Commitment of players key to Open future
The mere presence of our top golfers in Killarney next year will energise the Irish Open, says Dermot Gilleece
O ne definition of a professional is a person who does something for payment. Which makes a bit of a nonsense of suggestions last week that the country's leading players should dip into their own pockets and help the Irish Open out of its current difficulties.
If no title sponsor is forthcoming over the next six months to replace 3Mobile, it is feared the prize fund at Killarney will have to be reduced to €1.5m, as opposed to the €3m for 2010. Ironically, this would have virtually no impact on the overall appeal of the championship, provided the top Irish players, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Pádraig Harrington, are in action.
But what about prominent overseas challengers? With Irish players so highly-ranked at the moment, their presence will ensure attractive world-ranking points for the event. And lucrative endorsement deals make these points more attractive than prize money to front-rank practitioners.
"I don't think the future of the Irish Open can be secured by financial contributions from our leading players," said Paul McGinley. "Its future well-being would be served far more effectively if players gave of their most valuable asset, namely their time. We discussed this very subject at a recent meeting of the players' committee when it was pointed out that players should be prepared to do whatever is necessary to enhance tournaments, not just for the public but for sponsors as well."
There is an acute awareness in the US of the sort of contribution McGinley has in mind. Under the rules of the PGA Tour, a leading player is exempted from having to play in a pre-tournament pro-am, provided he attends a sponsor's dinner. Imagine the reaction of prospective Irish Open sponsors if they were assured of such a gathering during tournament week with McDowell, McIlroy and Harrington in attendance. Or special golf clinics, either individual or collective, from these players.
"I know for a fact that, if asked, Graeme would happily do something of this nature to help the Irish Open," said McDowell's manager Conor Ridge. "He has told me he's prepared to give of his time, energy and ideas. And that's not a soundbite: he means it."
Ridge went on: "In talks with George O'Grady (European Tour chief executive) in Dubai, I pointed out that the Irish players were obviously very well connected, commercially. So it is in everybody's interest that we get them and representatives of their management groups around a table with senior officials of the Tour and maybe someone from Government and Fáilte Ireland.
"In fact, I have already proposed such a meeting, but it hasn't happened. Maybe we could do it in Abu Dhabi next month, if it suits the players. I think some decent ideas would be thrown around. We could learn about the Tour's position and take it from there."
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This is the time of year when we remember old friends and well-loved golfing heroes, and all to that, as Harry Bradshaw liked to say. The Brad passed away on December 22, 1990, and it seems a perfect link is created by his 20th anniversary next Wednesday falling one day after the 86th birthday of his great contemporary, Christy O'Connor Snr.
Bradshaw happened to be the first Irish professional to capture the Association of Golf Writers' (AGW) Trophy, which McDowell was awarded last week for 2010. McDowell has also been named Player of the Year by the Golf Writers' Association of America.
Not surprisingly, recognition from the AGW came to Bradshaw, in the wake of the 1958 Canada Cup triumph in Mexico City. By way of emphasising his influence among British golf scribes, Henry Longhurst wrote: "My colleagues are due shortly to elect a Golfer of the Year who has done most for British golf. Had they seen him in Mexico, they would look no further than Harry Bradshaw -- and never mind what part of Ireland he comes from." A few weeks later, it was a done deal with The Brad getting 36 votes against 25 for Peter Alliss.
Only a month before his death, Bradshaw was driven north by Paddy Skerritt for the funeral of his close friend and golfing partner, Fred Daly. The Brad took great pride in proclaiming that he and Fred had never been beaten as a pair, either in Ryder Cup or exhibition matches around the world.
"On one occasion in South Africa," he recalled, "we took on the best ball of four amateurs who played off scratch, one, two and three handicap. And we beat them twice. Fred had nerves of steel when the crunch came, while I could always manage to sink the odd putt."
Meanwhile, last Sunday's victory by South Africa's David Frost over Roger Chapman in a play-off for the Mauritius Senior Open was a stark reminder of how much things have changed at senior level since Bradshaw made one of his last competitive appearances. It happened in the PGA Senior Championship at Pannal, Yorkshire, in 1985.
That was when Peter Dobereiner wrote beautifully in The Observer about the man affectionately known as 'Our Brad' on that side of the Irish Sea. Referring to a trolley carrying a bag labelled 'H Bradshaw, Ryder Cup team 1953', Dobereiner informed us: "It is real leather, of course, and of sensible size to accommodate 14 clubs, rather than the garish, plastic horrors of today, plastered with advertising and big enough to enclose an industrial rubbish bin."
He went on: "The man himself waddles over from the putting green with that familiar ploughman's gait, his cap pulled forward and down over his nose. It is a raffish white number which has seen better days, his one concession to the age after a lifetime's loyalty to Donegal tweed. From force of habit, he has been on the practice green, his routine consisting of hitting a couple of putts and then pausing for a 10-minute chat with old friends.
"The putter itself, an implement which has struck fear and dismay into the hearts of opponents for more than half a century, has a wound leather grip which still shows a perverse tendency to behave like Norah Batty's stockings. He rewinds the grip before each putt, just as he did when he won the World Cup for Ireland with Christy O'Connor in 1958, when the World Cup really was just that."
As Bradshaw clipped away his opening drive with an effortless flick of the hands, Dobereiner noted "the message comes through loud and clear that golf is a game played with the hands, with a minimum of the coiling spring action the books talk about. In Harry Bradshaw's case though, the body turn may be restricted by his trousers which appear to be made of heavy-gauge cardboard and may well have been the uniform issues for that 1953 Ryder Cup match."
Finally, to progress the festive run-up, history tells us that on December 23, 1927, when Bradshaw was caddying at Delgany, two promising 15-year-olds tied for the annual Glen Garden CC Christmas Caddies' Championship in Fort Worth, Texas. And after he and Ben Hogan had completed nine holes in 39 strokes, Byron Nelson went on to beat his rival by a stroke in a nine-hole play-off, sinking a long putt for a four-over-par 41.
The caddies then went to a Christmas party, all except Hogan. A notorious loner, he couldn't bring himself to raise a glass of cider with the other kids, even at Christmas. Though he claimed years later, "I felt I already had my party when I tied Nelson," his biographer, Curt Sampson, suggested that if this were true, it was the only occasion when he was satisfied with second place.