I’m pretty sure that the number of readers who have attended a true Irish wake is pretty high. For those of you that have, you’ll fully understand that the Irish know how to have a good time. The Open Championship is being played in Northern Ireland, specifically Royal Portrush, for the first time in 68 years, and I can only imagine the incredible atmosphere that will surround this final major of 2019.
The one undeniable fact that I have learned from both my trips to Ireland to play golf and my personal relationships with Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, and Royal Portrush local hero, Gramme McDowell, is that the Irish love to play and to watch golf. I got to know Gramme very well when we were working together on Irish television while covering the Ryder Cup in 2006. To this day, I always enjoy congratulating McDowell on his remarkable comeback from working television with me to being a U.S. Open Champion just four years later. Certainly, a comeback for the ages.
The tickets went on sale last fall, and it didn’t take very long at all to sell out. Then, last month the R&A decided to issue an additional 15,000 tickets, and they sold in about the time it takes to down an Irish Guinness. This week, more than 200,000 Irish golf-loving fans will be at Portrush.
The last time the Open was at Portrush was back in 1951, and a very colorful Englishman by the name of Max Faulkner was the Champion Golfer of the Year. Faulkner, the son of a golf pro, was quite talented in several sports. In fact, while serving in World War II, his assignment was as a physical training instructor. Faulkner was also very interested in boxing, and he was so good he won the base boxing championship.
Faulkner had a lot of talent to play golf and had his own way of playing the game. When he won that 1951 Claret Jug, all his clubs were the same length. Oddly enough, current PGA Tour player, Bryson DeChambeau, also plays with equal length clubs . . . maybe Bryson has the right idea.
There’s little doubt that Northern Ireland native Rory McIlroy will have the majority of fans pulling for their favorite son. Back when Rory was 16 years old, he crafted a sweet little course record 61 around Royal Portrush to win the Northern Ireland Boys Amateur Championship. Sweet memories for sure.
I’m always being asked to pick who I think will win the majors. For this Open, I’m amazed that I just don’t have a feel for who might come out on top. From my media perch, it would be a huge story if one of the Irish boys brings it home or if Tiger could chalk up Major Championship win #16, which would bring him within two major wins of Jack Nicklaus. That would set the golf world on fire and the media buzz would be huge.
However, Tiger has not teed it up since he finished tied for 21st at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and, even though he says the prolonged break will give him the best chance to win, I think he will be very hard-pressed to do well. In fact, Tiger played a practice round this past Sunday on Royal Portrush and sources say he looked stiff and perhaps a little rusty. But, Tiger is Tiger and we never know which one will show up. So, with no great feeling for who is going to win, I turned to my brother Tom for his keen insight. As we were leaving my brother’s house for JFK for our flight to Ireland, Tom said to watch out for Jason Day.
I have covered over 125 major championships and all the elements are at Portrush for it to be one of the best ever. I sincerely hope it won’t be another 68 years before it returns.
And, before you ask, yes, I will have a Guinness for you.