José Maria Olazábal will finally fulfil a mission that has taken an entire golfing career to complete when he tees up in the Irish Open, which is close to a sell-out at Royal Portrush Golf Club later this month.
The 2012 European Ryder Cup Captain has played in 14 previous Irish Opens, numerous Europeans Opens and a Ryder Cup in Ireland, but he has yet to set eyes on Harry Colt’s spellbinding masterpiece on the Antrim Coast.
And Olazábal admitted that Portrush’s most famous resident, Darren Clarke, had been responsible in no small way for his decision to take part in this year’s Irish Open from June 28 to July 1.
As The European Tour revealed that tickets for Sunday, July 1 are now completely sold out, Olazábal admitted: “Darren did ‘sell’ the course to me. I’ve talked to him in the past about Royal Portrush and he was always telling me about the beautiful location and the fantastic, natural links course. He kept saying: ‘If you ever have the chance – come and play it’.
“Well, when I heard that the Irish Open was going there this year I simply had no choice but to enter the tournament, and I can’t wait to see the place for myself later this month.”
Olazábal first played in the Irish Open in 1986, just a year after turning professional, when he finisherd tied fourth behind his great friend and mentor, Seve Ballesteros. However, the tables were turned in 1990 when Olazábal entered the winner’s enclosure over the same popular Dublin venue when he triumphed by three shots from then Open Champion Mark Calcavecchia and Frank Nobilo.
Remarkably, it was the first and last time that Olazábal was to win the Irish Open title, although he came second twice and had a total of ten top ten finishes to his name. In 1993 he had to accept a runner-up finish at Killarney following a blistering finish by Nick Faldo, whose closing 65 carried him into a play-off which he won after the Spaniard bogeyed the first extra hole.
Olazábal recalled: “Obviously my favourite memory was winning at Portmarnock. I liked the way it looked and also the set up and how much the tide could affect the conditions. I think that 1990 was truly special, although I have always enjoyed the experience of going to Ireland.
“We tend to play great courses – some links, some parkland – but the atmosphere at the Irish Open has always been wonderful. The crowds are knowledgeable and cheerful and that always creates a great tournament atmosphere. It’s a great part of the world to visit.”
Olazábal knows that the Irish Open is certain to feel like the old days of the eighties and nineties, with the majority of tickets already sold for the eagerly-awaited return to Northern Ireland.
“Yes, I’ve heard it is virtually a sell-out,” he added. “With the Northern Irish boys playing in their home country and huge crowds, it is going to be an interesting week and I think we can expect one of the great Irish Opens.”
Such is the incredible popularity of the 2012 Irish Open, advance tickets for the final round on Sunday, July 1 are now sold out, with a limited number still available for the first three rounds on Thursday, June 28, Friday, June 29 and Saturday, June 30. Weekly season tickets are no longer on sale.
Hospitality packages are sold out for the first two days, but a limited number are still available on Saturday and Sunday. For further details please visit www.europeantour.com/tickets