It’s that time of year again when we batten down the hatches for winter and reflect from the comfort of the couch on all that’s happened over the previous year. What better time then to honour some of the outstanding achievements in Irish golf in 2019? From fairways at home to grasslands abroad, there have been some memorable moments, some dreams realised and here we break down by category, some of our selections in terms of outstanding achievement in 2019. If nothing else, these players sparked some debate in the office and brought joy to many faces through their great play this year. We hope you agree.
Irish PGA Player of the Year – DAMIEN MCGRANE
A tight category this year given Colm Moriarty’s eight wins but with six victories, an Order of Merit title and the blue ribbon Irish PGA Championship title in his trophy cabinet, Damien McGrane edges our Irish PGA Player of the Year for 2019.
The Carlow GC Head Professional’s golf was expected to take a back seat in 2019 but McGrane retained all his class during his 20-event playing schedule, collecting 19,854 Order of Merit points, 2,000 more than nearest rival Moriarty.
With six wins on the season, including his first back in May at the PGA Irish Club Professionals tournament, McGrane was exemplary in 2019 but the highlight of the year undoubtedly came at the 109th Irish PGA Championship at Bunclody where the former European Tour winner claimed a second Irish PGA title over Michael McGeady.
“My interest in the game has been low, unfortunately,” McGrane admitted after his win.
“I’m hoping that as I get closer to 50, that my motivation will make me want to start playing a lot more. It will hopefully encourage me to start practicing, hit a few shots and get my game even better than what it is at the moment.”
For the now 48-year old, his game still comes out best amongst those on the Irish Region but the question remains whether the former European Tour regular will be willing to return to the Tour, albeit in a Senior capacity when 50 comes around.
Victories at Elm Park, Cork and Connemara are one thing but will that form translate to the Staysure Tour in two years’ time?
“I definitely can compete,” he asserted. “I look at guys on the Tour and don’t forget, I played with most of them. Apart from the fact that we’re 10 years older and the odd duffed chip, we’re all still the same.”
Irish Touring Professional of the Year (Male) – SHANE LOWRY
This particular choice stirred some debate around the boardroom table but the 148th Open Champion held off Rory McIlroy to claim the crown this year.
In many ways it came down to this question; would McIlroy swap his four-time title winning season, his FedEx Cup crown and bucket load of top-10’s for Lowry’s Abu Dhabi Championship and Portrush Open crown? We decided that yes, he would.
For Lowry, despite his Race to Dubai hopes fizzling out prior to the festive period, this year has been unforgettable, lucrative and a far cry from the Carnoustie car park scene of last year’s Open where he shed a tear or two, lamenting a game that seemed to be betraying him.
His 281 yard three-wood approach to the final green in Abu Dhabi back in January seems like a lifetime ago now but it was the shot of a champion and it catapulted confidence into Lowry ahead of a landmark season.
That stretch of form culminated in Lowry’s victory procession at the Open Championship where a moving day nine-under par round of 63 before raucous scenes set the golfing world alight in Portrush.
“Golf is a weird sport and you never know what’s around the corner,” reflected Lowry after his Sunday victory on another week that changed his life forever.
“I sat in the car park in Carnoustie, almost a year ago right to this week, and I cried. Golf wasn’t my friend at the time. It was something that had become very stressful and it was weighing on me and I just didn’t like doing it. What a difference a year makes.”
The only thing that might top it for the Offaly man now is a place in Padraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup team next year.
Irish Touring Professional of the Year (Female) – LEONA MAGUIRE
Given Stephanie Meadow plucked her LPGA Tour card out of the fire this year, this category was another closely contested affair but Leona Maguire’s double-winning season takes the biscuit in our office at least.
In truth, the prospect of two Irish LPGA Tour stars on our screens next year is something to be celebrated and the impact it could have on an already growing women’s game on this island is boundless, but this particular write-up must focus on 25-year old Maguire who celebrated her birthday last weekend by signing off on her Ladies European Tour season.
The Cavan professional focussed her attention across the Atlantic on the Symetra Tour this year where, via the Tour’s Volvik Race for the Card standings, Maguire secured one of 10 LPGA Tour cards and with it, her dream of becoming a member of the top tier of women’s professional golf.
Maguire did the damage on the Order of Merit table early, claiming victories at the Windsor and Symetra Classics to become a two-time winner on the Tour by May of this year. The former world amateur number one enters the off-season hoping to find a few extra yards in the gym ahead of making her full LPGA Tour debut in February at the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia.
“It’s been a long time coming so it’s nice that it’s finally here,” she reflected on her promotion. “It’s been a long year on the Symetra Tour; there’s been a lot of travel and planning and it’s pretty nice to put all that behind me and have the LPGA Tour to look forward to now.
“That was the idea of going to college in the States, everything has been planned to lead up to this point and I’m so excited to get there.”
Irish Amateur of the Year (Male) – JAMES SUGRUE
Although Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty put it up to the Mallow man by not only capturing the West of Ireland title but also ending the year as the European Amateur Number One, his Walker Cup teammate, James Sugrue’s heroics in Portmarnock couldn’t be thwarted in 2019.
Sugrue’s victory back in June in front of 3,000 people at The Amateur Championship created a noise volume scarcely heard at an amateur event and captured the imagination of all those in attendance.
The 22-year old, who few would have fancied coming into the week, carried home hopes into the 36-hole final and didn’t disappoint, overcoming Scotland’s Euan Walker by one hole at the famous links.
As reward for the win, Sugrue lined out alongside home favourite, Darren Clarke for the first two days of the Open Championship at Royal Portrush where he agonisingly missed out on the halfway cut by a single stroke.
Although a persistent back injury hampered his hopes of contributing much to the GB&I team at the Walker Cup, Sugrue could be consoled from that disappointment knowing that next year he can look forward to playing The Masters at Augusta and the US Open, should he remain amateur – of which there is little doubt.
“There’re lots of pros that play golf their whole life and don’t get to play in a Major. Now I get to play in three of them,” Sugrue said after his Portmarnock win.
“It’s hard to believe, really hard to put into words. I’m absolutely delighted. It was an unbelievable experience and the crowds were magnificent.”
Irish Amateur of the Year (Female) – JULIE McCARTHY
Swords star, Julie McCarthy made waves across the Atlantic and proved a standout performer for her Auburn Tigers college side all season with her name an ever-present on leaderboards across the inter-collegiate circuit.
The 20-year old fulfilled a burning ambition when her name appeared in joint-top spot at The Reserve in South Carolina when McCarthy fired a career-low six-under par 66 en route to winning.
The Forrest Little golfer’s consistency was rewarded with a spot on the International team at the prestigious Arnold Palmer Cup, where McCarthy played a starring role and claimed an impressive 3.5 of her 4 available points at the competition to help her side to an historic win.
It was a breakthrough amateur campaign for the Dubliner and one that saw McCarthy make her Major debut amongst the stars of the female game at the Evian Championship in the foothills of the French Alps.
Although that venture into pro company resulted in a missed cut, the experience should prove invaluable with McCarthy getting a first-hand glimpse of the heights she needs to scale in order to make it in the pro game.
And while injury meant a disjointed pre-season and beginning to the Fall with Auburn, where McCarthy made her seasonal reappearance after wrist trouble in October’s Magnolia Invitational, her skills have already been further recognised with a call-up to the 10-strong provisional Curtis Cup squad along with fellow Irish stars, Olivia Mehaffey and Annabel Wilson ahead of next year’s Matches at Conwy Golf Club in Wales from June 12-14.
Senior Irish Amateur of the Year – LAURA WEBB
Despite tough competition in this category, Cairndhu honorary member Laura Webb came out on top when it came to high performing Irish Senior golfers this year.
The newly announced Irish Women’s Team Captain enjoyed yet another consistent campaign to top the ILGU’s Senior Order of Merit standings at year’s end.
Webb led home Ireland’s travelling contingent to the Spanish International Senior Ladies’ Amateur Championship back in March where she teed off the year with a tied 8th finish at Real La Manga Club
In the summer, the East Berkshire talent fired a brilliant bogey-free three-under par round of 68 to grab outright second at the European Seniors Championship at Golf Patriziale Ascona in Switzerland.
A two-time Senior Women’s Amateur Open winner, Webb had to settle for a tie for 8th at this year’s renewal at Royal St David’s while across the Atlantic, Webb was a beaten quarter-finalist in this year’s US Senior Women’s Amateur in Iowa.
Ever the team player, Webb played a key role as Ireland’s Ladies claimed bronze at BlackSeaRama Golf & Villas at the European Senior Ladies’ Team Championship.
Webb then earned a crucial 1UP win in her singles match on the final day of this year’s Senior Women’s Home Internationals as Ireland held off the challenge of England to successfully defend their title at Co. Sligo.
Despite Webb getting the nod in this category, special mentions must go to Malahide’s Alison Taylor who impressed in her first year in Senior company. A playoff defeat at the Senior Women’s Amateur Open where she led for so long was a particularly impressive display from the rookie while Portumna’s Suzanne Corcoran completed an incredible hat-trick when claiming victory for the third year running at the Irish Senior Women’s Close Championship at Naas.
Irish Amateur Team of the Year – WESTPORT JUNIOR CUP
There was hardly a dry eye in the house when host club Westport ended a long wait for a pennant in an emotional victory over Dun Laoghaire at the AIG Cups and Shields Finals.
Stlll mourning the death of club legend Gar Golden, their quest for a green pennant continued into the Junior Cup decider and although Ronan Hehir (4&3) and Ronan Mahon (3&2) scored early points for the home side, victory had to wait until Anto Browne defeated Jamie Campbell at the first extra hole.
“We’ve been trying to win this for 10 or 15 years now, it’s brilliant,” said Browne at the time. “We won this in 1980 but one of the team members died on Friday, Gar Golden, who’s a former president of the GUI. We’ll be dedicating this one to him. I knew him well. I played a lot of golf with him when I was younger. A gentleman as well. He’d have been delighted. He’d have been the first one in shaking hands.”
For anyone who made the trip to Westport that fateful Sunday, relief would’ve been the overriding emotion for many in the air.
“I am so happy to have finally won one and to get over the line on our home course,” said team captain Tony Bree.
“It was right in the melting pot the last few holes, and it could have gone either way in those deciding two matches.”
Although Browne sealed it for Westport down 19, Fergus Rothwell also played a part in the drama. He led down 18 in the game behind Browne. And moments after Westport’s victory was confirmed, Rothwell holed for birdie to close the match in style.
Breakthrough season 2019 – CORMAC SHARVIN
Ireland’s latest European Tour graduate was one of 15 Challenge Tour members to win a card to the Main Tour at the Grand Final in Mallorca and although Jonathan Caldwell – eight years his senior – managed to join Sharvin via Q-School, unlike the 35-year old, this will be Sharvin’s first full season on the Tour.
It was an exceptional campaign for the Ardglass professional, underlined by seven top-6 finishes, over €100,000 banked on the Challenge Tour alone and a season highlight where a venture to the European Tour for his home Open at Lahinch saw the 27-year old bank a cheque worth €85,655.
The Dublin resident will have many more opportunities to showcase himself on the world stage and although options could seem endless for a starry eyed new-comer to the top-tier of European golf, Sharvin insists he will pick his battles next season, a tactic that served him well on the Challenge Tour all year.
“I think that’s something I did really well this year – I took weeks off rather than going chasing,” Sharvin said. “I didn’t play too many events in a row and that’s something I’m going to try and do this year.
“I played three in a row max and that stood me in really good stead in terms of being fresh every time I teed it up. Towards the end of the year, I played a little bit more, I went to China and I felt the wrath of that in my results. I wasn’t as fresh as I like to be and I didn’t play as well. I think you’ve got to have the guts to take weeks off.”
He may have missed his opening cut of the season in South Africa but after a long season, expect Sharvin to hit the ground running on the Main Tour in 2020.
Outstanding Irish performance 2019 – SHANE LOWRY AT OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
On the morning of July 21st this year, a nation held its breath. That evening, in familiar driving wind and rain, 10 years since he captured the hearts of Ireland when winning his National Open at Baltray, Shane Lowry put the field to the sword at Royal Portrush to become the fifth Irishman to win the Open Championship.
The nation could breathe again.
“It’s not going to sink in for a couple of days, is it?”, said a surprisingly calm Lowry post-round. “I just can’t believe I’m sitting here with this trophy. I said it to Bo [caddie] coming down 18 that I couldn’t believe it was me – I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
But happen it did. Starting with a four-shot lead, Lowry’s name atop the board never came under threat with his one-over par final round 72 and 15-under total six shots better than valiant runner-up, Tommy Fleetwood.
It was a day written in the clouds for Lowry; the Offaly man taking the torrential rain in his stride as the names of Holmes, Koepka and Fowler faded down the board. In the end it proved a shootout with playing partner Fleetwood, but no matter how hard the Englishman tried, he could never get within three shots of Lowry.
The 148th Open Championship had been billed as something special. Royal Portrush and all its ground-staff produced a masterpiece, but it was Shane Lowry’s winning performance that gave the tournament the Champion it deserved.