Fionn Dobbin is just two shots off the pace after the opening day of the R&A Junior Open at Monifieth.
The Malone golfer carded a two-under 70 and is in a share of eighth place as Canada’s Eric Zhao and Switzerland’s Ben Steinmann lead the way on four-under-par after rounds of 68.
Oughterard’s Kate Dillon is on six-over after an opening 78.
After the Irish men and women put on excellent displays in their respective amateur championships, it was the turn of Ireland’s young guns to showcase their skills on the big stage.
Dobbin started quickly, moving to three-under through four holes after a birdie on the first and an eagle on 4. Three bogeys then saw him fall back to level-par before a brace of birdies on 16 and 17 saw him bounce back and keep his hopes very much alive at this early stage.
This week’s winner will follow in the footsteps of major champions Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, a prestigious group to belong to. However, just learning to play links golf may the biggest reward for most.There are 109 players aged between 12-16 from 64 nations around the globe in action at Monifieth, the majority playing links golf for the first time. That’s certainly the case for Zhao. The 14-year-old proved to be a quick learner.
“It’s really cool to play in a tournament like this,” said Zhao, who had five birdies and an eagle to go with a bogey and two dropped shots at the par-4, 10th. “It’s my first playing links golf. It’s been interesting learning to adapt to the conditions. The course is much bouncier than I’m used to. “I’m not using my wedge much around the green, but playing a lot of chip and run shots. I’m also landing the ball short of many greens and bouncing it in. In Canada we fly the ball at the flags.”
It didn’t take Swiss player Steinmann long to adapt to his first competitive links outing either. He, too, had five birdies, an eagle, a double bogey and a bogey. “The fairways and the greens are so hard,” he said. “At home we hit it high. Here I need to keep it low. I’m loving it.” Poland’s Kleopatra Kozakiewic is the leading girl, one of the five tied for second place after a five birdie, two bogey 69. “I like this golf,” the 15-year-old said. “I like having to play different shots. I need to think more about my shots.”
Thailand’s Ratchanon Chantananuwat is the highest ranked player in the field at 13th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking®. He also has an Official World Golf Ranking of 291st thanks to victory in this year’s Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup on the Asian Tour, a win that made him the youngest male winner of a professional tournament at just 15 years and 37 days. He’s clear favourite to take the title, and sits within just three shots of the lead on one-under-par after a 71. The Thai player is learning to adapt to old fashioned golf.“Knowing how I can play, I should have been much better,” Chantananuwat said. “I tried to qualify for The Amateur Championship and I’ve had three or four practice rounds here but I can’t say I’m used to links golf yet. It definitely requires a lot of creativity, having to calculate the bounce, but I can see myself enjoying it a lot in the future.”
Graham dropped just one shot in his 69, a bogey at the par-4, 16th hole. But then the plus four Blairgowrie member has an edge.“I definitely have an advantage being used to links golf,” Graham said. A lot of Europeans and competitors from around the world aren’t used to playing linksy, windy golf courses. It takes a bit of getting used to.”The added bonus for competitors this week is entry as a fan to the second round of the 150th Open Championship over the Old Course. As Zhao said: “It’ll be cool to see how the best players in the world play links golf.”Maybe the juniors will be able to pass on a bit of local knowledge after 54 holes over a quintessential Scottish links like Monifieth.