The dust has settled and what an amazing week was had in West Clare for the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch Golf Club July 3rd– July 7th.
It was the first time in the 91 year history of Ireland’s national Open, that it was stages on the shores of County Clare. When Paul McGinley was given the role of Tournament Host he was trying to find a venue for his year and instantly he wanted to bring the tournament to one of Ireland’s best Links courses in Lahinch Golf Club. Paul won the South of Ireland Championship in 1991 which is played annually on the West Clare Links, which the 2014 winning Ryder Cup Captain said was crucial in him making the GB & I Walker Cup team the same year. This spring boarded Paul into the professional game and having a hugely successful playing career.
As a Rolex Series event, the prize fund was €6.5 million and attracted one of the best fields assembled in Europe this year with household names such as Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen, Tommy Fleetwood, Padraig Harrington, Tyrell Hatton, Matt Wallace and Ian Poulter to name a few.
The players started to arrive on the Sunday, Monday & Tuesday to familiarise themselves with Links golf and the Alastair MacKenzie designed course for the week in store.
The Pro-Am signalled the opening of the tournament with the pro’s teeing it up with 3 amateurs. Sports stars such as AP McCoy, Paul O’Connell, Ruby Walsh, Keith Wood, Cian Lynch, Joe Canning, Tomas O’Se, Luke Fitzgerald and Kieran Donaghy as well as celebrities Niall Horan and Jimmy Nesbitt. The event was the final chance for the pros to get one more look at the course before the main event took place on Thursday morning.
The tournament itself kicked off with the sun splitting the stones on Thursday morning. On a day with ideal conditions for the World’s best players, the scoring was low and the low round of the day went to Ryder Cup Captain and 3-Time Major winner Padraig Harrington with an exceptional round of 63. The Liscannor road was flooded with spectators on 18 to see the Irishman finish off his round and Padraig received a reception that will long stick in the memories of all in attendance.
On Friday the day started out windy and scoring was more challenging than for Round 1. Zander Lombard of South Africa shot a fine round of 67 for a -9 total and held a one-shot lead over Englishman Eddie Pepperell at the halfway stage. Household names Jon Rahm, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Martin Kaymer, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and Louis Oosthuizen were in the chasing pack looking to make a move up the leaderboard over the weekend. The round of the day went to Spaniard Jorge Campillo with an exceptional score of 64 in the tougher morning conditions.
A damp and cloudy start to Saturday took a little bit of the sting out of the course and with minimal wind the scoring was exceptional. Saturday is typically known as “moving day” and this was most certainly the case on West Clare Links. Robert Rock made his move to the summit of the leaderboard with an exhilarating round of 60 to set the target for the afternoon starters. Such was the quality of the round, Rock was not to be caught and would take a 1 shot lead into the final round. The chasing pack where bunched up behind with Rafa Cabrera Bello, Bernd Weisberger, Eddie Pepperell, Zander Lombard and Jon Rahm all looking to catch the 54 Hole Leader and claim the €1 million on offer for the winner. The fireworks however didn’t stop once play had concluded with 8,000 people enjoying the firework display in the evening on the promenade put on by Clare County Council.
You could feel excitement in the air on Sunday and for the first time in Irish Open history we had a sell-out with the 20,000-spectator capacity having been reached. With the field closely bunched, the tournament was anyone’s for the taking and the early mover in the final round was Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello. Cabrera Bello played the first 6 Holes in 3 under-par to open up a gap between himself and the chasing pack. However, his fellow country man Jon Rahm, playing a few groups ahead was catching fire and while Rafa and the chasing pack were faltering on the Back Nine as Rahm continued to make birdies. The clubhouse target was set by Rahm at -16 after shooting 62 (-8) in the final round. Rahm was not for catching and ended up winning by 2 shots over Bernd Weisberger and Andy Sullivan. Rahm was full of praise for the Old Course at Lahinch enthusing “I can honestly say, of all the golf courses I have played in the World, this is one of the best”
Two weeks later the island of Ireland hosted the Open Championship in Royal Portrush Golf Club in what was another exciting and historic week for Irish Golf. It was no coincidence six of the Top-10 in the Open Championship had done their homework in Lahinch including Open Champion Shane Lowry prior to playing Royal Portrush hence confirming Paul McGinley’s vision to make Lahinch an ideal preparation for the last Major Championship of the year.