By Brian Keogh
Former Marine Corps pilot Tom Kane has shot down cancer for the third time and vowed to make the Irish Open one of the European Tour’s top guns.
The Adare Manor boss and Vietnam war veteran, 69, went under the knife for prostate cancer in Boston just last week.
But he checked himself out of a hospital after just FOUR days to continue his bid to make the May 17-20 Irish Open the biggest and best in its long history.
And with three new sponsors ready to add almost €1 million to the pot, his efforts could see a late boost in the prize fund from €2.5 to over €3 million.
Less than a week after a prostate cancer op, Kane said: “It will take a while to get back to 100 percent but I’ve seen this movie before.
“I had my left kidney taken out seven years ago so I am a three-time cancer survivor because I had skin cancer first of all.
“That’s like jay-walking for me now. All I’m trying to do now is get back on my feet and get this Irish Open moving. Hospitals are for sick people so I got the hell out of there after a few days.
“I feel good now and my voice hasn’t gone up an octave, so that is a good sign. We have an expression in the military: Any landing you walk away from is a good one.”
After flying 63 combat missions in Vietnam, staging the Irish Open at Adare Manor should be a piece of cake of Jersey-born Kane.
And it looks as though his gamble of staging the event without a title sponsor is going to pay off big time with a trio of interested sponsors waiting to part with €300,000 each over the next couple of weeks.
Front line sponsors Fáilte Ireland, McInerney, Roadbridge and Pallas Foods have already agreed to pay €300,000 each with Audi Ireland, Limerick County Council, Rolex and Shannon Development all stumping up another €150,000 apiece.
But Kane reckons he can get another €900,000 and if the fans get behind the event, he sees no reason why the prize fund can’t reach €3 million this year.
He said: “The swing in behind the programme has been very gratifying. Nobody has said, hey you’re crazy.
“I started out looking for sponsorship at €600,000 apiece and the dog didn’t hunt. I had a couple of people at that level but I wasn’t broadening the appeal. So we reduced it to €300,000 to broaden the base out, which was part of the objective.
“I have been excited with the reaction and I have another three sponsors at that €300,000 level that are interested in coming on board this year.
“Once we have covered the costs of staging the event, the rest of the money goes into the tournament. There is no promoter here and this is not a profit making enterprise.
“If we can bring the expenses down under €2 million, the rest of the money goes into the prize fund. We have got to get the prize fund up and I would like to bump it past €2.5 million this year to €3 million.”
Getting fans though the gates is a vital part of the plan and only bad weather or another appearance by Munster in the Heineken Cup final could throw a spanner in the works.
Kane added: “I can’t control the weather and I can’t control the Heineken Cup. But we have taken the ticket prices down to €25 which means we are clearing €20 after VAT.
“If we can 50,000 fans at €20 nett that’s €1 million for the prize fund. If we can get 80,000 people that’s €1.6 million. So the gate can have a huge influence on the prize fund.
“There is free parking and the kids get in free. So we want to drive this from the bottom and get people and families through the gate.
“I don’t know when the tour has to fix the prize fund number. But let’s say that through ticket pre-sales, we are going to get €1.5 million on top of the sponsorship money.
“All of a sudden we are going to be bringing in €4.5 million or €4.8 million and they may take the prize fund to €3 million.”
The guts of the 2006 European Ryder Cup winning side will tee it up this year with Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley working hard behind the scenes to convince the top players to pencil the Irish Open into their diaries.
And Kane also has plans to fly some of Europe’s top stars to Adare from Sawgrass, where they will play The Players Championship the week before the Irish Open.