The weather forecast looks set to be ideal for Ireland’s 28-strong contingent primed for action ahead of Thursday’s starting Irish Challenge at Portmarnock Links.
The tournament takes place on a links course for the first time in the event’s history from May 27-30 and that should play into the hands of Ireland’s fairway fliers, many of whom have availed of the Winter Series held at the venue over the years to hone their skills ahead of a new season.
The stunning Co. Dublin venue, which is located on the famous Velvet Strand, offers European Challenge Tour players the rare opportunity to tee it up on a links course as the event returns to the Road to Mallorca International Schedule for the first time since 2019.
Tour regulars Gavin Moynihan and Michael Hoey will lead the Irish charge and there’s plenty of players waiting in the wings to show they have what it takes to make the leap to the European Tour.
The list includes Tramore’s Robin Dawson still striving for his amateur form to translate to the pro ranks. The Island’s Paul McBride sure to relish conditions. Portmarnock Golf Club’s Conor Purcell who’s no stranger to the track and performed well for two weeks in Sweden. Naas pro Jonathan Yates, fresh off a top-10 on Alps duty and Mallow’s James Sugrue fresh off earning his first pay cheque amongst the pros.
Holywood’s Tom McKibbin will hope to bounce back from three missed cuts since turning pro while there’ll be plenty coming in undercooked hoping all their time spent practicing can translate to good scoring weeks with cards back in their pockets. Conor O’Rourke, John Ross Galbraith, Stuart Grehan, Ronan Mullarney, Dermot McElroy and Tim Rice all fall into that bracket while the likes of Gary Hurley, Michael Dallat, Cameron Raymond and Simon Bryan have got match practice under their belts further afield.
Pormarnock Links pros Brendan Walton and Daniel Mulligan will hope to make home advantage count with Simon Thornton, Shane Franklin, Colm Moriarty and Brendan McCarroll completing the pro line-up while the amateur quartet of Caolan Rafferty, Peter O’Keeffe, Marc Boucher and Rowan Lester round out the Irish in the field.
Meanwhile, Moritz Lampert is excited for the test of Portmarnock Links. The three-time Challenge Tour winner is eagerly anticipating the opportunity to play links golf again, with the chance to do so in short supply since he turned professional in 2012.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing links golf but since I’ve turned pro, I can’t remember when I have actually played a proper links course,” he said. “As an amateur all the biggest events are pretty much links golf and although I haven’t played it for a while, I really enjoyed the challenge of it.
“I enjoy playing in colder, windier weather and it will provide a good test. The course is looking absolutely brilliant and it looks like we may be lucky for once with the weather. It has been such a long off-season, so I am just happy to get out there playing again.
“I think it just gets harder and harder now, just because the quality of the Challenge Tour is getting better as more guys are coming through. Making the top 20 this year will be tough but I feel like if I play well and play to my potential, that is definitely something that can happen.”
The German has enjoyed previous success on the Velvet Strand, having played in the 2012 St Andrews Trophy at nearby Portmarnock Golf Club where he secured Europe’s first away victory against Great Britain & Ireland by overcoming Ireland’s Kevin Phelan in the final match with a stunning long putt for birdie.
“The whole of 2012 was brilliant for me as I finished off my amateur career,” he said. “We played next door at Portmarnock Golf Club and I remember playing foursomes with Edouard Espana against Neil Raymond and Alan Dunbar and I also played my singles match against Kevin Phelan on both days. I holed a 30-footer on the final day at the 17th to win the event for us, which was great.”
The two-time Junior Ryder Cup player feels that a strong course strategy will be needed to successfully navigate the coastal hazards this week, with the Bernhard Langer designed course presenting tricky obstacles including deep pot bunkers, undulating fairways and upturned greens.
“Apart from the weather, it is important to hit the ball in the fairway, avoid the bunkers and then make sure you hit the green. Usually, links golf is about good strategy, managing the weather and hitting fairways.”
The Irish Challenge will begin at 7:30am local time on Thursday 27 May, with Lampert teeing it up at 12.50pm alongside the last Irishman to win on the Challenge Tour, Simon Thornton, and Sweden’s Per Längfors.