Irish golf was ignited by some lesser known names in 2017

Bernie McGuire
Bernie McGuire

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For a nation so small we’ve grown accustomed to disproportionate levels of success in golf in recent years. Harrington, McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke led the charge with Major victories both near and far while Shane Lowry emerged a national hero at Baltray in ’09, kicking on at the Bridgestone to add another name to our growing list of championship contenders.

An Irish name appearing on the first page of a leaderboard became a given- a gold standard for the young pretenders across the feeder Tours to aspire to. Expectation was never so high, and though created on a foundation of success, perhaps we were guilty of taking it for granted?

Inevitably a lull ensued. Harrington decided to twist rather than stick as he unravelled his winning formula, one theory at a time. McIlroy started to grow up and with it spawned interests outside the game to the detriment of his golf. While McDowell’s loss of form coincided with a family first approach that few could call into question. Still, regardless of reason, our regular occupancy of the prized positions inside the world’s top-50 began to wane.

This year was the first year in a long while that from the outset I thought Irish golf needed a spark to rejuvenate both fans and players alike, and though I would’ve been confident for one to come from the established statesmen mentioned already, it was a most pleasant surprise that the baton was picked up from the floor by two unlikely but tremendous players in their own right, at very different stages of their fledgling careers.

It would be hard to argue that one’s mesmeric achievements in 2017 weren’t the catalyst for the other. Paul Dunne went into the year having scraped a top-110 in his Rookie Year 2016 to retain his playing privileges while Gavin Moynihan went into another season on the pro circuit without so much as a schedule to work off.

The pair had grown up playing golf together from the age of 16 on the amateur circuit in Ireland and though their games stacked up quite well against each other for a time, Dunne had clearly stolen a march on Moynihan by making it to the Main Tour first.

“There was maybe a shot or two in the difference,” admitted Gavin earlier this year. “But because of him you know that if you make it, there’s no reason why you can’t win or contend every week on the Main Tour, it’s just getting there that’s the hard part!”

In winning the British Masters in such accomplished fashion, Paul Dunne suddenly became a barometer for a new generation to compare themselves to. Having played with so many of Ireland’s Challenge Tour contingent in recent times, Dunne had made the jump from economy to first class in no time, thus proving that a crop of players used to winning Team Championships with Ireland as amateurs had the attributes to mix it with the very best on Tour as individuals.

This wasn’t a prodigious talent like McIlroy lifting a prestigious title or a modern day veteran like Harrington racking up another ‘W’ for his bulging trophy cabinet, this was a friend of many that linger in a bracket just shy of making the grade. Paul’s lived with Jack Hume and Gary Hurley in Maynooth, was a regular around Carton House during his time under the GUI banner and is now the latest living proof that the products of our academy system are more than good enough to compete at the peak of the game.

No surprise then that Moynihan’s journey, albeit slightly removed from Dunne’s blinding spotlight, took on a soaring graph of its own as the Dubliner captured a coveted European Tour card for next season. A crunch four-iron from 219 yards to the front edge of the par-5 18th at Final Stage Q School set up his crucial birdie to the big time – the shot the work of his own no doubt but the belief that got him there at least partly inspired by someone wholly relatable in Dunne.

He may never admit it but a healthy jealousy never did the competitive juices any harm at all, and having earned a playing schedule for 2018, it’s now Moynihan who will be looked upon as a role model in motivation, unknowingly or otherwise, to the likes of Ruaidhri McGee, Cormac Sharvin and Gary Hurley who continue to grind on the Challenge Tour in pursuit of their dreams.

There’s no doubt that McIlroy will come back stronger after his unspoken sabbatical of 2017, while the season probably ended too soon for Lowry as he finally found form, but each Irishman who makes it will affect another in their own unique way. Success breeds success and while there was a brief period of uncertainty surrounding our young players’ abilities to make the breakthrough, those fears have been firmly put to bed by both Dunne and Moynihan in equally important measure, whether they know it or not.

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