Marien Kakebeeke, Managing Director of Murphy Brewery Ireland has confirmed a record prize fund of IR£1,150,000 (Stg £1 million) and a winner’s cheque for IR£191,700 representing a 53% increase on the 1997 prize fund at stake for this year’s Murphy’s Irish Open at Druids Glen from July 2-5. Mr Kakebeeke said: “Murphy’s Irish Stout became the title sponsor of our National Championship in November 1993. Since that time, we have now invested IR £7 million in the Murphy’s Irish Open and are proud of the significant role it plays in Ireland’s golfing tourism industry. As we enter a new millennium, Murphy Brewery Ireland are giving a clear signal that the Irish Open Golf Championship is in good hands and we intend that it retains its rightful place as a premier European and world class event.”
Commenting on the announcement, Mark Mortell, Chairman of Bord Failte, who are the major Associate Sponsors of the Murphy’s Irish Open, said: “Murphy Brewery’s sponsorship of the Irish Open to date has been an unqualified success. The strengthening of their commitment into the future is a great boost for Irish tourism. The coverage the Murphy’s Irish Open receives internationally every year in reaching 300 million homes world-wide plays a significant role in raising Ireland’s profile with a golfing audience that we are keen to attract as tourists to Ireland.”
Ken Schofield, Executive Director of the European Tour, said: “We congratulate Murphy Brewery Ireland on their historic announcement. The first STG£1 million Murphy’s Irish Open will be warmly welcomed by all our Members, and we sincerely thank Marien Kakebeeke and Murphy Brewery Ireland for their superb commitment to the European Tour.
“The challenge since the European Tour celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1996 has been to lay the foundations for the next 25 years to be even more exciting and successful. This announcement provides further evidence that long-term relationships between sponsors and the Tour will enable us to meet all our goals.
“Record prize money of STG£1,750,000 has been published for the 1998 Open Championship, and the Murphy’s Irish Open now joins the Smurfit European Open, the Volvo PGA Championship and the Deutsche Bank - SAP Open TPC of Europe in announcing prize funds of STG£1million or more this season. This means, with the season-ending Volvo Masters, there are now no fewer than six Volvo Ranking tournaments with seven figure sterling prize funds. It further demonstrates the continuing growth of the European Tour, emphasised by the fact that the Murphy’s Irish Open prize fund has increased from STG£592,000 in 1994 to STG£1,000,000 in 1998.”
Mr Kakebeeke also announced the entry of Nick Faldo, winner of a hat trick of Irish Opens from 1991 to 1993, a feat which defending champion, Colin Montgomerie will be striving to emulate in July over the magnificent County Wicklow parkland venue.
Faldo, winner of three Masters Tournaments and three Open Golf Championships, joins World No.1, Ernie Els of South Africa, the defending U.S. Open Champion, as leading challengers to Colin Montgomerie’s Murphy’s Irish Open title. Montgomerie’s great duel with Els saw him pip the world’s No.1 to win the 1998 Volvo PGA Championship. The Irish golfing public will look forward to another head to head at Druids Glen in July.
Ian Woosnam, winner of back to back Irish Opens in 1988 and 1989 and the Masters Tournament in 1991, with career winnings in excess of £5m, has also entered the Murphy’s Irish Open.
The field for Druids Glen also includes the 1994 Masters Tournament winner, José Maria Olazábal, a major contributor to Europe’s Ryder Cup successes, and a winner of the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year.
Fellow Spaniard and Ryder Cup Captain at Valderrama last September, the charismatic Seve Ballesteros, with Irish Open successes in 1983, 1985 and 1986, is another returning to Druids Glen.
The Spanish Armada will also include the very exciting 18-year-old Spanish amateur player, Sergio Garcia, who is emerging as a hugely talented successor to his famous fellow countrymen. At 15 years of age, he was already European Amateur Champion and of whom Olazábal, who won the European Amateur title at 17, has said: “I think he is a much better player than I was at the same age.”
Other European Tour winners who have entered include the outstanding Danish player Thomas Björn, winner of the Heineken Classic in Perth, Australia, in February, and the Peugeot Open de España in April.
Darren Clarke, who had a superb Masters Tournament in April, and who also won the Benson and Hedges two weeks ago, is the leading in form Irish player seeking a first Irish Open win since Christy O’Connor Junior in 1975 and John O’Leary in 1982, as will World Cup of Golf winners, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.
The entry list also contains 1998 European Tour winners, Andrew Coltart (Qatar Masters), Stephen Leaney (Moroccan Open), Peter Mitchell (Portuguese Open), Thomas Levet (Cannes Open) Patrik Sjöland (Italian Open). Per-Ulrik Johansson, who defends the National Car Rental English Open next week, and a member of the winning Ryder Cup team, is another confirmed entry.