Hugh Foley became the first player since Darren Clarke in 1990 to win the both the North of Ireland and South of Ireland titles in the same year when he overcame Peter O’Keeffe 3&1 to win the 120th edition of the South at Lahinch.
Foley added his fourth major crown in three years to his CV as he made it back-to-back wins.
The 25-year-old has added the South and the North in the last fortnight to the West and Irish Close titles he won and he was over the moon to don the green jacket.
“It feels great, feels amazing,” smiled Foley. “So many boxes ticked it’s one of my favourite championships because of the golf course, the people, the town.
“I’ve done well in strokeplay always felt I ran out of steam [in matchplay] somehow didn’t run out of steam this week.
“I’m no Darren Clarke but it’s a nice thing to share with him I’ve seen his name on a couple of those trophies so yeah those are nice things to hear but I’ve a long way to go if I’m to catch him.”
Having dispatched Robert Brazill 5&4 in the howling wind and biblical rain this morning former Irish Amateur and Close champion O’Keeffe stood in the way of Foley and a maiden win in a matchplay format.
While Foley was drying off in the clubhouse, O’Keeffe had to come from four down on two occasions to beat Liam Nolan on the 19th with the extra mileage in the Cork man’s legs perhaps telling late on.
“That definitely helped winning with a few holes to spare, even the last four holes aren’t that nice to have a two or three shot lead we saw a lot of guys going up 19 who were three or four behind with four to play so it was good I played really well and putted really well in the wind and rain so I had a lot of confidence and felt relaxed going into the final.”
The clouds parted showing the Cliffs of Moher in the distance as the sun shone and it shone on Foley briefly as he birdied the opening hole of the final to go 1UP.
While tight, this match was by no means a classic with both players coughing up easy holes in the gale force wind and Foley was guilty of easy losses on the second third and fourth.
The Royal Dublin golfer conceded the par-5 2nd after going long with a wedge before taking three whacks from short of the third as he fell 1DN.
O’Keeffe only had 90 yards into the par-5 4th after a monstrous drive and Foley had to chip out after finding the left rough.
Foley wasn’t the only one to gift holes to the opponent after a fluffed chip on 6, O’Keeffe tipped the cap to him before a par on 7 was enough to level the match again.
The pair turned all square with just three holes halved on the front nine and one birdie each. Foley again gave away a needless hole on the tenth to fall behind again but regained his composure with a good two-putt on eleven before successive birdies on 12, 13 and a lip out from off the green on 14 saw him move ahead by the minimum.
The hammer blow came on 16 when Foley hit a 7-iron from 202 yards into the heart of the par-3 16th and with O’Keeffe ten feet away for par after missing left, he fistpumped it home with authority.
Douglas native O’Keeffe missed left on the 15th and 16th before another tug saw him have to chip sideways after his chances literally hit a wall. Foley was clinical and clipped a beautiful 6-iron to ten-feet on the 17th he didn’t have to putt out.
“I bogeyed ten and held a nice putt on 11 and a little of the North went through my head that I had struggled on the front nine and that you never know what’s ahead of you so try and make birdies.
“Hit a great drive on 12 and went birdie, birdie, nearly held that long putt on 14. I just felt really comfortable over the ball on the last few holes. Just one loose shot with the 2nd on 15. 16 and 17 I couldn’t have hit those shots any better.
“16th I hit 7 iron from 202, plays a lot less, it was lovely hit it over the right bunker and the wind brought it in and it was a great putt that the wind kept rolling. I said it to Marcus that was caddying to me that this guy is someone who chips it on to ten feet and holes it when he has to so just try and roll it in.
“I hit driver 6-iron on 18 so it was playing long, delighted with those two shots. I felt like I hammered it I don’t seem to swing it that hard that’s what people tell me it feels a lot harder than it is,” he joked.
Foley had led the 36-hole qualifying in 2019 with an eight-under total and although he wasn’t victorious that year he feels that gave him the belief he needed to compete and eventually become successful in major championships.
“2019 was the turning point year and that score here was the turning point score. Eight under in a championship, I didn’t think I could do that five or six years ago, and I haven’t done it since. That was a big turning point.”
The Irish international will overtake fellow Home International teammate Matthew McClean at the summit of the Bridgestone Order of Merit.