As the West of Ireland Championship enters the matchplay section after a gruelling three days in often brutal conditions, 16 remain in with a chance of putting their name alongside some of the greats of the game.
Among them are four up-and-coming talents who’ll now take their chances one-on-one with some of the grizzled veterans, established stars and surprise packages of the amateur scene.
James Claridge, who was recently described by Robbie Canon as ‘the most improved golfer in Great Britain and Ireland,’ ended the strokeplay section as top qualifier and has taken the elements in his stride.
The Enville clubman hails from just outside Wolverhampton and has expressed his desire to turn pro at the end of the year, and though he hadn’t been part of the provisional Walker Cup squads that were announced, he could yet gatecrash the party.
“I was talking to Padraig [Hogan], the Irish selector at Spanish Am,” Claridge said, “and I was discussing it with him. If you’re not in that practice squad you’ve got to win a Brab, a Lytham or something like this and you’ve probably got to have multiple wins, so obviously I won Berkhampsted last week and trying to have another good week here and put them in a position where, you know, if you keep playing the golf you might get picked.”
Claridge will square off against the wily Joe Lyons in the round of 16. The 50-year-old golf tour operator from Galway is a past champion at Rosses Point having claimed the title back in 2007, and will in no way prove an easy obstacle for Claridge to overcome, having secured his berth in the last 16 via a opening birdie in the four-for-two playoff yesterday evening.
Arron Edwards-Hill is another young English player hoping to land a maiden West of Ireland title having come close back in 2019. From Chelmsford in Essex, Edwards-Hill arrived as the lowest indexed man in the field off a staggering +6.9 and put himself in position to make the top-16 courtesy of an impressive one-under opening round playing alongside Peter O’Keefe and Hugh Foley.
He’s not had it quite all his own way since, but he made it safely through and squares off against Irish Amateur Champion Quentin Carew in the first knockout stage.
“It wasn’t the finest golf over the last two days, but ground it out and got through,” Edwards-Hill said on Sunday, “and now it’s matchplay so anything can happen and I’m looking forward to the next few days.”
Recently returned from India where he competed in two European Challenge Tour events – and made the cut in both – the weather at Rosses Point has been a bit of a reality check for the man almost certain to tee it up at the Walker Cup.
“Yeah, 33 degrees every day, no wind, it’s definitely a challenge to readjust and get back into the swing of things playing links golf,” he admitted.
“At the end of the day, the guys on the Challenge Tour are playing for a living and to watch them grind, giving every shot 100%, and they never give up. I got the chance to play with Ollie Fisher and he’s a great player who’s won a lot of tournaments so it was a great learning experience.”
Roganstown sensation Patrick Keeling has flown a little under the radar this week, but has improved day-on-day and his round of +2 in the worst of the conditions yesterday was controlled and belied his youth.
“I had a lot more control over the ball today than I had the first two days,” Keeling said, “that was the big difference really. I kept it really tidy, no scores worse than bogey and I took my chances when they came.”
“It’s kind of a strange format and I’m not really used to it, so I just tried to look at it as a three day event and then hopefully if I made the top 16, look at that as another event starting.”
Keeling is another who’s played a lot of sunshine golf this year, having won the Muricia Amateur Championship back in late-January and being pipped by Jonathan Caldwell in the La Romero Open on the European Pro Golf Tour a week later.
“Yeah, I played a lot of fair-weather golf over the winter,” he smiled, “but I knew the West was coming up so I tried to play a lot of links golf when I got back but it seemed every time I played the weather was perfect so that was a bit of a reality check there this week.”
Keeling will face off against 2021 West of Ireland Champion and reigning North and South of Ireland title holder Hugh Foley in what could well be the match of the round.
Donegal’s Cian Harkin rounds out the young-gun quartet, and he’s up against 2022 East of Ireland runner-up Jack McDonnell.
21-year-old Harkin is on an academic scholarship at DCU having scored higher than 550 points in the leaving certificate, and is studying to become a P.E. and biology teacher, and rubber-stamped his credentials at the West of Ireland when he fired a three-under in round two which remains the lowest score of the week.
“Going out today, I knew I had a comfortable cushion,” said Harkin, whose second-round 68 had given him the overall lead going into the final round, “but because the conditions were so tough out there today, some of the winds were completely bamboozling but we ground it out and managed to make it to the matchplay.”
“I love playing matchplay, up in Donegal I play senior cup for Rosapenna [though his main club is Letterkenny], and I love the fact that you can shoot nine-over and still beat your man. Sixes can win holes, it’s just a man-to-man battle and I think it really suits my game.”
You can follow these matches and the progression of these up-and-coming stars at the West of Ireland by clicking here.
Leave a comment