Padraig Harrington plays down Turkish Open safety concerns

Padraig Harrington and his caddie, Ronan Flood, got their first look at the Regnum Carya course in Belek this morning ahead of the Turkish Airlines Open starting on Thursday. Picture: Getty Images

Padraig Harrington and his caddie, Ronan Flood, got their first look at the Regnum Carya course in Belek this morning ahead of the Turkish Airlines Open starting on Thursday. Picture: Getty Images

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Padraig Harrington has played down the safety concerns that led Rory McIlroy to pull out of this week’s Turkish Airlines Open in Belek.

McIlroy, the world No 2, had been due to be the star attraction in the first of this season’s Final Series events on the European Tour before withdrawing on Saturday.

His decision came in the wake of both a recent rocket attack and car explosion in the Antalya area.

“It was weighing on my mind and I slept a lot better knowing that I’d made a decision,” said McIlroy. “I gave it a lot of thought, basically all week.”

US Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed also pulled out of the event, which starts at the Regnum Carya resort on Thursday, after concerns expressed by the US State Department at the weekend.

It is believed that the European Tour was on the verge of cancelling the $7 million event last week before receiving a number of assurances from the Turkish authorities.

Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive, paid a personal visit to the area on Friday to meet with security officials and a special charter was laid on by Turkish Airlines for players and caddies from London to Antalya on Monday.

“Some guys did not go to Rio, where there was a lot of scaremongering, and how wrong were they there?” said Harrington of the zika virus threat that led to a host of leading players to pull out of the Olympics in the summer.

“Personally, I have tried to travel around the world as much as I can and I also did it in the late 80s and 90s during the troubles in Ireland.

“I played a lot of golf in Ireland at that time despite other golfers saying that I was mad going up there. I remember going up there and thinking, ‘wow, the people are so nice, what are you thinking?’

“There was not a more welcoming place than Northern Ireland. It was a great place to go, you couldn’t get a more welcoming place because you had travelled.”

Speaking in the build up to the Turkish Airlines Open, Harrington, who won the Portugal Masters last month to climb back into the world’s top 100, added: “We had a lot of briefings about coming here.

“It was talked about a lot and Keith Pelley did a great job coming down and leading from the front.

“Everything about the place is super and I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m just trying to figure out how not to eat food all the time - that seems to be the biggest concern at the moment.”

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