It was only a few weeks ago that Ireland’s then leading male amateur Caolan Rafferty was left wondering whose face he had to paint in order to get a crack at the pros. This week the Dundalk man tees up in his first ever Irish Open having also competed at the Irish Challenge at Portmarnock Links in May.
“It was funny – we were standing on the range and I got a picture of the massive white fence and I was going to tweet ‘it’s alright lads, I have the fence covered’. I might still do it,” Rafferty laughed, before later posting:
— Caolan rafferty (@Raff_1992) June 30, 2021
Rafferty had not only avoided painting duties in the lead up to this week’s event at Mount Juliet, but up to a phone call last Friday from Team Ireland Coach Team Manchip, he had been booked in for driving of a different kind this coming Saturday at Mondello Park.
“I was meant to be in Mondello on the weekend driving an F1 car and Neil rang me on Friday to ask ‘how are you fixed next week with work, could you get it off to play Irish Open?’ Then typical me, not thinking, goes ‘jaysus, I’m meant to be in Mondello next Saturday, Neil’…. and he went quiet! I was like, ‘of course I’ll sort something out there!’ and he was just laughing. But it was another great call to get and I’m really grateful to be given the opportunity.”
From a need for speed to a shift in gears and a hectic preparation for this week in Kilkenny where Rafferty will leave his green-keeping duties at Dundalk behind for his first taste of the main European Tour. What better way to get into the swing of things then but with a practice round alongside The Open champion, Shane Lowry, organised on Rafferty’s behalf at last week’s Louth-Offaly encounter at Páirc Tailteann.
“A member must’ve been down at the game when Louth played Offaly and he bumped into Shane at the game and told him I was playing. Shane straight away said ‘tell him to join me and Mark [Power], we’re going out in a practice round on Tuesday,” Rafferty explained.
“It was my first time playing with him. We had great craic, slagging and joking, but coming up the ninth I had a good chat with him because he’s with Srixon and I’m using some of their stuff so it was great to pick his brain about that. He also said a few things to Neil [Manchip] that I’d never think of but it was knowledge you could keep.
“Just little things – he was talking about when he comes home from America, on the greens and stuff. He finds that because they’re so fast in America they break more whereas here they’re a little bit slower so you have to hit it and you’re actually taking much more break out of the putt than there is in it. Now the greens this week are going to be fast but going forward in competitions, those kind of things make a lot of sense.
“He’s very professional in everything he does, although he comes across so laid back, but you probably think to yourself, ‘I’m doing bits and pieces like him’, but with Eoin [Murphy -caddy] yesterday, we were talking about stuff that we probably wouldn’t speak about if we were just playing golf normally but this whole environment brings it out of you probably without even thinking about it.”
Rafferty wasn’t the only one impressed with his playing partner at Mount Juliet on Tuesday. Lowry himself had plenty of words of encouragement for Caolan should he ever take the plunge into professional golf.
“Look, I say this to a lot of people about, you know, you play pretty much every Irish Open I play, I have a knock with a couple of the amateurs who are playing, you play with guys who really impress you, guys you don’t really know what to make of,” Lowry said.
“There’s so much more to playing professional golf than the golf itself. It just comes down to the person, how determined, how hard-working they are. Caolan is obviously a very talented, very good player and was very unlucky to miss out on the Walker Cup this year. COVID probably didn’t do him any favours with that.
“So, yeah, look, if he applies himself well and works hard and gets the breaks, you know, you never know. But it’s obviously hard to tell from nine holes like that.”
Rafferty has spoken before that if he was to consider a career in pro golf, he would probably need that Shane Lowry break of winning big early. To follow in Lowry’s footsteps and win the Irish Open at your first time of trying is a monumental ask, however at least he is no stranger to the parkland at Mount Juliet having played it multiple times during his Senior Cup campaign with Dundalk a couple of years ago.
Although Rafferty expects the greens to be rapid compared to a regular week at the venue, the 28-year old has no fear of fiery putting surfaces, while he also found something at the Srixon tour truck that should stand him in good stead.
“We played the Leinster finals of Senior Cup here a couple of years ago and Kilkenny being the city that it is, we squeezed in a few practice rounds! We actually got to the final of the Senior Cup I think so I’ve got plenty of golf around it,” he said.
“The fairways are quite soft considering how dry it’s been the last few weeks – I couldn’t get over that so it’s playing its full length. Then you have greens that are good and firm but I got my driver shaft sorted with Srixon and that was giving me an extra 15 or so yards so if I can go in with a club less, that will make a big difference on the greens.
“The greens are going to be very quick. They’re talking about them rolling at least 12 on Thursday. We don’t play them at all really in Ireland so that will be a big adjustment but I tend to like faster greens anyway so hopefully I’ll be OK.”
Whatever about Rafferty’s own lack of experience when it comes to professional golf, he’ll have no shortage of knowledge to draw on having been grouped with two European stalwarts over the first two days in Paul Waring and Edoardo Molinari.
“I got a text to say I was out at 2.10pm but it didn’t tell me who I was with so I spent nearly two or three holes during the practice round refreshing my phone to see,” Rafferty added.
“I was chatting before I left with Tommy Fleetwood’s caddie and he was asking me who I was with and he said Paul’s an absolute gent, you’ll love playing with him, so I look forward to playing with someone like that who’s been out there for years, obviously Edoardo is the same. Just if them two boys are out there that long and you compare yourself to them – what they do similar or different – it should be a good help going forward too.”
- Rafferty tees off at 2.10pm / Full scoring HERE