Peter O’Keeffe and Alex Maguire are the last Irishmen standing as they progressed to the quarter-finals of the 127th Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Both of O’Keeffe’s last-32 and last-16 matches went the distance as he saw off James Hydes and Nathan Legendre while Alex Maguire came through an all-Irish affair with Mark Power before beating Scotland’s Jamie Roberts on the 18th.
Douglas native O’Keeffe is the elder statesman in the last-8 after a two-under back nine saw him come from two down at the turn to see off Frenchman Legendre in what has been an unexpected return to form for the 40-year-old.
O’Keeffe became the first man since Pádraig Harrington in 1995 to win the Irish Amateur and Close double last year which opened up a potential Walker Cup call but since then he has struggled for form, so much so that he considered withdrawing from the Amateur Championship but decided to make the week a family holiday.
“I’ve been playing pretty rank golf all season,” said the former Challenge Tour pro. “It’s like I’ve been playing golf with someone else’s arms all year. But I think it’s starting to come together now. So let’s see how it goes.
“Wasn’t even going to come because I played brutal in a tournament back home last week, and we said we would make a family holiday out of it. Just, you know, put my head down. I had a really good year last year, and it just seemed to escape me. But there’s some good stuff, particularly today, coming back again.
“This is the dream, you know, so it’s worth showing up at least, and I played okay in qualifying. Got it going in places and just kind of played smart golf here the first few days and then played lovely today. Hit some really good golf shots. So I was happy with that,” added O’Keeffe who narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Open Championship as a professional.
O’Keeffe has been handed a tough draw against Lytham Trophy champion John Gough whose father hails from Meath.
Six Irish made it through to the last-32 on Thursday morning which was the most out of all the competing nations and O’Keeffe, Maguire, Matthew McClean, Jack Hearn and Caolan Rafferty all processed to the afternoon last-16 ties.
Unfortunately Malone’s McClean went down 3&1 in the afternoon while Ulster stroke play champion Hearn lost 4&3 to English Amateur Champion Sam Bairstow.
Former Walker Cup star Rafferty bowed out after a 4&3 defeat to Max Charles of Australia and he will face another Irishman in the shape of East of Ireland winner Maguire.
Maguire is feeling confident about his game and feels the key to playing well around Royal Lytham is driving the ball in play which has been his strength and helped him win in Baltray a fortnight ago.
“‘m coming with a good bit of form. I’m driving it quite well and I feel it’s a very intimidating golf course to drive,” said the Mornington native.
“The bunkers are not really — there’s no really where to hit it. You just sort of hope it doesn’t get into a bunker. I’m driving it quite well, and that means I’m not in too much trouble. I found a few bunkers in the afternoon but that’s going to happen no matter how long you play here.”
Winning the 127th Amateur Championship isn’t just about becoming amateur champion but there are also some lucrative bonuses that come with it none more so than a place at next month’s 150th Open Championship at St Andrews with the dream now turning into a realistic chance for Maguire and co.
“Started creeping in last week when I was coming to play. A lot of my friends and my parents friends are texting me saying, it’s only like six rounds to The Open. But I know I’ve done half of those.
“Look, you never know what happens the next couple days. I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself. Sort of thinking of St Andrews and Augusta and all that sort of stuff but I have two matches tomorrow, one match in the morning and that’s my main priority to win that one.”
Tomorrow’s quarter-final and semi-final matches will be broadcast on Youtube and Sky Sports Golf so why not tune in and support the lads!