Brian Keogh in Ballyliffin
Des Smyth admits that continuing his lucrative relationship with the US Champions Tour for a seventh season will even more challenging than the gusting northwest winds and squally showers that dogged him in his final practice round for the Irish Seniors Open on Ballyliffin’s spectacular Old Links yesterday.
The 55-year-old will be bidding to defeat the elements and end Ireland’s decade-long wait for a home winner of the title on the wild and rugged Inishowen Peninsula where his rivals include defending champion Costantino Rocca, major winners Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Bob Charles, the grizzled Scot Sam Torrance and even his own brother Val.
But as he languishes 63rd on the Champions Tour money list, without a top-ten finish anywhere for more than nine months, he knows that he must start to find some form soon if he is to end the American season inside the top 30 money winners that retain their playing privileges for another year.
“I am trying to pull the bunny out of the hat over in America because I am really behind the eight ball,” said Smyth with typical candor. “Looking at my position over there, I am finished if I don’t improve. So I need to come up with either big performances or a win.
“I am not as optimistic as I was a couple of weeks ago. I thought I was getting places with my swing, but it hasn’t quite happened for me yet. It is still mid-season and I can still find my form. But I am a realist. If I was playing well, I’d tell you but unless I find my game and have some big performances, I’ll have difficulties.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Smyth has won twice and earned more than $4.2 million since he joined the Champions Tour in 2003. And he’s hoping that a good performance on familiar links terrain will signal a resurgence in form that will allow him to control his own destiny in America.
“I am not overly disappointed because I went there for three years and this is my sixth year there,” Smyth said. “I was feeling I was running out of steam last year anyway. But it is one thing being pushed out and another leaving on your own terms. I’d like to leave on my own terms, if I could. So I am prepared to work hard. Still, it could be my last year.”
Winds gusting over 30 mph and squally showers bearing sleet made life hard in the pre-tournament pro-am on the 6,867-yard Old Links where Smyth will spearhead an 11-strong Irish challenge alongside tour regulars such as Eamonn Darcy and Denis O’Sullivan as well as amateurs Val Smyth, Garth McGimpsey and Enda McMenamin.
“It is a tough golf course but it is very fair,” added Smyth, who finished tied 14th in last week’s Wales Senior Open at Conwy. “It is not tricked up in any way and the bunkering is fair. It will give you a chance to score if the wind dies down, but if it stays the same it will be a tough challenge.”
Tournament favourite Woosnam will be playing the course blind after being excused from the pre-tournament pro-am so he could attend the funeral of his mother-in-law, who was buried yesterday.