When Rory McIlroy won the US Open by eight shots last June, he was hailed as the saviour of an Irish Open in crisis.
The thinking at the time was that the national open would always survive with the likes of Major winners McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington in the field.
Now, six weeks after he said he was unsure whether or not he would play the event next season due to a clash with the AT&T National at the site of his US Open win (Congressional Country Club), McIlroy says he’s still undecided. That’s not a good sign.
The Irish Open was once the first event an Irish pro pencilled into his calendar but McIlroy is not your normal Irish pro. His indecision is understandable considering his current status in the world game and his ambitions to reach world No. 1 and add to his major haul. But one suspects that won’t wash with the Irish golfing public. And McIlroy knows it.
Of course, it’s very different for journeyman pro Mark Murphy, the Waterville wanderer who won Golf Channel’s “Big Break Ireland” reality show at The K Club to earn a precious invitation for next season’s Irish Open, wherever that might take place.
“I felt like I have never achieved anything in golf, and now, I have achieved something,” an emotional Murphy said after winning the final after a play-off at The K Club’s Palmer Course. “This show changes lives. My life has changed, probably forever. I’m Big Break Champion!”
McIlroy’s US Open win Congressional show changed his life forever too and while many will urge him to stay away from probable venue Killarney given his disinterested Irish Open performance there this year, he doesn’t need much encouragment to play in the US anyway after deciding to rejoin the US circuit.
The winner of the clashing AT&T National is certainly better reward than the Irish Open champion. Nick Watney earned a cheque for $1.1m this year as well as 44 world ranking points. Compare that to the €250,000 and 28 points gleaned by Simon Dyson in Killarney.
McIlroy doesn’t need Conor Ridge and his new management company to tell him that missing the Irish Open will not go down well with his Irish fan base but one suspects that if he is still undecided, it’s not going to be good news for the European Tour and Failte Ireland.
The tour and the tourism body are footing the bill for an event that is still without a title sponsor and getting one will be very difficult with a Rory McIlroy in the field.
As for Murphy, who defeated the Canadian Julien Trudeau in 19 holes to win “Big Break Ireland”, golf is finally fun again.
The 33-year old former Ireland international admits he was tempted to “pack it in” recently after a decade of struggles that have seen him combine caddying for Rocco Mediate with stints on the US mini Tours and visits to the Q-School.
But the New Orleans resident is dreaming of following in the footsteps of other Big Break winners such as Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey or Solheim Cup player Ryann O’Toole.
Reaching those heights will require serious performances in future Q-School appearances, though he is already feeling the part. His prize consisted of the following:
$50,000 cash and invitations to compete in the 2012 Irish Open and the Hassan II Golf Trophy on the European Tour. In addition, Murphy receives an Adams Golf endorsement contract, which includes $10,000 in cash, a $10,000 shopping spree to Dick’s Sporting Goods; $10,000 airline credit for travel use with United Airlines and a “wonderful West of Ireland” trip for two.
Past Big Break champions have won tournament exemptions to compete on some of the world’s top professional circuits, including the PGA Tour,Champions Tour, European Tour, LPGA Tour, Nationwide Tour andCanadian Tour. Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, “Big Break VII: Reunion” champion and PGA Tour professional, drew attention earlier this year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open after leading the first three rounds, before ultimately finishing tied for eighth. Most recently, Ryann O’Toole, competitor on “Big Break Sandals Resorts,” earned her first top-10 finish at a major championship, finishing T-9 at the U.S. Women’s Open, and was a captain’s pick for the U.S. Solheim Cup team. Several Other Big Break alums are currently competing on the world’s top tours, including Matt Every (PGA Tour), James Nitties (Nationwide Tour), Kim Welch (Ladies European Tour) and Sara Brown, Gerina Mendoza,Kristy McPherson and O’Toole are all competing on the LPGA.
Murphy would gladly swim home to Ireland for the Irish Open - especially if it’s in Kerry - but McIlroy has other priorities and choices. Just how strongly the young Ulsterman feels about the Irish Open will be revealed soon. The event certainly deserves a break.