Best is yet to come in Ballyliffin
by Linda McGrory
THE Dubai Duty Free
Irish Open started yesterday with the traditional
charity professional-amateur (Pro-Am) opener in
Oftentimes, big events can be so over-hyped in the
run-up that by the time they actually arrive, there
can be an anti-climactic sense to them, or as so
often the case in Ireland, they can be let down by
But beautiful Ballyliffin shone brightly yesterday
in so many ways.
As someone who has interviewed one or two famous
people (more later), I've noticed that they can
often have a bit of a glow to them, they sort of
stand out with their all-year-round tans and the
star dust that sprinkles their special selves as
they sashay around the world.
But yesterday, after nearly a month of an Irish
heatwave, it was difficult to tell the local from
Everybody was sporting a healthy glow, a bright
smile and radiated the happiness of a nation
enjoying its first real summer in well over a
decade. There wasn't a farmer's tan in sight.
Indeed some of the young Irish children who
scampered about the sand dunes have never even seen
an Irish summer - their school holidays so often
marked with damp days and a snatched hour of
sunshine here and there.
Spectators gather at the stands on
the first tee during the sun-drenched Dubai Duty
Free Irish Open 2018 pro-am in Ballyliffin.
I would hazard that the
opening day of the Irish Open 2018 will live long in
the collective local memory. Hearty congratulations
to everyone involved in its organisation.
People met up with friends old and new, encountered
old school classmates and golfing buddies they
hadn't seen for many a long (summer-free) year.
The 'real' celebrities who took to the fairways,
meanwhile, included some of the world's top golfers
and a number of people from the worlds of music,
entertainment, business and other sports.
Some people wanted to see popular actor James
Nesbitt - looking well there Jimmy! Others were
delighted to see perennial Irish pop stars Brian
McFadden and Keith Duffy, getting into the swing of
People who have marvelled at the sporting bravery of
jockey Tony McCoy and wanted to see how he's faring
since retirement including me were able to watch him
in action as part of tournament host's Rory
Anyone who was in any doubt as to the popularity of
BBC entertainment show Strictly Come Dancing on
these shores need only have witnessed the huge
reaction to super-hoofer Anton du Beke. He owned
Ballyliffin. And as he mingled and joked among fans
and happily signed autographs, it became pretty
clear that his on-screen popularity probably has
plenty to do with how he treats fans off-screen too.
Then of course there was Rory. Looking relaxed and
happy, he could be made out in the distance as he
negotiated the fairways in his blue shorts and his
distinctive, undulating walk.
Rory McIlroy signs a cheque for
€100,000 to the Donegal Hospice from his Rory
Foundation as part of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open
2018 in Ballyliffin. Also included in photo are,
from left, Donegal Hospice chairperson Grace Boyle;
championship director Simon Alliss and Ballyliffin
Golf Club manager John Farren.
At the press conference
afterwards, it was announced that his Rory
Foundation as part of the Ballyliffin event, was
donating €100,000 to the Donegal Hospice.
Apart from this major announcement, Rory's press
conference was also marked by an honesty and
forthrightness about his life, career and future in
golf. I'm not a sports reporter, but I have to say
it was refreshing to hear someone so revered (a
global sports superstar as he is universally
considered) speak from the heart without trying to
self-edit his answers for publicity purposes. It was
also notable how apparently accessible Rory was to
the waiting media and fans without an army of
handlers monitoring and marshalling his every move.
I'll wrap this piece up shortly but I'll finish with
a little anecdote about famous people I've
interviewed. I'm almost welling up now as I write.
When I was a rookie reporter working for the lovely
people at the Irish Examiner in Cork, there was a
tip-off that George Best (sadly now deceased) was
due to fly in to Cork Airport sometime that day. To
this day I'm not sure why I was chosen to accompany
the photographer on the mission to try and interview
him (I think we were short-staffed that day). At the
time, the opportunity was probably wasted on me, as
neither was I a particularly huge sports or soccer
So off I nonchalantly went to the airport about
7.30am looking forward to little more than a day out
of the office.
The arrivals gates swung open and closed all day -
no George Best. Myself and the photographer were
about three breakfasts and two lunches in when, what
can only be described as a frisson of something
indiscernible, swept through the concourse.
Some of the marshals take a breather
in the hot sunshine at the Dubai Duty Free Irish
Open in Ballyliffin on July 4, 2018.
The doors opened and
there stood a rather frail George and his wife Alex
pushing their luggage trolleys.
We had earlier decided between us that rather than
snap, snap, snap and landing him with questions, we
would politely ask if we could have a short
George, a recovering alcoholic, had been getting
lots of flack in the media for months before due to
his liver surgery.
But I will never forget my encounter with him.
Setting aside all the plaudits his soccer skills
brought and all the criticisms levelled at him
because of his drinking, I will only say this. He
treated one rookie reporter and a superbly gifted,
experienced (and patient) photographer with courtesy
We got a front page exclusive the next day which was
picked up by news outlets all over the world.
But what will stay long in the memory for me was
that George Best didn't particularly care who we
were. It wouldn't have mattered if we were the
biggest or smallest news outlet in the world. He
wasn't looking for good headlines or a positive
spin. He came across as a rather shy person who, one
felt, was landed because of his prodigious talents,
with a superstardom that he never quite got used to.
I'm sure Man Utd stalwart Rory McIlroy is a huge fan
of George Best. One can but imagine that had things
turned out differently, these two great Northern
Irish sportspeople would have been friends in sport
and in life. And can you just imagine George Best,
who would now be 72, as part of Rory's pro-am
fourball in Ballyliffin yesterday? Now that would
have been something very special indeed.