"Don't waste your effort moaning. Find a tour, improve your game and play. Move up the ladder as every other pro has had to do"

"Don't waste your effort moaning. Find a tour, improve your game and play. Move up the ladder as every other pro has had to do"

John Kelly tees off the 18th during round one of the 2014 Irish Open at Fota Island Resort, Cork, Ireland. 19th June 2014.
Picture: Eoin Clarke www.golffile.ie

Twenty-seven Irish golfers teed it up in the Irish Open at Fota Island two weeks ago, Good news, you say. And yet not everyone was happy. Could more have been done to boost that number? Were the invitations fairly distributed? Is there a better way of doing things in the future? Or is it a simple fact of life that while the Irish Open continues to be the property of the European Tour, not of the Confederation of Golf in Ireland or any other body, the field will be decided to suit its commercial interests?

With Failte Ireland seemingly hellbent on completing its exit strategy from the Irish Open, Ireland's young guns had better pray that the CGI gets its plans for a Challenge Tour event off the ground if they hope to earn more starts on the Challenge Tour and a possible foothold on the European Tour.

The powers at Wentworth will not be staging a qualifier for the Irish Open anytime soon with only three of the eight invitations going to Failte Ireland and the host club and the remainder divvied up by the tour to suit their interests or those of sponsors or powerful management groups.

Four of the 27 Irishmen who played at Fota Island were amateurs nominated by the GUI with the European Tour awarding eight places to the PGA Irish Region, who use their  annual Order of Merit to decide who qualifies.

Of the eight tournament invitations, it was understandable that two went to Chinese players at the request of hosts Fota Island, owned by the Kang family who pumped €500,000 into the prize fund.

Another two invitations went to rookies managed by Chubby Chandler of ISM while another went to a South Africa member of the European Tour when John Daly pulled out. The remaining two invitations were given to Failte Ireland's nominees.

Compared to other national opens, such as the Spanish Open, Ireland gets a poor return in the invitation game. Why? Because unlike the Spanish Open, we do not own or promote our national open. It's a European Tour property and as such, they call the shots.

That Failte Ireland can put €1million in the €2m prize fund — down €250,000 this year once Fota Island came up with cash — and still command just two invitations is not good enough.

Yes, Failte Ireland secured invitations for Team Ireland Golf Trust grant recipients Gareth Shaw and Ruaidhri McGee, both regulars on the Challenge Tour, but there were several other worthy candidates for a spot.

West Waterford's Seamus Power, who is dominating the eGolf Professional Tour in the US (a mini tour), did not get an invitation. Neither did Cork's Niall Turner, Ballyliffin's Brendan McCarroll, former Walker Cup players Alan Dunbar and Paul Cutler, or cinderella story Stephen Grant, to name just handful.

Did the Irish Professional champion, Michael McGeady, not merit a start ahead of Daly? For the prestige of the Irish PGA Championship, it would appear logical that the winner of the most important PGA-run event in the country should play in the Irish Open.

But McGeady is not a member of the PGA because he is not a trained PGA professional and is therefore ineligible to have any money he earns on Irish Region count in the Region's official  Order of Merit. 

As the PGA explained in a prepared statement, issued only on request: "Michael McGeady can never win any points that enables him to gain any access to any activity outside of playing in our events whilst he is in either TP1, TP2 or TP3 Category."

Fair enough. Until he starts the training, does his hours in the shop, passes the exams and serves his time, McGeady can forget about gaining any benefit from winning the Irish title bar the cash and the kudos.

The dubious decision to invite the famously unreliable "Wild Thing" Daly, who pulled out on the eve of Irish Open week because he got a start in the clashing Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour, was another bone of contention for many.

He was replaced by the South African world No 345 Tjaart Van Der Walt because, as one official told me, “two of the invitations have to be given to full members of the European Tour.”

The tournament director had no say in the allocation of the invitations which went to rookie American professional Mike Miller (managed by US-based Lagardère Unlimited) and two rookies who turned professional this year, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Garrick Porteous, both of whom are handled by Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management stable.

“This is the way things are done,” I was told. “There are other sponsors requesting other invitations. So we take all this into consideration. It’s commercial and you have to look at the big picture.”

It was suggested that because major winners Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Pádraig Harrington were playing without the incentive of appearance money, there was a “quid pro quo” elsewhere in terms of invitations for their management groups. 

With only Clarke managed by a company that secured invitations, that’s clearly not quite true. 

The bottom line is that the European Tour owns the event and finds most of the money. That the Irish people put in half the prize fund and that Irish stars fill the venue with the best crowds outside The Open, comes second to satisfying the commercial interests that pay for the whole show in the first place .

As for the number of spots issued to the PGA Irish Region, Ireland's No 1 club professional John Kelly sees no reason why that should be reduced.

John Kelly tees off the 15th during the final round of the 2014 Irish Open. Picture: Eoin Clarke www.golffile.ie

And while he does concede that a case could be made for giving the Irish PGA champion a place in the Irish Open, he believes nobody has the right to moan and groan about not getting a start in what is essentially a sporting jungle.

His argument is simple: If you're good enough, you will play your way into the event.

"I think, as PGA pros, we do a huge amount for professional golf in Ireland," said the St Margarets professional, who finished tied for 58th at Fota Island. "And it's not saying the event wouldn't be the event without the PGA but there are 500 PGA pros in Ireland and we have contact with every single amateur in Ireland. We do a huge amount for golf and we are the Professional Golfers' Association. We've earned the right to be in the event. 

If you are good enough, you are going to make your way to the Irish Open. Don’t waste your effort moaning. Find a tour, improve your game and play. Move up the ladder as every other pro has had to do.
— PGA professional John Kelly

"I think the PGA does so much good  for golf within Ireland that sometimes it's overlooked and I think we've definitely earned our place in the Irish Open. Every year there is someone who makes the cut from the PGA. So we are good players. It is not as if we are here making up numbers. 

"We have had Damien McGrane, Simon Thornton, or if you go back even further, Francis Howley, who got on tour and did his PGA training. So the road is there. If these guys want to do it, there is a job for them and a place for them in the Irish Open.

"Those guys [who are complaining] can join the PGA, sign up and do their time the same as we all did and get into the event as well.  They are not barred from getting in through the PGA. They are very welcome to join the PGA and do their 25 hours a week in the shop as every other PGA member has done. And then if they want to take a place in the Order of Merit, the place is there for them.

"If they want to concentrate on playing full time, there are lots of other ways for them to get into the event."

Kelly is not averse to a place in the Irish Open being reserved for the Irish PGA champion, irrespective of whether he is a member of the PGA or not. 

"There is a case for that and the case could be put forward and do it," he said. "I am on the committee, I am vice-chairman of the Region and if someone comes up with the proposal that the Irish champion should get in, we can definitely look at that because we want to promote golf. That's the job of the PGA in Ireland, to promote golf. 

"We have a lot of pros in Ireland but at the moment we don't have a lot of world class pros. We have Rory, Graeme, Padraig, Shane... the usual suspects. But when you look beyond them, we don't have the class coming up, so maybe opening up more professional events in Ireland might be a great thing. Maybe it will improve the standard of golf. 

"But if these guys want to play on tour — and they would admit this themselves — they have got to play on a tour.

"The Pro-Am region we play in Ireland is not a tournament schedule really. We are there to entertain the people we play with and it's very important that every single person who plays in a pro-am or enters a team, has a nice day. But it's not a tour and it's hard to compare that to the Irish Open, where we play against pros only. 

"So I would say to any of those guys who want to play in the Irish Open, go and get yourself onto a tour and play golf. There are lots of stepping stones out there to move up the ladder. But the PGA Irish Region is not going to get them onto the Challenge Tour, it is not going to get them onto the European Tour and if they are serious about getting onto a tour, go and find a tour to play on, as Niall Kearney has done.

"And I take my hat off to the guy. He is totally dedicated. He has found a tour to play on and he mixes his time between Europro Tour and Challenge Tour. He went away in the winter time to find a tour to play on and he has shown what he wants to do. 

"Other guys who haven't shown they want to do that, they have to go and find a tour and let's see how they do on a real tour. 

"There is no point in giving out about not playing an event. There are plenty of other events. The Irish Open isn't the be all and end all. There is the Alps Tour, the Europro Tour... go and play on them and let's see how good you are.

"If you are good enough, you are going to make your way to the Irish Open. Don't waste your effort moaning. Find a tour, improve your game and play. Move up the ladder as every other pro has had to do."