From teary eyes to a beaming smile, it’s amazing the difference a year can make. Especially in golf.
Liam Nolan has had to bide his time as others stole in ahead of him to claim silverware but last weekend he was gushing with pride under the famous Sunningdale oak tree with the prestigious Brabazon Trophy – his second win in five months.
“It’s still very new and I just woke up this morning going through a few of the videos from yesterday just to remind myself that it actually happened, it’s still a bit mental,” laughed Nolan sitting in Heathrow airport before boarding for Alicante. “I can’t believe it. Got off to a slow start but just hung in there and that makes it feel even better.
“I’m going to enjoy the win and celebrate, take a couple of days to relax but the work starts again very soon because it’s so early on in the season.
“Next year I will be back to defend and see my name engraved on the trophy which will be very sweet. I wish I could take the trophy with me but I completely understand why I wasn’t You get a big glass plaque which is really cool and a really nice touch and I’ll have that forever and it will get prime position on the mantlepiece at home!”
The Galway man came through a thrilling three-hole playoff after a clutch up and down on 18 forced extra holes with Zach Little. Some short game wizardry in the playoff helped him shake off the challenge of the Englishman, leaving a pitch stone dead on the 75th for the biggest win of his amateur career to date and one that puts his Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup bid in the fast lane.
“I was delighted with my short game down the stretch, Josh Hill was caddying for me and we talked each shot through really well and I was incredibly calm yesterday which nearly surprised me how calm I was I felt like I should be more nervous or intense or something, but I think that helped me execute all the shots the way I wanted to as well just from being in situations like that before, coming down the stretch and in contention you kind of get used to it and learn how to handle it better each time so I did that really well.
“Me and Josh are very close so it was so nice because I asked him the night before the final round because I knew Sean would have a caddie and I’m very good friends with Sean as well. I know coming down the stretch in big competitions like this it can get quite tense and quiet and he will want to do his own thing and so will I. Just to have Josh there to talk to coming down the back nine and he’s obviously an unreal player as well and he came in and assured me of all the shots I wanted to play, he was an amazing help.”
Nolan’s parents came over on Saturday for the final 36 holes while his London based relatives also ventured to Sunningdale which made the weekend extra special.
The 23-year-old has served an emotionally challenging apprenticeship, standing on the 17th green in Rosses Point last year, struggling to hold back the tears as Alan Fahy pipped him to the West of Ireland Championship – his home provincial event – there were also near misses at the North and South of Ireland Championships as he ended 2022 going close, but no cigar.
But Nolan never gave up and he finally got over the line with a seriously commanding final stretch in Ecuador to win the South American Amateur Championship and he now becomes the first Irishman since Cormac Sharvin to win the Brabazon Trophy and he is a very popular winner amongst his peers.
“There were times last year I thought the wins wouldn’t come.” Nolan admitted. “I suppose you just have to bide your time and earn your experience being in those situations, every time it doesn’t work out you learn something to bring into the next one. The two wins this year probably wouldn’t have won them without coming up short in previous tournaments because you learn so much in those moments.
“The West was tough to take because I was playing well and it was my home province championship and a large Connacht crowd out watching so there was a lot of pressure there. I learned from defeats and I didn’t drop the head too much. Some days the putts don’t go in and some days they do. I remember Alan held so many putts that day and played really well and I just had to move on and thank God I did that.”
Nolan was alongside 16-year-old hotshot Sean Keeling in the final group on Sunday with the Roganstown teen finishing fourth while Matthew McClean made it three Irish inside the top-7 with a final round 66 as Alex Maguire made it four in the top-14.
The NUIG student is buoyed by the standard in Irish amateur golf at present.
“It’s amazing, it just shows the level of golf we have. For the final pairing in that big of a tournament to be two Irish players is incredible, it’s such a good boost for Irish golf watching the two lads in greens shirts go out last, it was incredible, I would have wanted Sean to win if I didn’t but I’m glad one of us got the win.
“Sunningdale is insane! You could spend the day in the car park and have a great day it’s so amazing, the history and everything. Having the Irish team there was very relaxing you can switch off in the evenings and have a laugh. If you played well or badly it didn’t matter we all had a bit of fun in the evenings. It’s good to get away from the course as well even though you want to spend every minute in Sunningdale but having the Irish team there helped.”
Nolan will work on his tan in Spain and revel in his Brabazon win before getting back to work to prepare for the St Andrews Links Trophy, the Amateur Championship and the European Amateur Championship this summer. Three big selection events towards September’s GB& I Walker Cup team in St Andrews – something he is keeping level headed about.
“You can get so obsessed with thinking about getting picked on teams but I try to play well in each tournament that I go to and if I do that hopefully the rest will sort itself out. If you get obsessed with trying to make teams that’s a slippery slope to go down so yeah just stay present and not think too far ahead, just enjoy the tournaments.”