Friday 23 August 2019

Brian Keogh: 'Rahm ready to play a blinder as he eyes up Lahinch test'

Basque star has strength of mind to tame unique challenge as Irish aim to figure in the shake-up

Eyes on the prize: Jon Rahm, here in action during the pro-am event at Lahinch yesterday, is fancied to be in contention come Sunday evening. Photo: Getty
Eyes on the prize: Jon Rahm, here in action during the pro-am event at Lahinch yesterday, is fancied to be in contention come Sunday evening. Photo: Getty

Brian Keogh

The bookies rarely get it wrong, but it's not unusual for the heart to overrule the head when Lahinch is sun-kissed and shimmering in the July sun.

The beefy Basque Jon Rahm deservedly leads the way, with Tommy Fleetwood and the in-form English raider Matt Wallace ahead of Shane Lowry and the classy South African Louis Oosthuizen.

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However, the winner may be the man prepared to accept 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' on unpredictable terrain rather than a straight driver, a metronomic iron player or silky putter.

Lowry has quickly learned that going with the flow works better for him than seething in silence and given Lahinch's propensity to mix the straight questions with some head-scratchers, he looks to have the golfing maturity to roll effortlessly over the dunes.

Pádraig Harrington, meanwhile - who was twice denied in the South of Ireland final before returning to win the Irish Close here in his amateur swansong in 1995 - is certainly not encouraging excited punters to rush out and back him for a second Irish Open win.

"Somebody told me they got 100/1 on me," he said, incredulous at such long odds. "That's crazy odds. But if you are putting money on me, put it on for The Open rather than this week."

For many of the leading lights, this championship is the ideal preparation for The Open at Royal Portrush and the Dubliner has no doubt they have made the correct decision to head southwest.

"If you're serious about winning The Open, you've got to be playing tournament golf at least before it," he said.

And while much of the talk this week has been about the blind approach to the fourth, Klondyke, and the blind par-three fifth, Dell, it's not how you score on those holes but how readily you accept what they give you that will seal your fate.

Throwbacks to the days of Old Tom Morris, they give Lahinch its character and add to the festival atmosphere that the town and host Paul McGinley have worked so hard to achieve.

"It's definitely something special," said Rahm, who sees Lahinch as a mental as much as a physical test and has proven he's strong in both departments. "You get to the fourth and you can't see anything for the next four holes. It's fun.

"It's a lot of (blind) shots in a row and that's going to be more a mental test than anything else, where you have to be committed to where you hit.

"I love the golf course and area and the town and I love the weather so far."

His words will have been music to the ears of Lahinch and McGinley, who wants the players to enjoy their week in Ireland, prepare well for The Open and pencil in the event for 2020.

According to Harrington - who is one of 13 Irish players in action this week and one of the senior servants alongside Darren Clarke - those who complain about the blind shots are blind to the beauty of golf.

"Yeah, look, that's Lahinch," he said of the Dell. "That's what you're getting. If you don't like it, don't come. There you go. It's part of the character, and it's very much part of the beauty of Lahinch."

For the Dubliner, the Klondyke and the Dell are a reminder of what golf was meant to be, which is light years removed from the bland fare offered most weeks on tour.

"The world of golf has moved towards having perfectly flat fairways and lies," he said. "They've even talked about getting free drops out of divots. Golf was never designed to be a fair game.

"You'll get some good breaks and you'll get some bad ones, and the mental fortitude is tested far more on a links golf course than it is on a perfectly ordered parkland course."

West Waterford's Séamus Power could not be happier he accepted a sponsor's invitation to return to a course he loves and while he has since fallen to 124th in the FedExCup standings and may find himself outside the all-important 125 when he returns with just four events left to save his PGA Tour card, he was never tempted to pull out.

"It's still in my own hands," positive-thinking Power said at the pedestrian crossing on the Liscannor Road as thousands made their way merrily back into the village after the pro-am.

Guarantee

"I never thought about skipping. It's one week. I've had loads of opportunities this year and I've four more. Some people will look back and say 'what if' but there was no guarantee anything was going to happen in Minneapolis this week. I'm just excited to be here."

"There's a great atmosphere around town. The course, I've never seen it in as good a shape as this. And I've seen it a lot of times.

"The beauty of this week for me is nothing matters apart from having a good time and trying to win."

His American caddie, John Rathouz, is loving it too, even if he's feeling less than useful.

"My caddie had never seen anything like it before," Power said. "He learnt a lot. He said, 'I'm not sure I'm much use to here'.

"On 18, I'd 230 yards and hit a seven-iron flying over the green," added Power, who knows from experience it's all a question of feel, faith and mental strength.

"It's hard, but I can adjust quickly," he said. "We'll figure it out."

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