The Irish Challenge heads to the K Club this week as the South Course plays host to some of the top players on Europe’s second-tier. The tournament represents a chance for some of Ireland’s up and coming professionals to showcase their talents on home soil while also giving others some much-needed starts and exposure as they look to find a platform to build on.
Also looking to make a splash in a big pond are four of Ireland’s Home Internationals who have been granted invites this week.
Royal Dublin’s Hugh Foley arrives in scintillating form having won the North and South of Ireland Championships in successive weeks in Portrush and Lahinch, becoming the first player since Darren Clarke in 1990 to do so.
Although the invite came late in the day, Foley was desperate to tee it up this week after getting a taste for the Challenge Tour last year in Germany.
“Neil [Manchip] tried ringing me about an hour after I won on Sunday but I didn’t answer so he rang me at 10pm that night,” explained the Clontarf native who lives 40 minutes from the course.
“It should be a great week. I was really hoping to be playing in it. I am fortunate enough to know one of the guys on the Challenge Tour so I was asking him if any spots opened up and if he would keep my name in mind and then I texted Niall MacSweeney but yeah it’s great to get a chance to play, especially in Ireland.
“I played in Germany last year right after the West and it’s funny, similar circumstances this year too but it’s great to be playing in Ireland; hopefully I can go as far as possible and get a few mates following me around.
“It was a good experience to do that especially away from home. It was a nice comfortable week. I guess I was a bit tired, I have the same excuse this week but definitely feel like I was badgering John Murphy with questions last year and this year I feel more comfortable, I know what’s going on and hopefully I can bring a good game as well.”
The 25-year-old is heading to the South Course blind having never played it before but he hopes to find it to his liking and reproduce the same level of golf that has seen him leave the door to next year’s Walker Cup team ajar.
“I’m just looking to get through it unscathed, the body is acting up a little bit but yeah, just enjoy it. If I play the same kind of golf I’ve played the last few weeks, why not be there for the weekend. No expectations just yet until I see what I’m like in practice,” added Foley who tees off alongside Mitch Waite and fellow amateur Harley Smith.
Malone’s Matthew McClean had been looking forward to some rest and recuperation after two energy sapping weeks at the North of Ireland Championship and the St Andrews Trophy where he played a starring role in the victorious GB&I side – winning 2 points from 3 matches – but he admitted he couldn’t turn down an invite this week.
“It should be a good week. I got the phone call on Monday, I had a week off planned to rest and practice but you can’t say no when you get an invite to something like this so should be a lot of fun. Obviously treat it as a normal week and try play as well as possible.
“I’m playing well, I’ve been very consistent all year so probably playing no different, no better or no worse than the past few months. I played one Challenge Tour event before and it was a very good standard but I think if I can play my own game and concentrate on myself I should be fine.”
McClean is joined by fellow St Andrews Trophy teammates Mark Power and Rob Moran while Foley completes the quartet of Home Internationals in the field and the Ulsterman is looking forward to a break from links golf before the Ballyliffin date next week.
“We’re all playing pretty good as well – obviously Hugh is playing the best golf he’s had an unreal couple of weeks. Mark is playing very well so is Rob, hopefully we can treat it as a normal week and shoot the best scores we can and try not see it as a professional tournament and finish as high up the leaderboard as well,” said McClean who tees off with David Boote and Enrico Di Nitto.
“I played an Irish Challenge pro event here during Covid and I’ve only played the K Club twice actually. I quite like parkland golf obviously my home club being Malone I have always been a member of a parkland club. Obviously with the championships we don’t get too many opportunities to play parkland golf but it’s no different you can adapt pretty quickly and it’s nothing different to what you know growing up. It’s a nice change from links as well.”
Kilkenny’s Mark Power is no stranger to making the step up to tour events having played in three Irish Opens in his career.
The Wake Forest student won a crucial singles match in Switzerland last week which halted a European revival and left GB&I just needing a half point to win the trophy.
Power is the highest ranked Irish amateur in the field (84th) and he is purring ahead of his latest tour bow and feels he can attack the South Course from the tee this week.
“I was delighted when I found out I got in at the start of the week, been playing nicely and coming off a great week with GB&I so things are going well,” Power said confidently.
“It was a great team week, great team bonding we got out there early and we all got on well with each other. The three Irish lads all performed well and personally I was very happy with my performance and had a really nice singles win to cap it off, a good feeling.
“I have some experience playing in pro events already so just try approach it normally and see how my game goes.
“I played nine holes with John Murphy and Rob Moran and the place looks great, the whole layout was good. It suits my eye as a good drivers golf course and the greens are great so hopefully sets up for a great week.
“I love that sort of golf; I feel like the driver is one of my bigger weapons so when you get the chance to use it, hopefully I can take advantage of it,” he added.
The Mount Juliet star is relishing the prospect of defending the Home Internationals title which Ireland won in dramatic fashion in Ballyliffin next week and feels the standard of amateur golf in Ireland has rarely been higher.
“Irish golf is in a great place if you look at some of the scoring in the tournaments it’s nothing short of a joke! It’s a good sign and it will be competitive and hopefully we can get the job done on home soil,” said Power who is meeting some familiar faces this week including Walker Cup partner John Murphy.
“There are a lot of good young Irish pros here and every chance they get is good to showcase their talents. A lot of familiar faces who I would have played top level amateur golf with so catching up with them is cool. Hopefully there will be good support this week.”
Power has been grouped with Germany’s Bernd Ritthammer and Spain’s Emilio Cuartero Blanco.
Foley’s Walker Cup ambitions will rest on his European performances and he need look no further than McClean and Robert Moran for inspiration. Moran has enjoyed an excellent season both at home and abroad with top-5 finishes in South Africa, St Andrews Links Trophy and the Lytham Trophy and he was delighted to receive his call up this week.
“It should be good hopefully the weather holds up so should be nice. I’ve played it a few times and it’s in unreal condition I don’t think you can get a parkland in better condition,” said Moran who received his invite on Saturday.
“I think we all found out over the weekend and I was honestly just going to sit on the couch all week and do absolutely nothing so it’s lovely to be playing instead.”
The Castle golfer feels good about his game and was frustrated his performance didn’t yield any points for GB&I but after putting in some work on his putting he is ready to sink his teeth into the K Club as he looks to take advantage of a rare scoring week.
“I played alright for the most part and putted like an idiot but I think I have solved that. It was one of those weeks where results didn’t reflect the way I played but that’s sometimes the way it goes but it was a great week with a super bunch of lads so it was brilliant to win.
“It can’t get any worse for me so that’s a positive. It’s nice to play parkland golf we don’t get much of it in Ireland because the strokeplay tournaments this year like Munster and Connacht clashed with Lytham and the British Am and the people playing Home Internationals can’t play Mullingar Scratch this weekend so it’s nice to have some strokeplay parkland.
“You can shoot a few scores because the links stuff has all been a bit of a grind for most of the summer. I have missed out on some of the scoreable events here so hopefully it should be a nice week.
“It’s good that Golf Ireland give us the opportunities I am very thankful for that,” added Moran who gave a great insight into his seemingly relaxed expectations despite his obvious talent.
“I don’t really think about expectations before tournaments just hit every shot as it comes along. If I was playing in an open singles or a matchplay against my sister off 33 handicap I think my expectations are the same, hit each shot and have as much fun as I can.”
Moran has been paired with Germany’s Dominic Foos and Icelandic player Gudmundur Kristjansson.
Regular Irish Amateur Open visitors Harley Smith of England and Cedric Gugler of Switzerland are also teeing it up.
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Admission to the K Club to watch the home stars in action at the Irish Challenge is absolutely free.
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