Momentum is huge in sport and amateur golf in Ireland has it.
The recent Irish Men’s and Women’s Amateur Open Championships couldn’t have been any different from each other, nor could they have been as enjoyable. The only constant being they were both sponsored by Flogas.
We are approaching the time in the Irish golfing calendar where golf courses start to come into their prime condition for the summer as the rough gets lush, the fairways get bounce and greens get quicker.
One would be hard pressed to find golf courses in better shape than the Island and Woodbrook Golf Club which played host to our national amateur championships.
First up was the always fair yet gruelling test of golf at the Island which brought a mixture of rain, sun and fog to the Donabate area where England’s John Gough reigned supreme. It felt like a home win for the Berkshire man who has family scattered in Meath and Newry.
Gough to his credit made one of the greatest 72nd hole bogeys ever seen in any championship. Having pulled his drive left off the tee, he took an unplayable and hacked his third back into play.
Michael Block might have serious cash offers coming in for his 7-iron after his PGA Championship hole in one but Gough’s 9-iron from 132 in my opinion, was better. Everything on the line and he sticks it to two-feet for the five which secured him the title.
Rare will an Englishman receive such a roar of adoration on Irish soil but this felt as much a home win as any English event. Gough’s family rarely if ever get to see him tee it up in the flesh so to deal with that pressure all week and then produce the goods when he needed it most. Kudos must be given.
His father hails from Dunderry in Meath and there’s no doubt that Meath stubbornness, thickness and determination courses through the veins of John Gough, don’t let the London accent fool you!
The Women’s Amateur at Woodbrook Lorna McClymont hold off Beth Coulter – who had barely touched down from the States – in a low scoring affair. To shoot sixteen-under-par for three rounds is phenomenal scoring and watching those two stars go head to head on the back nine was a thrill.
Scotland’s McClymont saw off Coulter for her fifth win in six starts with a textbook display of closing out.
It’s not often you come away talking about fourth place, but it was good enough for Roscommon starlet Olivia Costello to claim the Girls title to add to the Scottish Girls crown she won in the spring.
St Patrick’s Athletic and Republic of Ireland U17 star Mason Melia isn’t the only 15-year-old with bags of potential. Costello has shown her class already this year and with herself and Coulter leading the line for the Irish youngsters alongside Katie Poots and Rebekah Gardner, the women’s amateur game in Ireland is in a very good place.
Lauren Walsh will look to join Leona Maguire, Stephanie Meadow and Olivia Mehaffey on tour this summer but with such bright young talent coming through, the conveyor belt will only get bigger.
If that wasn’t enough, to Sunningdale the cream of the British and Irish amateur game went, and the last man standing was Galway’s Liam Nolan. Like Matt McClean, the Galway man has not cracked the code on home soil but he has made a big splash abroad with his latest triumph the biggest of his burgeoning career.
The NUIG student won the South American Amateur championship in January and has now backed that up with a massive win at the Brabazon Trophy to strengthen his Walker Cup goal in September.
It’s been a quiet spring for the 23-year-old but having survived exam season he has come out all guns blazing.
16-year-old Sean Keeling has been winning all around him this year with a Junior Ryder Cup berth on the horizon this September but he might also squeeze his way into the GB&I Walker Cup panel. The Roganstown starlet hasn’t been shying away from thinking about a call up for St Andrews and he put his hand up for selection with a fifth place finish at the Brabazon.
Keeling held the lead for 54 holes and eventually finished three shots outside the playoff which was won by Nolan. This year’s Walker Cup might come too soon for him unless he racks up a couple of big wins – with one abroad paramount – but there is no doubt he, Beth Coulter and Olivia Costello are the hottest prospects in the country with his brother Patrick not far behind!
There have been collegiate wins Stateside for Max Kennedy and Paul Conroy while Matthew McClean (30) and Hugh Foley (25) are still at the top of their game with McClean beating his compatriot in the US Mid-Amateur final while Foley became the first player since Darren Clarke in 1990 to win the North and South of Ireland titles.
At present, Ireland have two women (Lauren Walsh, Anna Foster) and one man (Matthew McClean) inside the top-100 of the World Amateur Golf Rankings while the likes of England have nine and Sweden have ten in a game dominated by Americans.