Friday 23 August 2019

Tour chiefs set to hold crisis talks over Irish Open fixture-clash fears

Pádraig Harrington. Photo: Sportsfile
Pádraig Harrington. Photo: Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

European Tour CEO Keith Pelley and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will sit down for crisis talks at Royal Portrush next week to thrash out a possible clash of dates between the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational.

The PGA Tour is keen to move the Memphis event to avoid falling the week after the men's Olympic tournament in Tokyo. And they see the same week as the Irish Open, two weeks before The Open at Royal St George's, as ideal.

The move puts the two tours on a collision course and after a similar clash in 2016, when the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron clashed with the Open de France and was not sanctioned by the European Tour, both sides are keen to avoid conflict.

Shane Lowry would prioritise the Irish Open over a trip to Memphis, but he believes that the European Tour owes it to sponsors Dubai Duty Free to consider moving the Irish Open to the week before the BMW PGA in September should the WGC event move to the Irish Open date in early July.

But Pádraig Harrington (right), who has still not been ruled out as host next year despite expressing some reticence yesterday, believes the prime July date is the best for Ireland with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson already committed to the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor the following week. "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 Wentworth, two great tournaments two weeks in a row," Lowry said, pointing to the presence of Ian Poulter, Matt Wallace, Tyrrell Hatton and Louis Oosthuizen as key to the success of Lahinch.

"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," he said, but added that the Scottish Open had that slot. He felt "they're not going to give that [date] because 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."

Harrington does not agree with Lowry's view and insists that July remains the best option for the Irish Open, pointing to the JP McManus Invitational at Adare Manor as the ideal way to get some US-based players to Ireland.

"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.

"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."

With Paul McGinley ruling himself out for a repeat as host, Harrington is at the top of the list of potential Irish Open hosts for next year alongside Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and McIlroy.

But McGinley's stellar hosting of the event at Lahinch has opened his eyes to the commitment that might be required in his Ryder Cup captaincy year and with the event date now potentially clashing with a WGC, his reticence is understandable.

"I have seen the work that McGinley has put into this week," Harrington said.

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

"It's definitely in my Ryder Cup year next year and there are decisions about where it's going and sponsors and all sorts of things.

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

Irish Independent

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