By Ann Liguori
Could this Major, the PGA Championship, be won by a Northern Irishman? The tiny country, with a population of approximately 1.8 million people, has produced quite an array of Major champions of late. Graeme McDowell, with his 2010 US Open Championship, Rory McIlroy, the winner of the 2011 US Open and Darren Clarke, who grabbed this year’s British Open title, have made all of Ireland proud. All are obviously very talented and accomplished golfers but if an Irishman wins this weekend at the PGA Championship, the golf world may be asking what kind of Kool-Aid, I mean Guinness, are these guys drinking? Padraig Harrington, from the Republic of Ireland, rekindled the Irish Major Championship flame when he became the first Irishman in 2007 to win The British Open in 60 years, and the first ever from the Republic of Ireland. Harrington was able to repeat by winning the 2008 British, becoming the first European golfer to ‘repeat’ at the British since James Braid in 1906. Harrington went on to win the 2008 PGA Championship becoming the first Irishman to win that Major.
As much as I want Americans to win as most Americans do, as somewhat of an unofficial Ambassador for Irish Golf, having traveled extensively throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland while hosting and producing over a dozen television shows promoting Irish links and park land golf courses, and not leaving the venues until playing the breath-taking courses, I could not be happier for Northern Ireland and the fact that three players from there have won Majors in the past 13 months.
For a country with unrivaled beauty and friendly people to match, I congratulate all of Ireland for their incredible success in golf. If more people could experience the game in Ireland and the camaraderie there that comes with it, the world would be a better place! The Irish know how to enjoy life. And enjoying a round of golf with friends and family is a big part of it!
Golf fans often ask me how is it that four ‘Irish’ players have won so many Major Championships recently? What about the courses and the conditions in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland that prepare the players for the Majors?
One third of the world’s links courses are on the island of Ireland. They are not only beautiful; they are also cruelly exacting places to test skill, nerve and precision. The parkland courses are challenging as well so there are a good variety of courses to hone their skills and to prepare them for a variety of courses that they will face in Major Championships.
Most kids in Ireland grow up playing golf. Clubs are put in their hands at an early age and many play every day after school.
The courses are accessible and not cost prohibitive as they are in many parts of the U.S.
And golfers in Ireland become accustomed to playing in all kinds of weather – high winds and rain. It is true that one can experience all four seasons in one afternoon in Ireland. The Irish are accustomed to these conditions and play through it.
The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush, situated among the cliffs of the Northern Atlantic on rugged links land which changes in both direction and elevation and plays to almost 7200 yards, was the perfect training ground for these Northern Irish champions, providing any player the ultimate test with its challenging greens, tough rough and unpredictable weather. If you can consistently score well there, you can bring a lot of confidence to any golf course on the planet!
A lot of credit must go to the individual clubs and the Golf Union of Ireland who have great structures in place which allow gifted players to hone their talents and realize their full potential.
And their passion and dedication to the game is unquestionable. If you ask the club professionals at Holywood or Royal Portrush, they will tell you that you literally had to tear Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell from the golf course. When growing up they practiced for hours on end, day after day, for nothing other than the love of the game.
Irish Golf should certainly benefit from Rory and Darren’s recent Championships. While tourism was down in the last several years, all of Ireland is hoping their recent victories will boost tourism there.
Niall Gibbons, Tourism Ireland Chief Executive, said: “This was a superb victory for Darren at Royal St George’s and we are delighted for him. He is such a terrific ambassador for golf and for Northern Ireland and his victory has placed golf in Northern Ireland, once more, to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Tourism Ireland is working hard to capitalize on this in GB, the US and in our other golf markets around the world where we are inviting potential holidaymakers to come visit the ‘Home of Champions.’”
“This has been an extraordinary 13 months for Northern Ireland golf with Darren’s win coming on top of Rory’s McIlroy’s success at the US Open earlier this year and Graeme McDowell’s victory in 2010,” added Gibbons.
Joe Byrne, Tourism Ireland’s Executive Vice President United States and Canada, said: “Tourism Ireland is delighted to have such wonderful Irish Golf Ambassadors who continue to highlight their home clubs in Northern Ireland as being in the top caliber of courses worldwide and their genuine pride in the fact that they hail from the island of Ireland. We will work hard to capitalize on the huge additional opportunity sparked by Darren’s success at the British Open and Rory McIlroy’s great win at Congressional in our new the ‘Home of Champions’ campaign, which is rolling out in key markets as we speak.”
Here’s to the Irish! May they win plenty more!
Be sure to visit Ann’s web site at www.annliguori.com. You can order DVD copies of both her interviews with top sports legends and her shows featuring top links and parkland courses throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.