The 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be laced with nostalgia for the leading airport retailer’s Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Colm McLoughlin.
The tournament is set to be held at Lahinch Golf Club in County Clare for the first time from July 4-7 and it’s a venue, and a county, of great significance to McLoughlin, Dubai Duty Free and the whole duty free industry.
“The duty free industry was started in Shannon Airport, which is close by, in 1947 by Clare man, Dr. Brendan O’ Regan,” said the Irishman, who joined Shannon Duty Free in June 1969, and is therefore marking 50 years in the duty free industry this month.
Colm was general manager of Shannon Duty Free in 1983 when the Government of Dubai contracted the Irish aviation authority, Aer Rianta, to set up Dubai Duty Free and Colm headed up the Irish team.
When Dubai Duty Free opened for business in December of that year, Colm was asked to stay on as General Manager and he has continued as head of the operation, which last year recorded record sales of US$2.015 billion.
“As a company, we really liked the choice of Lahinch as venue for this year’s tournament because of that link with Shannon, County Clare and the entire duty free industry. It’s going to be extra special for everyone involved with Dubai Duty Free this year,” he said.
“Also, my wife Breeda is from County Clare so she’s very happy that the tournament will be played in her home county.”
Since Dubai Duty Free took over the title sponsorship in 2015, the growth of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has been astonishing.
Already one of golf’s oldest and most historic events, having been played since 1927, it became part of the European Tour’s prestigious eight-event Rolex Series in 2017 which saw the prize fund increase to a whopping US$7 million, making it one of the biggest events on the Race to Dubai schedule.
For the past four years, four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy has been the figurehead of the tournament but this year marks the start of a new era where the modern greats of the Irish game will form a ‘pool’ of hosts who will rotate each year.
First up is 2014 victorious European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley while Major champions Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and McIlroy will all join the roster.
McGinley too, has a special connection with Lahinch having won the prestigious South of Ireland Championship, which has been played at the venue since 1895, in 1991.
The Dublin man has promised a ‘festival’ vibe at this year’s Irish Open, with music and entertainment featuring alongside the golf and the unusual layout of the stunning Alister MacKenzie designed links course, parts of which meander right into the town, set to create an extra special atmosphere.
“The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has a rich history and tradition of being hosted on great golf courses,” said McGinley. “The Irish heritage is built on fun, sociability and laughter. When asked to become the tournament host I wanted to help create the right environment and canvas to accomplish a meeting of both ideals.
“I have fond memories myself of winning the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch in 1991. So, Lahinch is that special place for me and Colm and I can’t think of a better place to stage the Irish Open. It’s going to be a wonderful week in spectacular surroundings by the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.”
As well a strong Irish contingent of McGinley, Clarke, McDowell, Harrington, Shane Lowry and Seamus Power, a host of big international names has joined the field including Tommy Fleetwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjørn and defending champion Russell Knox.
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open takes place at Lahinch from July 4-7.
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Brooks Koepka will be bidding to win a hat-trick of US Open titles as the third major championship of the year gets under way on Thursday at Pebble Bleach in California.
Here, we look at five talking points ahead of the tournament.
Can Koepka seal a third-successive major?
Koepka became the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to successfully defend his title with victory at Shinnecock Hills in 2018.
The 29-year-old rose to the fore last year and looks unstoppable again in 2019, clinching a fourth major at Bethpage Black last month. Now, the Florida man has his sights on a hat-trick of wins at a single major, last achieved by Willie Anderson in 1905.
Although it may be difficult to replicate the highs of back-to-back major triumphs, after winning in Long Island four weeks ago, he still boasts the confidence, power and precision to win this weekend. With four of his last eight major starts converted into victory, it looks hard to see past Koepka.
How is McIlroy looking?
Rory McIlroy won his 16th PGA Tour title in dominating fashion when winning by seven shots, at a stunning 22-under par, in Canada last weekend.
In the process, the Northern Irishman fired his best four-day score ever on the PGA Tour and this acts as the perfect momentum heading into this week’s US Open. The 30-year-old is, statistically-speaking, having the most productive season of his career, with two wins, one runner-up, three top-5s, four top-10s from 11 starts.
He also leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained overall. Based on current form, this is a golden opportunity for McIlroy to win his first major since August 2014.
What shape is the course in after last year’s criticism?
At Chambers Bay four years ago it was bad greens, likened to “putting on broccoli”. The following year it was poor rules which left Dustin Johnson, other players and spectators unsure of the score with seven holes remaining.
In 2017, Rory McIlroy fumed with the sound of rough being cut down on four holes. And last year, only three players broke par in the third round.
This time around, the USGA need to redeem themselves and will be determined to avoid similar mistakes at Pebble Beach, a beautiful course that has been a regular feature on the PGA Tour.
Can Mickelson complete a career grand slam?
The American has finished second a record six times at the US Open – the only major he has not won in 27 attempts (25 as a professional, two as an amateur).
At 48, the five-time major winner continues to show impressive form, with victory at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year. It was his fifth win at the California course, a place where his comfort and success level is a major plus.
A win on his 49th birthday on Sunday to complete the Grand Slam would be a story of epic proportion.
Will America’s dominance at majors continue?
Koepka’s victory at Bethpage last month means American players currently hold seven of the last nine majors, with Sergio Garcia and Francesco Molinari’s respective wins at the Masters (2017) and the Open (2018) being the only two held by European players since April 2017.
American players’ strong hold on the US Open is also tight, winning the last four tournaments. And based on results in recent months, it’s difficult to see America golf’s dominance being toppled in California this weekend.
Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood or McIlroy may boast strong form for European players, but it is difficult to see past Dustin Johnson or Koepka prevailing. The wait continues.
Ahead of the US Open that starts on Thursday, we look at six star players set to shine.
Who do you think will win?
The World No1 is bidding to become only the second player in history to win three successive US Open titles. He may have little history on Pebble Beach, since finishing eighth on his sole appearance back in 2016, but this type of course should suit his game perfectly. He can drive irons accurately off the tee and can navigate the treacherous holes, long roughs and speedy greens effectively. Added to that, his run of form has been nothing short of sensational, with 1-6-13-1-39-1-2-1 finishes in his last eight major starts since the 2017 US Open.
TIGER WOODS (America)
Last five tournaments: T30-T5-1-MC-T9
The Masters champion was among the favourites for the PGA Championship but missed the cut by one shot at Bethpage. Had his greatest performance in 2000 at Pebble, winning the US Open by a record 15-shots. Although he has only played the California course four times in the last nine years, he has proven his class in the past, and if he can straighten his driving accuracy and get up to speed on the course changes, then he could very well be a threat come Sunday.
RORY MCILROY (Northern Ireland)
Last five tournaments: T21-T8-T8-MC-1
The Northern Irishman came roaring through the field in Canada last weekend, firing a closing round of 61 for his second win of the season. Tee to green, he is the most supreme ballstriker on the PGA Tour and more consistent than ever. The 30-year-old needs to avoid the slow starts that halted his progress at the Masters (T21) and PGA Championship (T8) if he is to add to his four major wins. Has been the form player in the world, finishing in the top ten in every tournament, except at Augusta.
PHIL MICKELSON (America)
Last five results: T14-T18-MC-T71-MC
Mickelson comes into this week’s major bidding to complete the career grand slam. The 48-year-old has cooled off after a sizzling start to the year, failing to record a top-10 since winning the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. He also missed the cut at the Players, finished T18 at the Masters and had a miserable T71 result at the PGA Championship. Still, the San Diego man’s ability to putt greens on a course he is comfortable with – he has won five times here – will give him an edge against a stellar field.
DUSTIN JOHNSON (America)
Last five results: T40-T2-T28-2-T20
The 2016 US Open champion has never quite rediscovered that stunning form which saw him top the world rankings in 2017 when winning third successive tournaments. But the Florida resident is slowly getting back to his best, winning in Mexico and Saudi Arabia this season, and finishing in a tie for second at the Masters. Johnson needs to tighten up his short game and putting if he is to contend this weekend, on a course where he won back-to-back Pro-Ams in 2009 and 2010. Has the talent and confidence to conquer Pebble in any condition.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD (England)
Last five results: T24-T36-T25-T8-T48
The Englishman’s stunning final round 63 at the 2018 US Open and his 62 at the BMW Championship in Aronimink are examples of the damage he can do when in control. With the small and fast greens in California, the Southport man has the intelligence off the tee and strong iron game to flirt with the winner’s circle this weekend. In 2019, he has three top five finishes, including second at the Zurich Classic in April. Young and confident, he looks primed for another tilt at US Open glory.