Sport Golf

Saturday 20 January 2018

Harrington's '07 success sparked decade of glory

Padraig Harrington back at Pebble Beach 10 years on Photo: Sportsfile
Padraig Harrington back at Pebble Beach 10 years on Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

This week in 2007, Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley played in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour.

On the other side of the world, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell were both competing in the European/Asian Tour's Maybank Malaysian Open.

Rory McIlroy? He was a 17-year-old kid, still an amateur, with his sights for the season set primarily on making the Walker Cup team at Royal County Down in September.

Five individual golfers, all of them graduates of the Golfing Union of Ireland system which regulates - and still does - the men's game in the 32 counties of Ireland.

Who could have foreseen the impact they would have on Irish and international golf a decade later? Remember where we stood in that early spring of '07.

No Irish Open winner since John O'Leary in 1982. No Major champion since Fred Daly at Hoylake in 1947.

Within a few months the barriers, psychological and otherwise, were to be kicked down, starting with Harrington's Irish Open win in Adare Manor in May 2007, and his Open Championship victory at Carnoustie.

Within five years, Harrington had three Majors on his golfing CV. McIlroy grew from boy to man and claimed US Open and US PGA titles. McDowell and Clarke joined this exclusive Major champions club with one each.

That 2012 season also brought a special return of the Irish Open to Northern Ireland, with Royal Portrush playing to capacity crowds of around 130,000.

More success was to follow, including McIlroy's British Open and US PGA successes in 2014. Considering we have such a small population relative even to the UK, this little island has punched way above its weight in the sport.

Central to the success has been the individual golfers who triumphed at the highest level.

Harrington broke the mould, and suddenly Major championships were attainable for other Irish players. Based on their achievements, McIlroy, McDowell, and Clarke leveraged their collective influence to do all they could to bring the Irish Open and now the Open Championship to their native soil.

In doing so, Northern Ireland can look forward to a serious economic benefit from the Open in two years' time, if Scotland's most recent experience is any guide.

Figures compiled by Sheffield Hallam University's Sport Industry Research Centre estimate a direct £64m from the 2016 Open at Royal Troon, and £46m in destination marketing benefit from worldwide media coverage of the championship.

Golf is big business, and Ireland, North and South, is a winner in the cash stakes as well as on the professional Tours.

And so, the wheel turns.

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, 2017.

Harrington is back, partnering businessman Dermot Desmond, while Shane Lowry links up with JP McManus in an all-Irish fourball teeing off at Pebble Beach Golf Links at 3.11pm Irish time.

Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Shore Course) are also in use. The 156 professionals and the amateurs play a round each on the three courses before Pebble Beach Links hosts the final round on Sunday.

Seamus Power and his amateur partner, five handicap James Farrell, tee off today at Spyglass Hill. Amateur celebs include Bill Belichick, the head coach of newly-crowned Super Bowl winners the New England Patriots.

On the serious end of the golf, world No 1 Jason Day, four-time AT&T winner Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, tournament champion in 2009 and 2010, and Jordan Spieth are in the field, as is Olympic champion Justin Rose.

Meanwhile, Paul McGinley enters a new phase of his career with a Champions Tour debut in the Allianz Championship at Boca Raton, Florida, starting tomorrow.

Maybank Championship

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0am

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport