Padraig Harrington has a “concern” in Turkey this week. Not of the safety variety, though, that led Rory McIlroy to lead a spate of withdrawals from the opening event in this season’s European Tour Final Series. “I’m just trying to figure out how not to eat all the food – that’s my biggest concern at the moment,” joked the Irishman in the build up to the Turkish Airlines Open starting in Belek tomorrow.
In fairness to Harrington, his light-hearted comment came at the end of him delivering a serious assessment of how he feels comfortable about being here, a position that both Paul Lawrie and Marc Warren said they were in, too, despite the safety fears that led the likes of Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed to pull out of the £5.7 millin event.
McIlroy, the world No 2, had been due to be the star attraction at a new venue, Regnum Carya, before withdrawing on Saturday in the wake of both a recent rocket attack and car explosion in the Antalya area. It is believed that the European Tour was on the verge of cancelling the event last week before receiving assurances from the Turkish authorities.
Keith Pelley, the Tour’s chief executive, paid a personal visit to the area on Friday to meet security officials and a special charter was laid on by Turkish Airlines for players and caddies from London to Antalya on Monday. Security is tight around the five-star resort, but the atmosphere on the practice range and in yesterday’s pro-am felt no different to any other European Tour event.
“Some guys did not go to Rio and how wrong were they there?” said Harrington of the zika virus threat which led a host of leading players to pull out of the Olympics in the summer. “I have tended to play around the world and travel around the world. I did it in the late 80s and early 90s in Ireland and we had our troubles in Ireland. I played a lot of golf in Northern Ireland at that time, and I remember people and other golfers from down south saying that I was mad going up there. I used to go, and think, ‘wow, people are so nice’. But you couldn’t convince people who hadn’t gone there and experienced what it was like. It was a great place to go, you couldn’t get a more welcoming place because you had travelled.
“They loved the fact that you had come and played. I used to go up there and you’d never get a greater welcome than you did there. They appreciated that you didn’t not go, didn’t read into the situation any more than it was. I think in that sense that has made me travel the world and not necessarily think I am the centre of focus when I go in any shape or form.”
Reed, one of the leading lights in the US team which recorded a deserved victory in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine last month, also pulled out of the event after concerns expressed by the US State Department at the weekend, with the fears of some being illustrated by the fact the player who finished 102nd in this season’s Race to Dubai – Swede Pelle Edberg – got into a 78-strong field despite the leading 70 being eligible.
“There was a lot of scaremongering about Brazil, but it was great,” added Harrington, who won the Portugal Masters last month to climb back into the world’s top 100. “Obviously here it is a slightly bigger issue, but when you’re here it’s great. Everything about the place is super. Yes, they had to put more security in and they had to pay attention. Is it more dangerous here than anywhere else? I’m not really sure. I’m just working away at my little thing and assuming everything will be okay.”
Lawrie is in a totally different position to the other professionals in the field. He’s not here trying to stay in the Race to Dubai, having already seen his race run in that this season. However, the 47-year-old was offered an invitation by Chubby Chandler, who played a major role in setting up this event, and, like his fellow Ryder Cup vice-captain Harrington, has no qualms whatsoever about being here.
“The way I looked at it, if the Tour and all the people who know what they’re doing as far as security fears are concerned are saying it’s all right, then I’m okay to come,” said Lawrie, who was keen to get one final 2016 appearance under his belt after finishing fifth behind Harrington in Vilamoura. “There are guys here with their wives and kids, and if they’re coming, well… There are some people who don’t want to come and that’s totally their decision, but I didn’t even think for a second about not coming. “
Warren, who, along with Richie Ramsay and David Drysdale, is hoping to use this event to make the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in a fortnight’s time, also said he has made the journey without any real concerns.
“Turkish Airlines have bent over backwards to get us here, having put a special flight on and the security has been ramped up. I hope it goes off incident-free for their sake,” he said. “Cost-wise, it must be one of highest ever in history of the European Tour and we are appreciate of them going out of their way to get us here.”