The golf season embarks on the links swing this week with the Irish Open, quickly followed by the Scottish and British versions (The Open) over the next fortnight. Rory McIlroy once said he would not make his game more suited to seaside golf for basically one week in the year. This weeks Irish Open is hosted by the Rory Foundation and McIlroy plays so he has changed his tune. All the game’s greats have won the Open Championship on a links course. Some hated it at first but grew to love and respect this form of the game like Tom Watson who won five.
The third major of the season is always played on links courses. They are so named because 18 holes have been developed on land that links the sea and inland. Links golf is multi-dimensional and a player must have a good all-round game to score well. Wind is often a factor so players must shape shots and use the contours. It is the total opposite to US target golf but the best players adapt. McIlroy is the favourite for the Open he hosts this week in the country of his birth.
Players who have an active role in the presentation of a tournament can react in two ways. The off course distractions can limit practice time and work away from the course. Conversely playing competitive golf can provide refuge from non-playing commitments. McIlroy won the Irish Open in 2016 at the K Club when he was also the host. He has enough natural ability to forgo time on the range and practice putting green and still score well. However, McIlroy will be very busy this week.
The Open Championship is recognised as the unofficial world championship of golf. The winner is announced as the champion golfer and all the global tours are represented. The Irish Open is a good starting point for the three week spell of links golf. The show moves to Scotland for their national open next week and the biggest and best Open is being played at Carnoustie this so there is a two week Scottish swing. Phil Mickelson won both events in 2013.
This week’s Irish Open is being played at Ballyliffin Golf Club in County Donegal. The course is a par 72 of 7,462 yards for the tournament. There are only three par 3s and par 5s and the pars for each nine are 35 and 37. The 17th is a reachable par 5 that offers eagle and birdie opportunities so there could be late swings on the leaderboard. The strength and direction of the wind will be elements of the week. Finding greens in the correct number of shots and putting are the key skills for good scoring. However, the links provides a test of a player’s entire game.
Jon Rahm is the defending champion and next player in the betting after McIlroy. The world number six won the event by six shots last year and ended the season by also winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. As a Rolex Series event the Irish Open offers increased Ryder Cup points and huge prize fund that can help players move up the standings in the Race to Dubai. Rahm is good enough to win again but another Spanish player is preferred.
Rafael Cabrera Bello was tied fourth in the Open Championship last year on the classic links course at Royal Birkdale. He has made the cut in the first two majors of the season and has six professional wins to his name, including the Scottish Open in 2017 on a links course. At his best McIlroy is the most likely winner but the distractions of his foundation may work against him and Cabrera Bello can begin the links swing by winning the Irish Open.