Irish Open: If you're looking for your balls, lads, you might want to turn around...
The stars were out in the middle of the day at Portstewart Golf Club yesterday as the curtain-raiser for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, the pro-am, made its way around the north coast course. Michael McWilliams kept his eye on the action – as well as some wayward efforts off the tee...
WHILE most of those people on display in yesterday’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open pro-am have been huge successes in their chosen field, it was reassuring to us mere mortals to see them display the same human frailties and interests.
The crowds were out in huge numbers in Portstewart, with golf fans and celeb spotters in evidence in equal measure to catch a glimpse of their heroes, whether from the worlds of sport or screen.
And a couple of the north’s finest were left to wish there was nobody there at all after less than impressive tee shots on the first hole.
There are few more nerve-wracking experiences for a decidedly average golfer than hitting a shot in front of a crowd.
When that crowd is made up of thousands of Irish mouthpieces, and when one of the world’s best players is in your group, those nerves can only be amplified.
Jamie Dornan and James Nesbitt were out in the affable company of world number 13 Justin Rose yesterday, and the pressure told.
After Rose cracked a tee shot down the first, Dornan was next up. One decent-looking swing later, his ball was careering towards the famous Portstewart beach, and the Holywood man was acting as best he could that he didn’t care.
Then it was the turn of Nesbitt, who surely thought he couldn’t do any worse. Wrong.
“Don’t get Cold Feet, Jimmy,” came the cry from the grandstand behind the tee.
One sky/slice later, and Nesbitt was thinking of heading toward Harry’s Shack on the beach, not for a pint but to retrieve his ball.
About half-an-hour prior to Dornan’s embarrassment, the only other man to raise a cheer quite as loud as The Fall star, Rory McIlroy, had skipped off the first tee in the exalted company of
20-time champion jockey AP McCoy, horseracing and finance legends
JP McManus and Dermot Desmond, and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
So in demand is a round with Rory that he had to play in a fiveball, although Guardiola’s company might not have been quite as welcome as it may have been in the past.
“I was good friends with him, and then he picked the City job,” said McIlroy, a devoted Man United fan, with a smile.
“But no, my relationship with Pep started at the Ryder Cup in 2012. He was there, that was sort of his sabbatical year from management. He loves his golf, we struck up a bit of a relationship.”
McIlroy also revealed that his dad, Gerry, might have played a role in the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss winding up on the blue side of Manchester.
“Actually, Pep and my dad basically walked all three days (at the Ryder Cup at Brookline) together and my dad at that time was asking ‘Pep, when are you going to come and manage City?’. And obviously he got his wish four years later.”
The younger McIlroy also got his wish by transforming the Irish Open from a struggling European Tour event into one of the biggest on the calendar on this side of the Atlantic as soon as his Rory Foundation came on board to give it a boost.
His popularity was everywhere to see in Portstewart yesterday, with massive crowds watching his every move.
But while he is in total control most of the time on the course, that isn’t always the case at home.
The newly-married star was asked, given the location of this year’s event, whether he would be taking in any of the scenery from the televisual behemoth Game of Thrones, much of which is filmed on the north coast, and whether he watched the show.
“I’m not really a fan of Game of Thrones. I prefer more real-life stuff, House of Cards, stuff that can happen in real life.
“My wife really dictates what we watch on TV.”
Normal human situations again.
The same kind of things were on Shane Lowry’s mind when he spoke to the press after his pro-am round.
The Offaly man missed the cut at the Open de France last week but has come to Portstewart in positive mood and is determined to do
well, for more than the obvious reasons of the glory that would come from winning his national open for the second time, after he did so as an amateur at County Louth in 2009.
The European Tour yesterday confirmed that they would be showing Saturday’s crucial third Test between the British and Irish Lions and New Zealand live on the big screen in the Championship Village in Portstewart, thus solving a dilemma for sports fans over whether they stay in the house and watch the rugby or head to the course early for the third round.
And Lowry is keen for there to be no conflict of interest in his mind either.
“Well, yeah, that’s extra incentive to get a late tee time on Saturday, so I can watch the Lions Saturday morning,” he said.
“I don’t know much about rugby. I watch it and I follow it but I’m not going to say too much. It would be great to see them do well. It will be great to see the Irish lads do well, especially.”
A Test series win in New Zealand would make the likes of Conor Murray, Tadhg Furlong, Sean O’Brien and Johnny Sexton real heroes on these shores.
Lowry is already a cult hero amongst Irish sports fans, but he does normal things like the rest of us.
Asked how he would unwind between rounds this week, he said he intended to spend time with those closest to him.
“My family just arrived up so I’m going to spend the afternoon with them. It will be nice to chill out for the day.
“We might go for walk down the beach or something.”
He could maybe have a look for golf balls when he’s down there.
Those belonging to Dornan and Nesbitt for a start.