With the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation teeing off on Thursday at Ballyliffin Golf Club in Co. Donegal next week, here are some interesting facts about the event.
The first ever Irish Open tournament was held in 1927 when Scotsman George Duncan lifted the trophy at Portmarnock in Dublin.
This year’s event at Ballyliffin Golf Club is the first time the tournament has ever been hosted in Donegal, a county famous for its natural breath-taking beauty and deemed the ‘Coolest Place on the Planet’ by National Geographic only last year.
As one of eight European Tour events which make up the prestigious Rolex Series, the prize fund for this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is a whopping US$7 million, compared to the princely sum of approximately £750 in 1927 when winner George Duncan pocketed a cool £150.
Jon Rahm is aiming to become the sixth Irish Open champion to successfully defend his title. Nick Faldo holds the record for consecutive wins with three in a row from 1991 to 1993. The only other players to achieve back-to-back wins are Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros (1985-86), Scotsman Colin Montgomerie (1996-97), Welshman Ian Woosnam (1988-89), and England’s Mark James (1979-80).
Four players have won a hat-trick of Irish Opens and they are Ballesteros (1983, 1985, 1986), German Bernhard Langer (1984, 1987, 1994), Faldo (1991, 1992, 1993) and Montgomerie (1996, 1997, 2001).
Ballyliffin Golf Club consists of two outstanding, contrasting links courses. The Glashedy Links, on which the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be played, is a Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock masterpiece, rated amongst the best links tracks in the world. Pat Ruddy is regarded as one of the greatest golf architects of modern times with courses he has designed including four-time Dubai Duty Free Irish Open host venue Druids Glen, Portsalon, Rosapenna and the European Club in Co Wicklow which he also owns.
Portmarnock has hosted the most Irish Open tournaments by a considerable distance, a total of 19 from the very first event in 1927 to 2003 when Michael Campbell from New Zealand was crowned Champion.
The biggest winning margin in an Irish Open was in 1987 when Bernhard Langer finished 10 shots ahead of the field at Portmarnock. Last year Jon Rahm’s margin of victory was six shots.
Jon Rahm’s winning 72-hole score of 264 is the lowest in Irish Open history, beating the previous record of 266 that was jointly held by Colin Montgomerie (Fota Island, 2001) and Ross Fisher (Killarney, 2010). Rahm’s score of -24 was also the lowest ever recorded in relation to par, beating Christy O’Connor Jnr’s 21-under 275 in 1975 at Woodbrook.
In 2009 at Baltray, 22-year-old Shane Lowry from Co. Offaly became the only amateur ever to win the Irish Open – and the third amateur to win a European Tour event. Lowry defeated Englishman Robert Rock on the third extra hole of a sudden-death playoff after both men finished on 17-under-par 271. As an amateur, Shane received no prize money for his historic win but it proved a springboard for a very successful professional career.
One record that last year’s champion Rahm did not beat was the lowest 18-hole score of 61 in an Irish Open. This feat was accomplished by Graeme McDowell at Co. Louth in 2009 and again the following year by England’s Ross Fisher when he won the tournament at Killarney in 2010. However, G-Mac’s score was 11-under par, compared to Fisher’s 10-under.
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is one of the qualifying events for The Open Championship. The leading three players who have not already qualified and who finish in the top ten qualifying for this year’s Open at Carnoustie.
In 2012, Royal Portrush became the first northern course in more than 50 years to host the event – setting a new record as the first European Tour event to sell out prior to play on all four days. A record European Tour attendance of 112,000 over four days (and 131,000 over six days) watched as Welshman Jamie Donaldson was crowned champion, likening his experience to playing in a major championship.
Three brothers from the same English family have remarkably lifted the Irish Open trophy. Ernest Whitcombe was crowned champion Royal County Down 1928 and Charles at Royal Portrush in 1930, before a third brother Reg completed a trio of wins for the whole family when he lifted the title at Royal Dublin in 1936.
Only seven Irish players have lifted their national Open trophy. The most recent was Rory McIlroy who won the title in such spectacular fashion at The K Club in 2016. Other Irish winners are Fred Daly in 1946, Harry Bradshaw in 1947 and 1949, Christy O’Connor Jnr in 1975, John O’Leary in 1982, Pádraig Harrington in 2007 and Shane Lowry in 2009.
Aside from current Dubai Duty Free Irish Open host Rory McIlroy, Fred Daly from Portrush is the only other player from Ulster to win the event, when he lifted the title at Portmarnock, Dublin, in 1946. The following year he became the first Irish player to win The Open Championship in 1947 at Hoylake (Royal Liverpool) Golf Club. Daly went on to play on four Ryder Cup teams in 1947, 1949, 1951, and 1953.
Since 2015, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has been hosted by Rory McIlroy and his charitable foundation. Next year’s event at Lahinch Golf Club in Co. Clare will be hosted by former Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley with Major champions Darren Clarke, Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell all lined up to host future events.
The future of the event continues to look bright with title sponsor Dubai Duty Free recently announcing that its sponsorship of the event has been extended for up to another four years.
Amongst the golfing stars that will be challenging Jon Rahm for his title at Ballyliffin are tournament host Rory McIlroy, Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Paul Dunne, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry, Danny Willett, Graeme McDowell, Chris Wood, Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Alexander Levy and Thorbjørn Olesen.