The Galgorm Resort & Spa Northern Ireland Open, presented by Modest! Golf gets underway at Galgorm Castle on Thursday and one of the most visible tournaments on the European Challenge Tour promises to deliver plenty of drama and excitement with the new Shootout Sunday format.
Now in its fifth year, sponsors and organisers were keen to try something different, to innovate and embrace the European Tour’s overall vision of introducing fresh new ideas to professional golf tournaments around the world.
In a nutshell, 156 players will tee it up on Thursday as normal, before a 36-hole cut reduces the field to 60 players and ties. After Saturday’s third round there will be another cut with the top 24 players making it through to Shootout Sunday, where five rounds of six-hole strokeplay matches will decide the winner.
“We always look forward to returning to Galgorm Castle for one of our favourite weeks of the year and this year’s NI Open will now have the added dimension of an innovative new format,” said Alain de Soultrait, Director European Challenge Tour.
“On the Challenge Tour we are proud of our role in helping to grow and develop the game of golf so this imaginative new tournament fits our tour perfectly. The Northern Irish crowds are among the most knowledgeable and passionate in the world and they support this event phenomenally every year, and we are sure that they will enjoy this year’s tournament, and especially the Shootout Sunday, even more.”
Modest! Golf’s Niall Horan added: “This is a big tournament, and close to home for me. Obviously there are some great golfers and a great culture of golf in this country with big attendances. It was an easy decision for us to return in 2017 as presenting sponsor, especially as it is so well supported.”
Another truly international field has gathered at Galgorm Castle with a strong representation of home players hoping to make their mark on home soil too. Dubliner Gavin Moynihan is the highest ranked (22nd) Irishman in the Road to Oman standings.
Moynihan kick-started the season with an early win on the PGA EuroPro Tour. He shot three rounds of 68 to win The Lookers Championship at Close House in April. The following month he took full advantage of a start on the Challenge Tour to finish runner-up to Aaron Rai at the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9. Englishman Rai has since won three times and immediately graduated to the main European Tour.
“I guess since mid-April I have been playing some really good stuff. Things are going well, I feel a lot more comfortable out here and know what to expect now,” said Moynihan, who turned professional immediately after being part of the winning 2015 Walker Cup team. Last season proved difficult, especially after his long-time coach Hugh Jackson passed away.
“I lost my swing a bit last year, I was maybe a bit tense, trying too hard. That plus the cuts are so low out here, you could play well and still have the weekend off. I moved to Shane O’Grady and we worked hard over the winter and obviously the results came early and that builds the confidence.”
The 22-year-old also finished tied 14th in last month’s Irish Open after a closing 64 to finish as leading Irishman in Portstewart.
Chris Selfridge has been plagued with injury over the last 12 months after sustaining torn wrist ligaments, but the Moyola professional is fighting fit and looking to get back to top form.
“I am feeling good,” said Selfridge, who had another setback again earlier in the season. “I have had no issues with injury at all since Saint Omer (in June), so I am starting to feel a lot better.
Living less than 20 miles from Galgorm, Selfridge is optimistic for the week ahead. “It’s a great course and a great venue. This is my fifth event in a row so it’s great to stay at home after a long stretch,” added the 25-year-old, who has had two top 20 finishes at the NI Open.
A total of 24 Irish players will tee it up at Galgorm, including Tournament Ambassador Michael Hoey who finished eighth last year. The home contingent will face still competition from the overseas visitors and proven winners. Last week’s winner Paul Howard is in the field after the Englishman won the Vierumäki Finnish Challenge to move into the top 20 of the Road to Oman standings.
Last year’s champion Ryan Fox has kicked on and focuses on the main European Tour but two former champions, Daan Huizing from the Netherlands (2013) and France’s Clément Sordet (2015) are in the field and will hope to draw on former glories. Other notables this week include American Chase Koepka, brother of Brooks, the current US Open champion.
The week-long festival of golf has lots taking place away from the fairways too. The GolfNow Junior NI Open gets underway for children aged 6-13 at the Interactive Zone, while Thursday is “Fairies, Family and Fun” at the NI Open. A fashion show takes place in the NI Open Village on Friday’s “Ladies’ Day” before the golf gets down to the business end over the weekend. Entry to the NI Open is free all week, simply register for tickets at niopen.golf.