For the second week in a row I feel completely redundant. Maureen had, as usual, got her blog in first, I read it and thought: can’t do better than that, she’s said all I wanted to say, with passion, panache and photos. Time to put the wine away and go to bed.
None of us has ever seen Portstewart the way it is this week. No cars on the beach for a start, unheard of in the summer but a real bonus for the photographers, with the sand at its most pristine. You have to drive past the golf club to get to the beach and this week, with the European Tour at its biggest and best in town, you probably have to be Rory McIlroy to drive onto the sand – or a policeman on a quad bike. I’d have taken a photo but he’d zoomed off before I could press the requisite buttons. Too slow on the uptake as usual, which is not such a problem for us scribblers who can arrive late on the scene and still catch up.
Mind you, it’s still nice to be on the scene, if only to try and puzzle out later what on earth was happening before your very eyes. I tootled round the first nine after a leisurely breakfast of seafood chowder and wheaten bread by the world’s best 1st tee and realised again just how beautiful the place is. Did we really grow up here? How lucky were we? Aren’t all golf courses like this? And Portrush? And Castlerock? The short answer is no. Not only are our home courses some of the best in Ireland, they’re some of the best in the whole wide world. So why shouldn’t Justin Rose, the Olympic champion, be striding down the hill at the 1st? Or Hideki Matsuyama, who must surely become the first Japanese to win a major and open the floodgates? Or the latest explosive Spanish talent that is Jon Rahm?
Chema, Jose Maria Olazabal, twice Masters champion, one of my favourites, is here and I’m ridiculously delighted to think of him, the man from Fuenterrabia, at Portstewart. Wee places that can launch people out in to the wider world. The place is littered with them this week: wee boys – and girls – who had big dreams and discovered they really could take on the world. Some go on on to believe their own publicity and think they’re better than they are but a goodly number remain grounded and, mostly, level-headed whatever the adulation and remember that they’re human. They’re the ones who are loved and respected, faults, foibles and all.
“Rory’s a bit grumpy this week,” someone who failed to get an autograph said, before adding, “Beef has time for everyone.” Yeah, but. Beef (sometimes aka Andrew Johnston) is not hosting the event on his (more or less give or take a few miles) home turf, trying to be all-singing, all-dancing, all-things-to-all-men-and women as well as all-swinging. He only has to concentrate on his golf – and selfies with one and all, including fellow beardies. Rory, the defending Irish Open champion, is donating his prize money this week to the Rory Foundation and he’d really rather like to make the cut. As it is, he’s lightly golfed this season and his practice time is limited by the nature of the week. Even for a young, fit human dynamo, something’s got to give and if he had any sense, he should just check out Mo’s “Drive Up, Drive Off Sandra” tip and forget about the practice ground altogether, though that goes against the professional grain.
Of course, he could also read Be A Player, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott’s latest book, as insightful, thought-provoking and full of good sense as ever. Or, even quicker, he could talk to Jude O’Reilly, Ireland’s answer to Pia and Lynn. If you’ve dug enough dirt and made the hands bleed enough, making the mind work better is the final frontier.
Mention of the mind brings me to Padraig Harrington, who has his own unique way of thinking and is warming up for Birkdale, where he won the Open so magnificently in 2008. I was on the spot yesterday when Padraig launched his drive at the 7th (his 16th) well left into thick, tangly, inhospitable rough. He took a drop, hammered his recovery well up the fairway and narrowly missed his putt. Wonder what that added up to, I thought. Nothing more than a par 5 according to the scoreboard. Huh?
I bumped into Caroline Harrington at the next hole and she explained that it was a free drop because the ball was plugged. Not only that but the spectators, being helpful, had picked up the ball to identify it and then diligently stuffed it back into the rubbish to try and ensure that it was lying as it had been. So there is such a thing as the luck of the Irish! And nothing like being there to see it.