McClean’s U.S. triumph another example of Ireland punching well above its weight

Ronan MacNamara
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McClean’s U.S. triumph another example of Ireland punching well above its weight

Matthew McClean (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

It’s that time of year again where Ireland tries to eke out a couple more weeks of bright and sunny weather in the form of an Indian Summer where we get to wear the golf shorts for a little while longer.  

This Indian Summer has also transpired into a trophy laden September for Irish golf at all levels of the game with fans looking forward to the end of the DP World Tour season rather than letting it fizzle out until the Tour Championship in Dubai. 

There are 66.6 million golfers across the world and Ireland has 540,000 of them. Our little country still punches far above its weight and in my opinion, golf is arguably our most successful sport along with boxing in terms of producing winners. 

So far this month Ireland has claimed three winners – four if you include Rory McIlroy’s Tour Championship win at the end of August – at a variety of levels. 

Most recently Matthew McClean pipped fellow Irishman and close friend Hugh Foley to the US Mid-Amateur title in Erin Hills. Interestingly they became the first two male Irish golfers to reach a USGA final. 

It was McClean who finally ended his major drought, earning invites to the 2023 US Open and Masters as well as next year’s US Amateur Open Championship. 

Just shy of a week after Shane Lowry pipped McIlroy at the BMW PGA Championship in Wentworth, the Malone golfer stole the show for me. 

One of the criticisms with Irish amateur golf in recent times has been how we perform abroad in fields with some elite players from across the world. I feel we have broken some barriers this year. 

We had two Irish make the quarter-final of the Amateur Championship this year, one progressed to the semi-final. McClean himself enjoyed a superb year on the continent helping Ireland win the St Andrews Trophy in Slovakia while notching top-6 finishes in the Brabazon and Lytham Trophies. 

This was a long overdue win and it was fitting that he got the better of Foley who has comfortably been Ireland’s best player this year and pipped him to two titles. 

To have two Irish players travel Stateside with little or no competitive experience and to both make the final is a phenomenal achievement.  

At the US Open in Los Angeles next year McClean will join the likes of McIlroy, Lowry, Pádraig Harrington and most likely Seamus Power while he will follow in the footsteps of James Sugrue at Augusta National and bid for the low amateur prize at the Masters. 

The week before was one of the most enjoyable weeks in Irish golf with Lowry and McIlroy battling down the stretch in what was a rare but thrilling occasion. 

Admittedly it was one of the few times I was rooting for the big Clara man over Rory but if the same scenario arises at Augusta in April, the roles may be reversed! 

Like McClean, Lowry was another overdue and deserving Irish winner of such a massive event. Wentworth and Lowry go hand in hand. The 2019 Open champion arrived at the tournament with the best aggregate score to par without winning and hadn’t finished outside the top-17 since 2017. 

Lowry has been one of the most consistent players in golf over the last two seasons and is a top-10 player in all but ranking. A player who doesn’t win anywhere near as often as he should but when he does, he wins big. 

The Offaly man can now count an Open Championship, an Irish Open, a WGC and a flagship event on his CV as well as a national open win in Portugal and a win in Abu Dhabi. 

Harrington has become a serial winner on the Champions Tour and his win later that Sunday night was the icing on the cake for a brilliant weekend. 

One of Ireland’s up-and-coming talents Stuart Grehan claimed his maiden tour win with a thrilling playoff victory over fellow Irishman Dermot McElroy on the EuroPro Tour. That win at the Sley Valley Championship has the Tullamore man pushing for promotion to the Challenge Tour next season. 

Special mentions too must go out to Tom McKibbin who is on course for promotion from the Challenge Tour to the DP World Tour in just his first full season as a professional. 

The 19-year-old is ranked 13th in the Road to Mallorca standings with five tournaments remaining. The top-20 at season’s end all secure DP World Tour cards. 

Somebody who could be joining McKibbin is amateur star Robert Moran who breezed through the First Stage of DP World Tour Qualifying School in Portugal earlier this month.  The Castle golfer defended his Castleknock Scratch Cup title last weekend too!  

The 23-year-old has always dreamed of turning professional and should he progress the whole way through Q-School, that dream might turn into a reality. 

If this is where Ireland’s Indian Summer ends then there is no doubt, September capped off what was a superb year for Irish golf. 

Senior major wins for Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke complimented extremely consistent major championship performances from McIlroy and Lowry with the former finally rewarded with a stunning Tour Championship win. 

Ireland still has three golfers inside the top-50 in the world with many believing Seamus Power could be the next to break through in the majors after an excellent debut season in the big four events. 

I couldn’t end this piece without mentioning Leona Maguire who has enjoyed a meteoric twelve months. The Cavan native made history becoming Ireland’s maiden LPGA Tour winner in February and has now become a staple of the world’s top-20 – currently 16th. 

The 27-year-old has long been tipped for success and surely a major title is just around the corner for her. 

Maguire headlines the KPMG Women’s Irish Open in Dromoland Castle this week so perhaps our trophy laden period isn’t over just yet! 

The return of the Irish Open after a decade shows how far women’s golf is going in this country. It is an event that will only grow and improve and while Maguire is the main attraction, there are plenty of young Irish amateurs on show for those who want to take a glance at the next generation trying to emulate their Cavan idol. 

It’s been a grand auld summer for Irish golf and who knows, maybe one of the girls can steal the show in Clare this weekend. 

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