Rónán MacNamara in Rome
Sean Keeling earned two and a half points for Europe as they claimed the Junior Ryder Cup for the first time since 2006 with a thumping 20½ – 9½ over a much fancied USA side in Marco Simone, Rome.
Europe’s victory is very much against the history of the competition. Having won in 2004 and retained in 06, the boys and girls from the continent had lost the last six editions but after halving the opening day of the latest contest, Stephen Gallacher’s charges completed a clean sweep in the Wednesday four balls to roar six clear before winning seven and halving three of the final day singles to cap a landslide win.
Keeling proved one of the stars for Europe, coming from six down after nine with Walker Cup starlet Connor Graham to snatch a half point on the opening day before picking up two comprehensive wins including a 4&2 singles triumph over Will Hartman with three eagles on the card.
“By far the best thing I’ve done in my career, nothing compares to it,” said the Roganstown star. “Team golf is just different you’re playing with everyone else and you’re not just representing your country you are playing for your continent so nothing comes close to this so far.”
Keeling, used to coming from behind, had to do it the hard way again on Thursday morning as he fell two down after three holes. The sixteen-year-old won the fourth and fifth – driving the par-4 green for a conceded eagle – to draw level before a clumsy bogey on seven saw him fall behind again.
Tipped for stardom, the teenager cracked a 3-wood from 270 yards on the par-5 9th to eight feet for his second eagle of the front nine which turned the screw in the match.
Europe were well on top at this stage and as they swept up the remaining 3½ points required to win the Junior Ryder Cup, Keeling pulled away from his opponent winning holes ten, eleven and twelve (another eagle) for four-in-a-row and he never looked back.
“I missed the first three fairways and when you miss fairways here you haven’t got much of a chance but I came back and played some really good golf so I am happy about that. It was just one or two bad shots early on which everyone gets so you need to move on,” explained Keeling who was the first Irishman to represent Europe in the contest since Gavin Moynihan in 2012.
“The eagle on 9 turned things because I made two bogeys on seven and eight after getting some momentum back but that shot on nine really flipped it and I went off and played great after that.”
There were joyous scenes of celebration when Francesca Fiorellini held two massive putts to snatch a closing half point on the eighteenth.
“That topped it off, the icing on the cake, we all play the same tournaments throughout the year but we are against the each other but it’s special to come together here.
“The team room the talks we had, dinners, we haven’t really done anything special yet but Stevie did his job with the team talks and got us going.”
Keeling is a product of the Made in Holywood Golf Academy, which has operated at Roganstown in Swords since 2009, where Geoff Loughrey, a former assistant to McIlroy’s coach Michael Bannon, is the professional in charge.
“I thought the first tee nerves would be worse, the grandstand wasn’t quite full but there were still people there. You step on the first tee and your heart starts pumping out of your chest a little bit but it’s all good.
“It certainly whets the appetite to come back here as a Ryder Cup player, it would be a dream come true it’s basically the highlight of a golfing career to play in a Ryder Cup so it would be special.”
Keeling doesn’t turn seventeen until next week and while his brother Patrick has begun life Stateside in Louisville, Sean has ambitions of turning professional upon the completion of his leaving cert.
“I’m thinking about turning pro yeah, I still have time. I’ll probably go to the States or turn pro. Possibly turn pro right way but I’ll finish school.
“I learned that I can perform on the big stage it will give me a lot of confidence knowing that I can come and play in front of all these people in the stands and play well, it will give me a lot of confidence going forward. Half the people I saw were Irish and the support was amazing.”