Hugh Foley is set for his US Mid-Amateur debut on Saturday at Blue Mound Golf and Country Club and Erin Hills and he is joined by fellow Irishman Matt McClean for the 41st edition of the championship.
Foley has been in fantastic form in Ireland this year, becoming the first player since Darren Clarke in 1990 to win both the North and South of Ireland Championships in the same year, en route to his Bridgestone Order of Merit title.
The Royal Dublin golfer has been rooming with McClean this week and he hopes to open up the shoulders and play aggressively with his irons.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the week just hearing great things about the two golf courses especially Erin Hills,” said the 25-year-old. “We’ve been off to a great start with this trip so far, I’ve been looked after really well by the Zeeman’s Greg Zeeman. He’s been looking after us really well, for three days playing Shore Acres in Chicago, which has the same designer as Blue Mounds, which is one of the courses that we’re playing. So that’s been good. So it’s been a great test.
“The game is good. I played US a lot recreationally and then once in the Spirit Invitational in Texas. So kind of used to it. If there’s no wind you know, you’ve wide fairways, big greens, so if you’re hitting it well off the tee, it can be either an easy kind of run or it can be frustrating because greens are so big, you can find yourself in it to 20 feet, you know 15 to 30 feet and two putting.
“So the last couple of days I’ve been driving it lovely, so I just want to keep that going and sharpen up the irons a bit and hit it a little bit closer to try and open up the chances for birdie.
“But, yeah, I’m really looking forward to that. Have a good bit of experience playing over here and I love the lifestyle over here and everything’s great.”
Both Foley and McClean were guaranteed spots in this championship courtesy of their World Amateur Golf Ranking – they were the top-40 for the age criteria. The Royal Dublin golfer is looking to make the most of the opportunity presented to him and feels the standard will be better than some world rankings suggest.
“First time, it’s just like it’s uh, you know, I don’t know where golf would bring me in being 25 and being straight into this event, I probably would never have played it if I didn’t get straight in so top 40 in the WAGR for this age group got in so that’s me and Matt didn’t have to qualify. So that’s been great. Just guaranteed an event.
“Unfortunately, no events around that we could have played one or two over here because the weather’s great, but yeah, prestigious event, great opportunities for people who win I think US open and the Masters. It should be really great event. I’d say a lot of great players who used to be really good in the rankings might not be as good anymore because they’re working.
“I’d say the standard is going to be better than what it shows world ranking wise statistically. So looking forward to that.”
The championship will be played over 36-holes of strokeplay qualifying and then the top-64 will advance to the matchplay stages. A format Foley and McClean are well accustomed to with the likes of the West, South and Close Championships in Ireland taking a similar layout.
The Clontarf native feels at home in Erin Hills.
“Weather is OK, it’s like 26 degrees, not much used to get used to there. And actually, it’s like bent grass and fescue grasses, not much grain. Erin Hills plays quite tight around the greens. There’s a lot of putting around the greens and it’s quite firm.
“So it actually plays pretty similar to links. So it’s just getting used to the speed and the firmness. So even wedges and stuff down when they’re not spinning so it’s just like links.
“Definitely hoping to bag myself a caddy. But I think it’s hard to win events like these without caddies. But we’re definitely more used to them than I’d say the Americans are and yeah fitness will come into it as well. So that would be good.
“We’re well used to strokeplay and matchplay and playing 36 hole days so no complaints there.”
The domestic season is over in Ireland so the elite amateurs will venture further afield for some competitive action and Foley will be looking to stay sharp ahead of a Concession Cup debut for Europe in November.
“After the mid am I’m not sure yet looking at maybe the King Hassad trophy in Bahrain. I’m looking at South Beach Invitational in Florida in December and the Concession Cup for mid amateurs and seniors I think myself and Matt are pretty much confirmed to be playing against the United States in Valderrama in November.”
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