Friday 18 October 2019

'This week would have scared the life out of me' - Padraig Harrington unsure whether to host next Irish Open

Padraig Harrington of Ireland
Padraig Harrington of Ireland

Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington has said he will have to think hard about whether or not he will host next year's Irish Open as watching Paul McGinley in Lahinch "scared the life out of me".

McGinley took over hosting duties from Rory McIlroy at the Clare venue and the European Tour are keen to have three-time major winner Harrington on board for next year's event.

Harrington admitted that McGinely has done such a good job, he'd be anxious about trying to live up to that standard in a Ryder Cup year.

"I have seen the work that McGinley has put into this, this week and yes, it's definitely in my Ryder Cup year next year would make me...decisions about where it's going and sponsors and all sorts of things," Harrington said.

"It's definitely not something I would take on lightly. So there's been no decision, and that's for sure.

"But this week would have scared the life out of me, put it like that."

Meanwhile, Shane Lowry and Harrington are at loggerheads over the best date for the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open amid fears that WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational is eyeing the same July slot next year.

With the calendar undergoing pre-Olympic tweaks this year, the FedEx St Jude Invitational replaced the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron on the schedule and will take place in Memphis, the week after The Open, in two weeks' time.

But with The Open at Royal St George's from July 19-22 next year and the men's Olympic event in Toyko the following week (July 30 - August 3), players have become aware that FedEx may have designs on Ireland's current slot, which is July 5-8 next year.

Lowry would prioritise the Irish Open over Memphis but he believes that the European Tour owes it to sponsors Dubai Duty Free to consider moving to September while Harrington, who distanced himself somewhat from 2020 hosting duties, believes that the current date is ideal.

"First of all, if you look at what Dubai Duty Free has done with the Irish Open over the last few years," Lowry said. "I think it would be unfair on them if it was the same date as the WGC.

"There's going to be a few guys — Ian Poulter just walked by me there, Matt Wallace, Tyrrel Hatton, Louis Oosthuizen— who have made this tournament this week, obviously the Irish players as well.

"But there is no doubt if it is the same week as the WGC I will have to play the Irish Open.

"I  think personally they will have to move it if it is going to be the same week, there is a great chance to move it, the week before [the BMW PGA] Wentworth, two great tournaments two weeks in a row.

"September in Ireland tends to be okay as well, so I think Dubai Duty Free should put pressure on the tour to give them the day they want.

"Obviously the ideal date is the week before The Open but the Scottish Open but they're not going to give that because [sponsors]Aberdeen have been very good to the Scottish tournament. 

"There's very few really big tournaments on the European Tour and this is one of them and I think they should be looked after as well as they can."

There is an added complication next year with the JP McManus Invitational at Adare Manor taking place the Monday and Tuesday after the Irish Open.

It's an ideal event for attracting top players to the Irish Open with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson already committed to the charity event from July 6-7.

"I would have thought it was a big help," Harrington said. "There will be a lot of players coming in for JP's, they're going to have one of the best fields for golf, and I think players who don't want to play the week of the Scottish Open, they might play links golf the week before.

"So you'll definitely have a few players that might have played the Irish Open the week before JP's."

Told of Lowry's concerns, Harrington said: "He doesn't think that it's a good week this year? Wow, I think this is the best date the Irish Open can get. This year you couldn't get better than this.

"Two weeks before The Open, you're going to get guys who want to play links golf and who don't want to play a week before The Open, this is a perfect (date).

"It's tough competing to get the players, that's it. Players won't play in a week in September because they're going to play a week in December. Sometimes it doesn't come down to the actual tournament week, it comes down to 'Well, I'm going to be playing another six events for the rest of the year and I want to take a week off'.

"This is a great date for the Irish Open. The only way this could be bettered is if this was next week, but that's not a possibility.

"Now I know things change, but for this given year I think this field is the strongest you can get. If you can get it in September with the PGA, I don't know why guys would be attracted to come over.  The guys have so much choice but whoever has come here has enjoyed it."

Averse to a change of date, Harrington added: "Right at this moment, absolutely. I think it should be two weeks before The Open, and a links tournament.

"I know other things come into it at times but right now, this is ideal. Every date we've put the Irish Open people have come back and said, 'Well, I prefer this' or 'I think that'.

"It's not an easy thing to get a date. This tournament doesn't pay appearance fees and gets a remarkable field, considering."

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