Malone’s Matthew McClean came out on top at the the ‘All-Ireland’ US Mid-Amateur after a 3&1 victory over his compatriot and housemate for the tournament, Hugh Foley at Erin Hills.
After holding a 2Up lead overnight McClean parred the entire front nine and went to 4Up after Foley bogeyed the 2nd and 6th. Foley pulled one back with a birdie on 7 but another bogey for the Royal Dublin man saw him hit the turn 4 down.
McClean then stretched to what must have felt an unassailable lead as he birdied the 12th to go 5Up but three birdies on the bounce from Foley saw him cut the deficit to 2 with three holes to go before the pair halved the 16th and a suitably delighted McClean closed out the match with a par on 17 against a familiar opponent who has beaten him twice this year.
“Yeah, fantastic. Sort of probably hasn’t sunk in just yet. It’s been a very long week, but I’m sure once we sort of sit down this evening, it’ll sort of sink in a wee bit more, but yeah, it’s unbelievable really,” said McClean.
“It was tough. I think the birdie on 12 that I made felt like it was sort of a big hole with 5 to 6, and then the shot he hit into 13 was unbelievable. 14, he played perfect; 15, he played perfect. Then he hit one straight down the pin on 16, as well, and I thought, it’s going to be another one.
“So it was hard to sort of hang in there, but I didn’t really do a huge amount wrong, so I just sort of felt if I kept on doing what I was doing, hopefully he wouldn’t birdie the last six holes against me. That was the plan, and thankfully it sort of just worked out in the end there.”
The 14th hole was a really crucial one in the championship and McClean played the slope of the green perfectly both yesterday and today and he was asked about his approach to it.
“I couldn’t reach it in two; Hugh could get up in two just with the wind. So I had to lay back and then I had to sort of feed it in, so it was pretty hard to stop it on the green. But the four I made yesterday afternoon was probably one-in-a-thousand shot to work out. Yeah, I played it okay this week, but it probably wasn’t my favourite on the eye this week so far.
Of course both McClean and Foley travelled to the US and stayed together for the tournament, arriving a few days ahead of time to get some practice in and both are well used to facing-off against each other on the Irish scene.
“Yeah, me and Hugh have played a lot of golf this year. He’s beaten me twice. I haven’t beaten — this is the first time I’ve beaten him,” said McClean.
“It was hard not to think that it was going to be three in a row that I was going to get beat. We know each other pretty well; as I said, we’re staying with each other for the past two weeks that we’ve been here.
“Yeah, it’s been fun. It’s probably in a way who I wanted to play in the final, but at the same time it’s not the person you want to lose in the final, as well.
“Hugh has played unbelievable golf this year. For the past three months he’s probably been the best player in Ireland comfortably. So it’s a final; this is still obviously a very, very good week.”
The win sees McClean qualify for the US Open and likely The Masters next year too which is fantastic a perk that he’s really looking forward to: “Yeah, I think it probably hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It’s going to take a wee bit of time. I think there’s going to be a good few Irish players in it (US Open) next year, so can’t wait to sort of get an invite to join it. It will be a tough week, but hopefully if I can play well, we’ll just sort of enjoy it and see how it goes.
“We actually got a message from Shane Lowry last night, as well, who just won Wentworth. So he sort of — at least there’s one more Irish guy in the Masters next year guaranteed. Just thankfully it’s me going there.
As for Foley, he made a big charge at the end and almost caught McClean but he had no complaints about the result and losing to his travelling companion.
“I made a late charge there, decent back nine. Must have been 3-under back nine there, so that’s kind of like — what was I, 3- or 4-down? I thought maybe 3- or 4-under back nine might have a chance, but he held on great. That birdie on 12 was really, really good. Almost put the nail in the coffin. That’s when I had a little bit of a run and freed up. But he held up great with those pars there at the finish. Yeah, he deserved it today.
“You just want to win no matter who you’re playing. We played a great game, fair game. But you’re always trying to just win the match, win the championship. Matt did that. Doesn’t feel any different.
“But I’m happy for him.”
Neil Manchip, Golf Ireland High Performance Director said: “Both Hugh and Matt have shown impressive form already this season and for them to travel together to Wisconsin and make the final of the U.S. Mid-Amateur is a terrific endorsement of their skill and ambition, and a very proud day for Irish golf.”
Mark Kennelly, Golf Ireland CEO said: “Two Irish players reaching the final of the U.S. Mid-Amateur is an outstanding and unprecedented achievement. Great credit is due to Matt and Hugh and heartiest congratulations to Matt on winning this out in this unique all-Irish final.”
Both finalists are exempt into the 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado. While McClean earns an exemption into the 2023 U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club and a likely invitation to next April’s Masters Tournament, plus a 10-year U.S. Mid-Amateur exemption.