Wednesday 29 March 2017

Harrington taking steps to aid Irish Open survival plan

Padraig Harrington is prepared to put the full weight of his reputation as a three-time Major champion behind the campaign to save the Irish Open, after a shadow was cast over the tournament.

The future of Ireland's premier golf event has been thrown into doubt by the stunning decision of '3' to withdraw their sponsorship, despite the enormous success of the tournament in Killarney last August.

At a time when Ireland boasts a rich crop of world-beating professionals, our national championship finds itself without the financial wherewithal to take its rightful place among golf's other prestigious championships.

The Irish Open certainly can count on support from our leading players, with Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, both members of the world top 10, pledging their commitment to the cause in recent days.

Yet Harrington went a step further last night, revealing he'd already made "informal" and "tentative" efforts to find new sponsors for the event, and that he'd even be prepared to serve in the role of tournament host or ambassador, if required.

Several prominent professional players already serve a similar role in helping to draw sponsorship to events in other countries.

Figurehead

Tiger Woods has hosted the AT&T Championship and the Chevron World Challenge in the States, while Spaniards Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano each perform a figurehead role at tournaments in their native country, lending considerable gravitas and intensive work behind the scenes to the events.

Harrington was at pains to play down any approaches he might have made so far on the tournament's behalf. "I'll put it like this," he said, "I've already made tentative enquiries in places to see whether companies would be interested in sponsoring the Irish Open.

"It was on a very casual basis, obviously nothing formal.

"But I suppose if something came out of that and it required me to be an ambassador for the event or something like that, I'd be prepared to do it, definitely."

In the past, Harrington tended to view hosting a tournament as something he'd like to try towards the end of his career. Yet, if required, he feels he'd be up to the challenge now, despite his firm belief that his Major-winning days are far from over.

"I'm not as stressed about my preparation for tournaments as I used be years ago," he said. "I'm a lot more relaxed around tournaments so, yeah, I feel I'd be capable of handling the extra responsibility. I wouldn't be able to do it every week but once a year, yes, I'd consider doing it."

However, the opportunity would have to arise, Harrington cautioned. "You're certainly looking at the hardest time ever to do something like that. It really is a difficult time to drum up any sponsors. Sometimes these sort of things have to present themselves."

As a qualified accountant and an enthusiastic follower of business and marketing practices, Harrington insists he was not surprised by the decision of '3' to withdraw from the Irish Open, especially after the company agreed to sponsor the FAI.

Insisting he'd "not begrudge" the company their decision, Harrington said: "I'd be thanking '3' for the work they did with the Irish Open over the past two years. The event took great strides forward in that time."

Harrington cannot envisage the tournament not taking place in 2011. "No. I'd suggest there'll be an Irish Open in some form or guise, no matter what," he said. "I'd be surprised if the European Tour and Bord Failte and even a domestic sponsor, didn't come up with something workable."

Though an emaciated version of the tournament "probably would be a step back", Harrington intends to leave no stone unturned in his efforts to find a sponsor capable of keeping the Irish Open in the manner to which it became accustomed at Killarney.

Irish Independent

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