Darcy aims to stay on upswing

Peter Corrigan finds an Irish golfer eager to triumph on his home turf
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AN IRISHMAN winning the Irish Open is an occurrence much rarer than an Englishman winning the English Open (four years ago), almost as rare as a Scotsman winning the Scottish Open (never) but not as impossible as a Welshman winning the Welsh Open (they don't have one).

The Welsh, nevertheless, have a unique record in the matter of national open championships around these isles. Only one golfer has won all three of the English, Scottish and Irish Opens and he is Ian Woosnam. The Irish, meanwhile, have the consolation that one of their number, Philip Walton, won this year's English Open and that one of their splendid stouts, Murphy's, sponsors both the English and Irish Opens.

All this is very complicated and probably doesn't concern the modern golf professional who scarcely has time to look at the notice board to see which particular tournament he happens to be playing in. Be sure that Walton, a highly combative Dubliner, will know, as will another Irishman of similar disposition. Eamonn Darcy can barely remember the last time he felt so good about the approach of his home event.

What the Irish contenders are up against is a field that is traditionally tougher than most open championships, apart from the majors. Since John O'Leary registered Ireland's last victory in 1982, the winners have been Seve Ballesteros (3), Nick Faldo (3), Bernhard Langer (3), Ian Woosnam (2) and Jose Maria Olazabal.

The strength of the entry is not unconnected from the willingness of the sponsors to pay appearance money to guarantee the presence of the top stars. Greg Norman, for instance, is reputed to be receiving $300,000 for turning up at Mount Juliet in Co Kilkenny this week. Sadly, Faldo will not be there. Although this has been a very good tournament for him, with a hat- trick of victories between 1991 and 1993, his agents failed to negotiate the right terms.

The right terms for Darcy include merciful relief from a back injury that has wrecked most of the past two years and a streak of form that has returned him to the top 50. "I would love to get a run in the Irish Open. It has been a long time since I have had the fitness and the form to look forward to it."

Darcy damaged his vertebrae in 1993 and cortisone injected into his spine last year failed to have any effect. This year, however, the injections have worked. "It must be like putting," he said. "They've got to go into the right place to be any good."

Darcy has had to bear a series of unworthy insults directed at the purity of his swing in his eventful career, so it was a rare pleasure for him to be present last Tuesday at the new Druid's Glen course, 20 miles south of Dublin. The 24 golf writers assembled were representing their countries in the fourth annual Home Internationals, a hacks championship that is usually held far away from prying eyes.

Darcy takes over as touring professional of Druid's Glen this weekend and was thus present to witness a sequence of swings that brought him much contentment. The press men proceeded in the knowledge that each of them had often employed their suspect writing talents to poke fun at the way Darcy directs his clubhead at the ball.

"After 24 years, I'm used to what you say about me but it was heartening to see those grips tightening up when I was watching," the Irishman said. Druid's Glen has yet to be opened officially and the writers were the first to attack the pounds 10m masterpiece because one of its originators is a golf writer himself.

Pat Ruddy has been involved in the design and construction of more than 20 courses in Ireland during the past 25 years. He and his partner Tom Craddock were instructed by a consortium to carve an even better one out of the wooded Wicklow countryside and care nought for the cost.

The result is spectacular and after their exertions amid the waterfalls and ravines of Druid's Glen, the writers went to the classical links of The European club, on the edge of Brittas Bay, Wicklow, and represents Ruddy's own enterprise. He mortgaged his house, cashed in insurance policies and recruited his wife Bernardine and their five children to help create this course amid sand dunes he spotted while on a helicopter journey.

The European has already found its way into sixth place on the list of Ireland's greatest golf courses and last year brought in pounds 500,000 in green fees. Ruddy writes his own descriptions of his courses and acknowledges the inspiration of "the great symphonies of Beethoven and Mozart". After they had staggered out of the clubhouse last Wednesday night, the visitors felt that Brahms and Liszt might have been more appropriate.