McGinley hopeful of friendly resolution to potential Irish Open clash
Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion Jon Rahm. Picture: Getty Images

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion Jon Rahm. Picture: Getty Images

Paul McGinley does not believe the European Tour fall out with the PGA Tour and engage in a dangerous game of ‘brinkmanship” over a potential clash of dates between Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational next season.

Still basking in the glow of Sunday’s headline grabbing two-shot win by Spain’s Jon Rahm in Lahinch, the 2019 host reiterated his belief that the success of the Irish Open depends more on the weather, its history and "the craic” than the strength of the field, or the venue.

Thirteen of the world’s top 50 played in west Clare but with the Olympic Games looming in 2020 and the PGA Tour looking to move the World Golf Championship event in Memphis back three weeks to the same date as the Irish Open, Europe will likely have to make concessions.

McGinley does not know how it will pan out but as a member of the European Tour board, he’s convinced that the clash will be amicably, if imperfectly, resolved by European Tour CEO Keith Pelley and PGA Tour Commissioner, Jay Monahan, when they meet at The Open next week.

“Talking about this to the board last week, the condensed schedule next year has put a challenge on us,” McGinley said.  “It’s accentuated by the fact it's an Olympic year and Ryder Cup year.

“And when you put all those into the melting pot, it makes it difficult.  It makes it challenging.”

The clash is a repeat of 2016 when the Olympics in Rio also forced a re-jig of the schedule and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was staged opposite the 100th Open de France.

That resulted in the European Tour opting not to sanction the WGC event, meaning there were no Ryder Cup qualifying points on offer, leading to Rory McIlroy opting for France and Shane Lowry heading to Akron to defend.

Given the friendly relations between both tours, he doesn’t see that happening again next year and cannot  see Pelley using a draw card like Rahm, who committed on Sunday to a defence, as a bargaining chip.

“We are getting on really strong with them, and we want to continue that, and we don't want to go into a brinkmanship situation.  We may have to go into two opposing tournaments, but what can we do?  We've done it before.  We'll do it again.”

The current uncertainty  is a challenge for Pelley when it comes to choosing a venue and host for the 2020 Irish Open.

“He has no idea where we're going, and we don't know the host yet,” McGinley said. “ It might be Pádraig but we haven't confirmed that honestly and we haven't confirmed the venue and we haven't confirmed the date.  

“But like all things, it will be resolved.  It mightn't be resolved in a perfect way because I don't think there is a perfect way.  But we will resolve it.”

He doesn’t  see Pelley refusing to sanction the Memphis event and feels he may be reluctant to move the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open out of its current date, two weeks before The Open, with the JP McManus Pro-Am scheduled for the following Monday and Tuesday at Adare Manor.

“We’re working very closely with the PGA TOUR, a lot closer than we ever have done,” he said.  “Relations between the PGA and European Tours are really strong. Harmonious.  

“I know this date, this Irish Open is high on the agenda in the communication between Keith and Jay Monahan in Portrush in two weeks. 

“Would I give it up [the current date]?  I don't know.   I've kind of sidelined myself a little bit from it.  I've done a big, deep breath now this one's over.  We've got JP's ProAm on next year, as well, too, remember.  So it's a very condensed schedule and there's a lot of moving parts.

“I don't know where they are going to go and I don't think there is a perfect resolution.  We're going to have to concede on something.  It's their decision.”

As for Rahm’s victory, which catapults him from 11th to eighth in the world, McGinley could not have been happier

“To be honest, outside of one of the Irish lads winning, our first choice would have been Jon Rahm who is the highest ranked player in the field,” he said. “It validates the course setup and validates Lahinch as a chosen venue.  

“I've been saying on TV for the last year or, so. Of all the young guys coming through in the world and there's lots of talent, Jon Rahm is the one for me who I don't see a weakness, just more experience.

“I think he drives the ball long.  He drives it straight.  His iron play, his chipping, his putting, his heart, his ability to win, his ability to do an extra gear today when he saw the finishing line.  The back nine, the holes were playing quite tricky, the last six holes.  Outside of 18, the other holes were playing tricky.  They were all in the top nine of most difficult holes on the course.  Outside of 13 and 18, it was a relatively tough finish and he just pulled away from the field.  

“So yeah, he's the guy that I think has got it.  I think the guy has got it to be something special.  Money is obviously not a factor for him anymore.  He's probably made enough money at 24 that he doesn't have to worry about money again and he's very much driven to win titles and major championships.

“He's perfectly set up to go and be prepared and have a good go at winning at Portrush.”

As for the success of Lahinch, he put it down to planning,  the buy in from the club and the village and the co-operation of the authorities that helped make it a festival.

"The only thing we didn't control going into this week was the weather,” he said. “I know there's a lot of talk and debate about quality of fields but look back to Royal County Down, one of the best golf courses in the world, we had the most phenomenal field we've ever had for an Irish Open up there.  It was unbelievable.  But it's not a memorable Irish Open because the weather was so bad.

“The weather is so important when you have an Irish Open.  This week, yes, we've had a very strong field, but the spotlight, you know, it's like water that raises a boat.  You know, you put the boat there but it's the water that raises it, and it's the sunshine.  It's the weather that raises it up to something special, and we've been blessed this week, really blessed.”

Asked if there was an Irish Open template, similar to the Ryder Cup template he believes in, he said: “I think it's important that we recognise the history of The Irish Open and not revolve it around any one player and not revolve it about the quality of field; that it is a festival and that we create the craic. The golf will take care of itself.”

Has European Tour seen the light after Lahinch?

Lahinch might have lost €500,000 in green fee revenue by hosting the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open but the event was worth a fortune in "brand value" to the club and Clare after spectacular TV pictures were beamed into millions of homes around the world.

The presence of Golf Channel in west Clare was huge boost for the region given the avalanche of enquiries received from smitten viewers last week.

But it has no plans to accept an invitation to host again soon and is already operating at full capacity as it prepares for the traditional South of Ireland Amateur Open later this month, September's Men's Home International matches and next year's Arnold Palmer Cup from July 3-5.

That's the same week as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, assuming the European Tour sticks with the current date, two weeks before The Open in Sandwich.

However, last week's sellout success may have given European Tour CEO Keith Pelley a clearer picture of the ideal Irish Open template and it would be no surprise if the Tour revisited interest previously shown by County Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point.

Dublin has its obvious charms but Portmarnock Links is currently for sale and The Island, which opted not to explore tentative enquiries from European Tour HQ about hosting a Challenge Tour event this year due to its Amateur Championship commitment, is planning to revamp its spectacular links.

Bar a sudden change in membership rules at Portmarnock and Royal Dublin, the capital may have to wait.

And so the designation of the 2020 venue for one of its marquee, $7 million Rolex Series events has become a key decision and there are many issues to be decided.

Quite apart from the threat of an opposite-field World Golf Championship event in Memphis, the question of who will host is directly tied to the choice of venue, and vice-versa.

Darren Clarke would prefer a Northern Ireland venue in 2021 as he concentrates on keeping his status on the lucrative PGA Tour Champions circuit, while Pádraig Harrington is preparing to captain Europe in the 2020 Ryder Cup.

A parkland venue cannot be ruled out with Lough Erne Resort a good venue for Clarke and Mount Juliet, The K Club and Druids Glen, which now has new owners, all former Irish Open venues.