Ireland has always maintained a steady relationship with the sport of golf. And although it will never be as popular here as the GAA, soccer, or even rugby, every time the Ryder Cup or the Open Championship rolls around, we as a nation rediscover our passion for the game.
As much as we love the sport (and we play it a fair bit, too), only those with a deep love of the game will know the name Fred Daly. For 60 years, he was the only man from these shores to have won the Open. And barring Christy O’Connor Sr.’s second place finish in 1965, for decades it looked like we’d never see the Claret Jug in the hands of an Irishman again.
A fourth-placed finish by Des Smyth in 1982 was as good as it got for us in golf’s most historic major until 1997 when a certain Mr. Darren Clarke finished second behind Justin Leonard at Royal Troon. Four years later, he would finish third, and there was an air of expectancy that it was only a matter of time before Clarke got his name on the Claret Jug. But Ireland’s first open win in 60 years (and first major win in the same period) arrived via the right-hand swing of Padraig Harrington and courtesy of some serious bottling from Sergio Garcia.
It was a messy, and unconvincing win with Harrington finishing with a bogey, but it was a win nonetheless, and at last Irish golf fans had a win that we didn’t need to share with the Europeans.
A year later, Harrington was at it again, although this time much more convincingly. He won it before the 18th, which afforded him a celebratory final hole in complete contrast to the previous year. Irish golf had never enjoyed such success. A 60-year wait for a major ended with two Open wins in as many years, and thankfully it wasn’t going to stop there.
Darren Clarke, who many considered the perennial underachiever, came to Royal St. George in 2011 with fans expecting steady rounds of golf from the Dungannon man and nothing more. What he delivered was an incredible performance that had every fan, no matter where they hailed from, rooting for him. Celebrating with a pint of Guinness, Clarke epitomized the everyman, and if ever there was a people’s champion in golf, he would surely claim the title.
We only had to wait another three years for our next win, and this time it was none other than golf’s new-found golden boy Rory McIlroy. And, once again, it was Sergio Garcia who finished second to an Irishman at the Open ending the final round two shots behind McIlroy.
McIlroy missed the 2015 tournament and finished tied for fifth in 2016, but this year we may see the now traditional three-year gap between Irish winners completed. Clutching at straws? Perhaps, but we’ll take what we can get.
All joking aside, this year’s hopes for an Irish winner will rest squarely on Rory McIlroy’s shoulders. BetStars gave him a favorable 10/1 odds of winning while Darren Clarke is a seriously long shot at 450/1 odds. And while neither Harrington nor Clarke looks likely to ever
lift the cup again, McIlroy and to a lesser extent Graeme McDowell will certainly keep Irish hopes up for the next few years.