Sunday 25 August 2019

Portrush lauds a very relevant list of Ireland's Open Championship stars - Dermot Gilleece

Darren Clarke tees off the 5th during day two of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
Darren Clarke tees off the 5th during day two of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club.

Dermot Gilleece

Ingredients for a lively argument among would-be Irish golfing experts, are to be found on a square board in the centre of the tented village, here at Royal Portrush.

Under the heading The Open – Irish Golfing Heroes, six Irish players are selected for special mention in the history of the game's most prestigious Major championship.

The absence of Portrush native, Fred Daly, is clearly odd, given that he became this island’s first Open winner when he captured the title at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake in 1947.

There are many who will be delighted, however, with the inclusion of Christy O’Connor Snr who made a distinguished contribution to the event over almost three decades. Interestingly, his Open debut happened to be at Portrush in 1951, when he finished 19th behind the winner, Max Faulkner.

He had entered the event from Tuam GC but the quality of his performance prompted an offer of resident professional at Bundoran, where a sparkling career was shaped through hitting shots on its Atlantic shore.

The inclusion of career amateur, Jimmy Bruen, was to be expected, given his dominance in Royal and Ancient events, especially during the years leading up to World War II. Appropriately, his profile is accompanied by a black and white photograph from that period.

The chosen six with their profiles are:

Rory McIlroy: Dominated the 2014 Open at Hoylake, becoming only the seventh Champion Golfer to lead after every round. Briefly caught by a fast-finishing Rickie Fowler, the Northern Irishman responded emphatically with two eagles over the final three holes, to win by two.

Jimmy Bruen: One of the island of Ireland’s finest amateur golfers, 1939 Open leading amateur, Jimmy Bruen, was the first Irish winner of the Boys’ Amateur Championship in 1936. Ten years later at Royal Birkdale, he became the first to claim the Amateur Championship.

Padraig Harrington: Twice finding Carnoustie’s Barry Burn on the 72nd hole, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington rallied to defeat Sergio Garcia in the 2007 play-off. The first Irish winner since Fred Daly, Harrington successfully defended the Claret Jug at Birkdale over a century since the last the do so, James Braid, in 1906.

Darren Clarke: Overcame the wind and rain at Sandwich to win the 2011 Open with a fine exhibition of links golf on his 20th appearance, a distinction the Northern Irishman shares with the 2013 champion, Phil Mickelson, whom Clarke held off by three strokes to win the Claret Jug.

Christy O’Connor: Affectionately known as Himself, Christy O’Connor Snr, a brilliant shot-maker in all conditions, not least links golf, finished runner-up in The Open behind Peter Thomson in 1965 at Birkdale. This was the best of 10 top-10 finishes by the Irishman in golf’s oldest Major.

Graeme McDowell: Playing in the 2010 US Open, Graeme McDowell ended a 40-year wait for a European winner, last achieved in 1970 by reigning Champion Golfer, Tony Jacklin. The Northern Irishman joined an elite group including Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus to have won America’s oldest title at Pebble Beach.

Interestingly, four out of the six – McIlroy, Clarke, Harrington and McDowell – are competing this week.

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