I escaped to Ireland for a day. With a Guinness in hand, I celebrated the recent Ireland Invasion of world professional golf, with Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy, now all major champions and future World Golf Hall of Fame members. They were inimitable hosts for my visit.
Fly to Ireland for a day? Join me for a penetrating day of golf exploration in Ireland without leaving the comfort of your home.
One has to look no further than Ireland to see how much golf has changed in the last five years.
Padraig Harrington beat Sergio Garcia in a playoff in the 2007 Open at Carnoustie and then repeated the feat a year later in the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale winning convincingly by four strokes over Ian Poulter and six over third-round leader Greg Norman. Harrington proved his mettle again a month later with a PGA Championship in the States at Oakland Hills CC.
Winning three of six majors is the type of initial assault that is noticed by all and fuels additional conquests, if not by the originator then by his countrymen. It was not long after that Graeme McDowell won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the first European to do so since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
Rory McIlroy would knock on the door of major triumphs with no answer at the 2011 Masters, but the young lad would come through with sizable eight-stroke victories in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional CC and in the last major to be played, the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. If Harrington opened the door for the Irish Invasion, then McIlroy opened it as wide as could be.
Some would say Darren Clarke started the whole Irish Uprising by defeating Tiger Woods in the final of the 2000 World Golf Championship (WGC) Match Play. Clarke's victory over Tiger came when Woods was in his youthful prime, winning four of the first seven WGCs and all four majors in a row.
Clarke would win another WGC in 2003 before making his major breakthrough in the 2011 Open at Royal St. Georges by three strokes over Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. He that started the whole thing with a jab and came back with an amazing combination and will to win at the end.
All in all, seven majors by a foursome of Irish golfers in less than six seasons, truly an Irish Invasion of enormous proportions given the odds against it based on the number of Irish golfers out there on tour.
As far as I am concerned, Padraig Harrington was Ireland's golf ambassador before he won three majors and started the Irish Invasion. He grew up just south of Dublin and started playing golf with his brothers at the age of four at the Stackstown Golf Club. In his own unique and friendly manner, he took me to The European Club, which is 40 miles south of the capital on the Irish Sea.
Designed and owned by Pat Ruddy, the course hosts the Irish Professional Championship the week before the British Open. While Harrington's favorite hole in all of Ireland is the par-four seventh, the whole golf course suits his game, mindset and preparation for Open competition.
Similar to how Redstone Golf Club and the Shell Houston Open are a prelude to the Masters in America, The European Club tightens its fairways the week before the Opens. Harrington won the 2007 and 2008 Irish PGA Championships and the ensuing Opens at Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale respectively. Coincidence or not?
I was also taken to the Adare Golf Club, where Padraig Harrington became the first Irishman to win the Irish Open in 25 years when he beat Bradley Dredge in a playoff in 2007. An Irish businessman, J.P. McManus, a frequent partner of Harrington in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, stages his own Pro-Am at Adare. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed it for play, and it opened in 1995 with a great finishing par-five risk-reward hole majestically set right in front of the Adare Manor
Before Harrington and McIlroy enjoyed success on the major stage in golf, they both won the West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Rosses Point. Nearby, there lies the Emniscrone Golf Club with its bunker-less par-five 16th hole lying exposed between the sea and the dunes.
Though Rory was too busy to take me to western Ireland, he did take me to Lough Erne, where he is Touring Professional much like Tom Watson is Golf Professional Emeritus at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. We spent a lot of time getting to know and experience the short par-four 10th hole on the Faldo Championship Course.
Graeme McDowell is a local Portrush boy who grew up in the Rathmore Golf Club (not a golf course but a golfing club) that is associated with the Valley Links of Royal Portrush Golf Club. Now as an honorary lifetime member of Royal Portrush, he had much to say about the par-three 14th hole with the nickname "Calamity" on the "other" course," the Dunlice Links. It was here in 1951 that Ireland hosted the only British Open not played in Scotland or England. Max Faulkner was the "Champion Golfer of the Year" and the last Englishman to win before Jacklin won in 1970 before G-Mac became the next European to win the U.S. Open in 2010.
It seems there are major connections to Ireland and its golfers throughout the history of the game. Darren Clarke echoes the sentiment that an Open should return to Portrush and Ireland one day soon.
Clarke returned to the game with much heart only six weeks after his wife Heather died of breast cancer at the age of 39 in the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K-Club. The man's man who's strong enough to show emotion was playing the par-five 16th when Europe closed out their third straight Ryder Cup triumph. It was here where Clarke won the 2001 European Open.
While I did not meet Fred Daly, the first Irishman to win a major, getting to know the four modern major masters of Ireland through their favorite golfing holes sure was fun. Not only did I feel like I knew them but through them I now knew all of Ireland.
From Ballyliffin in the north to Waterville in the south, a bonus to the day was that the 18 greatest Irish golf holes slowly became known to me. I came to know quite dearly those 18 magical holes through intimate conversations with the club profession, club members, groundskeepers, golf aficionados and architects. The pictures in my mind are there forever to relive the experiences of my day in Ireland.
Say, how could that be, Andy Reistetter? Did you really fly to Ireland for a day to play golf?
Sadly no, it was only in my mind, but it was as real as real could be.
A dear Irish friend gave me a great Christmas gift—a big picture book with lots of insightful text called the 18 Greatest Irish Golf Holes by Craig Morrison and Andrew Ross with photography by John Kernick. One of the best Christmas presents I ever received.
It's a big book with lots of gorgeous pictures and comprehensive text so much so that you feel like you went there and met the people and played the golf courses.
Maybe I did after all…
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Spotter, Research and Broadcast Assistant for The Golf Channel, NBC and CBS Sports.
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