Darren Clarke has been counting down the days until he steps out on to the first tee at Royal Portrush for a European Tour event.
The Open champion, who is returning from a groin injury, joked he would take to the tee box in a Zimmer frame if he needed just to be part of this week’s Irish Open.
The sell-out event has caused much and excitement on the north coast and the province as a whole and Clarke is delighted to be part of it.
“Everyone who knows me knows that I have been looking forward to the Irish Open on my home course ever since it was announced, in January, that it was coming back here,” he said.
“I haven’t been able to play officially until I tee up on the Dunluce Course so I’m really raring to go. “But I would even play in a Zimmer frame if it was necessary, it’s that important to me.
“Everyone in Northern Ireland is counting down the hours for this championship to start, and I’m one of them.”
Clarke reckons a little local knowledge around a course like Royal Portrush will go a very long way.
“I’ve been playing around here since I was 11 years old when my dad used to bring me up in the evenings to play when the green fees were cheaper,” he said.
“All the Irish guys playing will know it and, with a course like this, that can only be an advantage,” he said.
“I fully expect to see two or three of them at the top of the leaderboard going into the Sunday afternoon.”
Fellow local Graeme McDowell is also delightedto be gracing such a high profile event in his own backyard.
“It’s a dream come true for me to play a tournament of the magnitude of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush,” he said.
“Having lived and grown up in Portrush, I’m going to be very proud to welcome the European Tour to my neck of the woods.
“The Irish Open has always been one that I’ve targeted every year. I’d love to win it. It’s great to compete in front of home fans and pick up a trophy, but to have that at Royal Portrush is extra special.”
Over 100,000 fans are expected to descend on the north coast for the Irish Open.
It is the first time the tournament has been held in Northern Ireland since 1953 and is set to be the first sell-out the European Tour has had for a regular event.
Northern Ireland stars Clarke, McDowell and Rory McIlroy will take on USPGA champion Keegan Bradley and three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington in the event, which will run from Thursday to Sunday.
Northern Ireland Tourist Board chief executive Alan Clarke said: “This year’s Irish Open is sure to be one of the biggest in the competition’s history.”
A number of famous faces will be seen along the north coast, with many stars set to play in the Irish Open Pro-Am at Royal Portrush on Wednesday.
Lost in Translation star Bill Murray and his brother Joel, who plays Freddy Rumsen in hit television show Mad Men, Legends of the Fall actor Aidan Quinn, singer Ronan Keating, football figures Martin O’Neill and Pat Jennings, and rugby stars David Humphreys and Andrew Trimble will all take part in the event.
Hotels, guest houses and B&B’s right across the north coast have been booked out for weeks. Extra trains have been scheduled to run from Belfast and Derry to Portrush to help deal with the huge crowds expected.