Caolan Rafferty swaps his greenkeeping gig at Dundalk Golf Club for the fairways of the European Challenge Tour later today when he gets his first round underway at Portmarnock Links.
The 28-year old joined us on the Irish Golfer podcast a few weeks ago where he spoke of his Walker Cup omission and a general lack of opportunity despite his star rising to as high as 14th on the World Amateur Golf Rankings. That all changes this week in Dublin for the 2019 Walker Cupper who received a welcomed text from Team Ireland Head Coach Neil Manchip a couple of weeks back confirming his first professional invite.
“Shortly after the podcast, Neil had got onto me and asked would I be able to meet him down in Carton and I was trying to get down but with the way work has been, the grass just doesn’t stop growing,” Rafferty said.
“I never got a chance and text him and said, ‘Neil, I won’t get the chance to get down to you, I’m pretty busy’ and he just text back, ‘would you get the chance to be off for the Challenge Tour event at the end of the month?’ and I said, ‘I’ll make sure I’m off for it!”
“I was obviously delighted! There’s a few lads getting a chance – Peter O’Keeffe, Marc Boucher, Lester Rowan. It’s good that the Irish amateurs are getting a squeak at something.”
Rafferty’s invitation into pro company is long overdue. A winner of the West and the South while boasting 11 top-10’s in WAGR counting events, his last competitive action might’ve been at December’s Palmer Cup but Rafferty chose to adopt a similar formula to his prep-work as he looks to put in a good account of himself up against the stars of Europe’s second best Tour.
“I said I’d come up Wednesday morning, play a practice round and get going from there,” Rafferty said. “I was talking to my coach and he said what’s your plans and I said I’m just going to do what I’d do for any other event; for a West or a South or a North.
“I would just go up the day before, play a practice round, relax that evening and get ready to go the next day so I just took that attitude into this as well. But the place looks really good, they’ve put a lot of work into it. I played a good bit up here over the last three or four years so I know the place very well.
Also helping Rafferty to find his feet in this new Covid-bubble professional environment is the fact that his two Walker Cup teammates and recently turned pros, Conor Purcell and James Sugrue are also in the field.
“We’ve to stay in the hotel – check-in and you’re not allowed leave until you’re sent packing and you can only go for dinner with one other lad,” Rafferty said. “Conor text me so I said I’d go with him but I know James is there on his own so he’ll probably sneak on with us if he can [laughing].
“I played a practice round with the two boys today [Wednesday] and Gary Hurley and only for that – you have to go looking for everything, it’s not as simple as come up, head to the first tee, do your few bits and head on. It’s get your yardage books, get the hotel sorted. Registration fees, all these sort of things that lucky enough the boys have their managers doing it for them but we’ll slog it out like the rest of the normal people!”
For all the excitement of Rafferty finally getting to test himself against the pros, however, there is one hint of disappointment. The Challenge Tour bubble means no spectators, caddies, media or atmosphere for his first venture on such a stage.
“The Irish people love their golf and it would’ve been a great week to have everyone up supporting because it would’ve been a full venue but how and ever,” he said.
“I’m just going to go out and enjoy it. It’s my first pro event so obviously the standard is going to be a wee bit better but I’ll just take each hole as it comes and try and get up the leaderboard as much as I can. If I’m hopefully in with a shout come the weekend I’ll give it everything I have.”
Caolan tees-off at 13.10 this afternoon / Full scoring HERE