Pádraig Harrington insists he would crawl of his “death bed” to play in the Irish Open. But while he’s a certain starter at Fota Island in Cork from June 19-22, he’d love to have the problem of dealing with jet lag and going straight there from the US Open at Pinehurst. If need be, he'll try to pre-qualify at Walton Heath.
As things stand, the three time major winner is ranked 125th in the world and has not yet qualified for the Masters, the US Open or any of the big World Golf Championship events.
If he doesn’t win or get back into the world’s Top 50 soon, he’s vowed to tee it up in the US Open International Sectional Qualifier at Walton Heath on May 26 - the Monday after the BMW PGA at Wentworth.
“Absolutely, 100 percent, I'll play in qualifying for the US Open if I have to," he said at an Irish Open photo-call at his lifelong club Stackstown. “The last time I played in a qualifier for a major was for the 1999 Open at Carnoustie.
“It was at Panmure and I qualified too. It was the only time I have ever played in a qualifier for a major because I never tried as an amateur.
“I qualified for the US Open on my Order of Merit position in 1997 and 1998. They didn't have US Open qualifiers in Europe at that stage so in 1999 when I started working with Bob Torrance and I dropped back in the world rankings, I missed it then.
“I was also outside the ranking to get into The Open that year too but I went to Panmure and qualified there.”
While he’s exempt for The Open and the US PGA until he is 60, the 42-year old Dubliner’s run of 14 straight Masters appearances could end this year.
As for the US Open, his 1999 absence is his only blank since he first qualified in 1998 but he’s vowed to pull out all the stops to avoid having to go to Walton Heath.
Without two majors and four World Golf Championships, all of which count on both tours, he is struggling to meet the minimum 13-event requirement for European Tour membership, not to mention 15 event minimum in the US.
He said: “A win sorts out everything, it really does. A win puts me back in the top 50, into the Masters, the Accenture Matchplay or the WGC at Doral and you are in a position where if you play well, you are going to make the Ryder Cup team. It's straightforward.
“I will find it hard to play my 13 in Europe if I play average. If I play badly or I play well, it won't be a problem. If I play average, I am going to have to play more events. If I play badly I won't be in the big events States, so I can go back to Europe to play.
“And if I play well I will get into the events that double count. If I qualify for the US Open or the Masters, it takes two events away. So it is an issue for me."
Set to begin a three week US stint in Phoenix next week, he went on: "I played in Abu Dhabi for that very reason. I would rather have played Torrey Pines this week and had four weeks in a row in the States. I like Torrey Pines and the conditions. That's why I am considering playing the French Open - 13 events is a lot for me this year. It is okay if I play well and I am in the Race to Dubai all the way to the end. It is an issue, no doubt about it."
The Irish Open is the first event he pencils into the calendar every year and as he did a photoshoot at his home club Stackstown yesterday to promote ticket sales for Fota Island, he was clearly excited about the prospect of returning to his home from home.
“I will be absolute fully Corkonian that week,” beamed the Dubliner, whose father Paddy played at halfback for Cork in the 1956 and 1957 All-Ireland football finals.
As for Fota Island, where he won the Irish Amateur Open in 1995 and had top six finishes in the two Irish Opens played there in 2001 and 2002, he’s expecting it to be a massive successive.
He said: “I think it is a great venue, I really do. The atmosphere last time in the Irish Opens, the last time I played in the amateur events there, lent itself very nicely to an event.
“I think the fact there hasn’t been an Irish Open down in Cork for a few years, they like their sport, they will turn out and that’s going to help.
“I think as proven at Royal Portrush, if we go to venues every so often it is more likely people are going to take their one chance to see players they wouldn’t normally see.
“There are a lot of people in Cork would never have seen Rory play golf. Look at the record crowds the European Tour got at Royal Portrush two years ago.
“The ability to move the Irish Open around makes a significant difference if we want to get a big crowd. If we want spectators to turn up, varying the venue is very important to it.”
Major winners like Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Darren Clarke are all certain to play.
As Harrington said: “I think the only time an Irish guy hasn’t turned up at an Irish Open is when he has had an issue that somebody else was getting a fee or something like that.
“I don’t think no Irish guy is not going to turn up nowadays assuming all things are equal. I will crawl out of my death bed to play it. It is the nature of it and I know of believe the other guys will too.”
As for the continuing battle to find a title sponsor, he refuses to believe that the Irish Open's glory have gone forever.
He said: “We had a sponsor who just lavished it with as much money as needed and everything is commercial.
"I don’t believe those days are gone because I think it is commercially viable, the marketing exposure it gets for an international company is there with TV coverage in the US, Asia, South Africa, throughout Europe, for the right company the marketing exposure is cheap advertising.”
After finishing fifth but spurning multiple chances in the no-cut Volvo Golf Champions in Durban in his first start of the year, Harrington missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last week.
He now heads to the US to play the Waste Management Open, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Northern Trust at Riviera knowing a win would solve all his troubles.
But while he holed little in Abu Dhabi, he is confident in his game and believes he played better in the desert when missing the cut that he did in South Africa two weeks ago.
"South Africa was grand but I probably played better in Abu Dhabi," he said. "I think I am happy with what I see. I do need to put stuff together but I got a bit of comfort in the greens, even though I didn't hole any long putts in Abu Dhabi. I holed a couple of par putts that were really crucial and I am actually happy with things. "
Advance tickets for the 2014 Irish Open are on sale now at a special promotional price of €25 for Adult Day Tickets and €50 for Adult Season Tickets (concessions €15 and €30).
A limited number of tickets at those promotional prices – saving up to €10 for a day pass and €20 for a season – on the gate prices are currently available on a first come first served basis. Golf fans are encouraged to apply now for tickets on www.europeantour.com/tickets or www.irishopen.ie