As the Irish Challenge at Headfort approaches, 48 hopefuls will compete in a Monday qualifier on July 24, just three days before the tournament begins, with the top-two earning an invitation to tee it up at the same venue alongside multiple DP World Tour winners. As an additional incentive, the lowest scoring Irish player at the Irish Challenge will receive an invite to the Horizon Irish Open at the K Club in September.
Local involvement in the Irish Challenge is guaranteed with Headfort’s Sue Ennis, one of Golf Ireland’s nominated referees, set to give rulings inside the ropes, but two other Headfort members are among those seeking to play their way into the field.
21-year-old Maynooth student Evan Shipp – a +3.2 handicap – has been playing golf for 11 years now after first being introduced to pitch-and-putt through his father, Peter. After instantly being drawn to it, he quickly progressed and began working with PGA Professional Gordon Smyth, a Headfort man himself who’s now head professional at the Slieve Russell.
“I’ve been with Gordon since I was 13,” Shipp says, “and he’s helped me understand the golf swing and what dictates certain shots, all while keeping it very simple, which has been key to my development as a golfer.”
After finishing secondary school, he joined the prominent Paddy Harrington Scholar team at Maynooth University where, alongside some of the other top amateur talent in the country, his game and mentality has continued to mature.
“Playing with the Maynooth team the last three years was such a good experience,” he explains, “it really helped me develop as a golfer but also as a person. It was great to play events abroad and get used to all the travelling and even the different foods when you’re away. Spending time and practicing with everyone on the team really helped me as well, it was always competitive and we all pushed each other along to maintain a high standard in our game.”
With a brace of five-under-par 67s in his locker at the host venue, and a career-best seven-under 66 at Carton House’s O’Meara Course, he knows he’s got the ability to make a big career statement and take a step towards realising his dreams of teeing it up alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry.
At 15, unsurprisingly, Tadhg Burns is the youngest player in the field. Golfing since the age of four or five, Tadhg is a third generation Headfort member, following his father David and grandfather Alan. Since coming under the tutelage of Geoff Loughrey in Roganstown 18 months ago, his game has come on leaps and bounds, dropping from a six-handicap to scratch.
“It’s not just all golf swing,” Burns explains, “I do a lot of psychology with him. We focus on always being positive, having good posture, and always thinking I can make it when I’m standing over a putt.”
Not 16 until December, it was shortly after his 14th birthday when he broke par for the first time. “It was on the Championship Course at Headfort,” he remembered, “and I started with a double bogey on the first hole. I was a bit nervous towards the end because the last two tee shots are over water, but I was really excited as well.”
His best score in competition at Headfort is now a three-under 69, but once the dam was broken, under par rounds have become a regular occurrence, with a six-under 66 in last year’s Moyvalley Senior Scratch Cup the lowest round of his career to date.
He’s also got a 29 for nine holes on his resume, covering Roganstown’s back nine in -7 for the magical number during the ProDreamUSA Irish Open last August, again, at the tender age of 14. ProDreamUSA are an American University Golf Scholarship agency, so Collegiate programs the other side of the Atlantic are surely watching with keen interest.
Despite his youth, he’s going into the qualifier with realistic expectations. “I think a top-25 would be good,” he said. “I mean with all the pros there, that would be really good. I just hope I get a good group and enjoy the experience.”
Admission to the qualifier is free on a walk-in basis, and spectators can register for free tickets for the Irish Challenge by clicking here.