Taoiseach keeps out of the rough in a round with Rory
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny's seemingly charmed life continued on the golf course yesterday, where he parred six holes in the Pro-Am Irish Open curtain-raiser and his team finished fifth.
Although he claims it's been over 10 months since he set foot on a golf course he wasn't worried he'd let down the side -- bearing in mind his teammates included US Open champion Rory McIlroy.
Even ranting priests and household charges weren't going to put him off his stride and he declared that yesterday was "all about sport" and not politics.
Joining Mr Kenny on the Failte Ireland team at yesterday's opening day at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club were McIlroy's father Gerry and Dubliner Darragh Kinsella (25), who won the chance to play with his "hero" -- McIlroy, presumably -- in an online lottery.
Accompanied by his son Ferdia (17), who acted as caddy, Mr Kenny didn't admit to any nerves about playing with McIlroy. "Why would I be nervous? I haven't played since September so my nerves have gone away," he told the Irish Independent.
"I'll be watching him like thousands of others. I don't have his talent and I'm here for a walk around and if I get around without losing any golf balls I'll be very lucky."
He did have one distinct advantage over his other teammates, though: the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club is familiar territory to him.
The Taoiseach owns a holiday home in nearby Kilcummin, and often gets a few rounds in at the course.
He got off to a good start yesterday. His opening tee shot went into the rough on the right but he played a decent shot out of there, to just short and left of the green. He chipped to 20 feet and took two putts for a respectable bogey five.
The McIlroys both shot four, so for the man with a handicap of 13 this wasn't a bad show.
"We're getting there," he said, nodding approval at his own performance.
At this stage Mr Kenny already had the crowd onside. On the third hole, he drew a spontaneous sigh from the crowd when he missed the putt for a par, leaving the ball on the lip of the hole.
Seeing the Taoiseach competing was a surprise for the 2,500-strong crowd who had turned out to see McIlroy. His teammate was noted on the programme as "Guest of the European tour".
"The Taoiseach isn't bad at all," one golfing fan admitted.
Mr Kenny's team finished in fifth place out of 26 behind teams led by Shane Lowry, David Howell, Bradley Dredge and Robert-Jan Derksen.
But the Taoiseach was reluctant to talk about affairs of state -- or ranting priests for that matter.
"He should come to Killarney," he said of parish priest of Togher, Co Louth, Fr Thomas Daly, who had likened him to Hitler at the weekend in his parish bulletin.
In the newsletter, Fr Daly lashed out at Mr Kenny for his criticism of the Vatican's handling of sex abuse complaints.
Under the headline "Heil Herr Kenny", Fr Daly said: "The last European leader to make such a blistering attack on the Pope was the ruthless German dictator Adolf Hitler."
"That comment doesn't deserve the dignity of a response from me," Mr Kenny said.
He was equally unwilling to talk about the new €100 household charge announced this week.
"You wouldn't ask me about that on an occasion like this?" he said. "This is not about politics. This is about sport, our tourism and having an occasion here for the Irish Open where we have outstanding major winners from Ireland, the home of champions.
"And I hope this follows through with Failte Ireland and that we have a huge influx of golfers from all over the world who want to play here." His wife Fionnuala, son Naoise (14) and daughter Aoibhinn (18) were also in Killarney.
He described it as a "great privilege" to play with the US Open champion and quipped that a few sponsors would be "sick and sore" they didn't get behind the Irish Open.
"I mean, sponsors would give their right hand to be here today to have Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell all playing," he said
The Pro-Am raised €13,000 for Barnardos and Mr Kenny was happy with his own performance.
"I got six pars. I was very happy with that. I had the US Open champion giving me some advice," he said.
KILLARNEY PREVIEW: SPORT