a charity event for Sergio (Garcia) next summer in Switzerland; I’m not sure what Rickie (Fowler) wants me to do yet but we’re obviously very good friends. Anything he wants me to do, I’ll return the favour.”

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