Irish Eyes Are Smiling

By Brian HewittMarch 14, 2005, 5:00 pm
My first name is Brian. My middle name is Flannery. My mothers maiden name is McDermott.
 
And one of my proudest days as a journalist came in 2000 when Dublins Irish Times newspaper asked me to write a piece about the American perspective on the Emerald Isles Darren Clarke the day before he thumped Tiger Woods in the 36-hole final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play at La Costa.
 
Our job as reporters is to root for the story, not the players. But when the shots are counted, the day is done and the checks are cut, I am never unhappy when an Irishman has left richer than when he arrived.
 
Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington earned his first PGA Tour victory just four days before St. Patrick's Day.
In fact my experience with Irishmen is that they almost always leave the rest of us richer than we were when they arrived.
 
Im not talking about leprechauns and potato jokes and green beer and clichs. Im talking about the lyrical quality of being Irish; the lilt in an Irishmans voice; the twinkle in the eyes of so many of them.
 
Irishmen somehow seem to know, earlier than most, that life is short. And the Irishmen I know arent about to be cheated by that realization.
 
Sunday at the Honda Classic in Florida, Padraig Harrington, a Dubliner, crafted a final round 63 to become the first man from the Republic of Ireland to win on the PGA Tour.
 
Im sure, Harrington said after his round, I kept a few pubs open tonight.
 
I will never forget interviewing Harrington on the practice tee at San Franciscos Olympic Club during the U.S. Open back in 1998. The subject was Irish golf patriarch Christy OConnor Sr., Harringtons boyhood idol.
 
Harrington told me about watching OConnor hitting knockdown 6-irons into the wind at Royal Dublin in weather I wouldnt put me cat out in.
 
Sunday in California, The republic of Irelands Des Smyth won on the Champions Tour for the first time. Smyth is the pride of a wonderful little links course called Baltray in County Louth just over from Drogheda and up the road from Royal Dublin.
 
I will never forget interviewing Smyth in 2000 near the scorers tent after Smyths unsuccessful qualifying round for the Open Championship in Scotland. Smyth was in his late 40s at the time. His eyes were bright and his smile was joyous. He would keep trying to qualify, he promised, until he couldnt play the game anymore. Then a friend swept by and ushered him off for a pint.
 
I could go on and on, something the Irish do very well. I could tell you stories about John Byrne, who knows as much about Irish golf courses as Joyce did about writing; I could tell you about a man called P. J. Crotty who played the flute like a distant dream and remains, to me, the soul of the west of Ireland, even more so after his recent passing in Lahinch. I could tell you about Dermott Gilleece, my favorite Irish golf writer who reports when he should report and writes when he should write and is never too busy for a question.
 
I could tell you about the late John Robert McDermott, my mothers brother, (Harrington would say: me mudders brudder) who sponsored me at confirmation and also wrote penetratingly about golf for much of his career.
 
And I could even tell you about the chilly, gray day on a Dublin beach near where the River Liffey pours into the Irish Sea. That was where I found OConnor Sr., the great man himself, walking his dog and glad for the company.
 
Earlier, OConnor had told me why he turned down all those invitations to play in the Masters. The price of a round trip plane ticket back then, he said sternly, was very dear. And the national economy back then, he reminded, was not the Irish Tiger it is today.
 
There is, of course, a dark side to the Irish, too. And OConnor, Gilleece told me, was not a man you crossed lightly after a night on the tiles.
 
Drinkers and brawlers are labels the rest of the world is comfortable with when it comes to characterizing the Irish. More often than not, the Irish at least see the humor in it.
 
At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Spain an Irishman reached the gold medal round in boxing for the first time in more than 30 years. Why, a reporter from the Boston Globe asked the Irish coach, had it taken so long?
 
We fight better, the coach replied, when there are more stools around.
 
Anyway, Harrington will be playing in the 2005 Masters in less than a month. He will be one of the favorites.
 
You can be sure they will be talking and dreaming of this Thursday in Ireland. They will be rooting for Harrington at Augusta. And they will be rooting for the story.
 
Thursday is, after all, St. Patricks Day.
 
And the Irish are, after all, the Irish.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Getty Images

Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

Getty Images

Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

Getty Images

13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.