Rafferty seals dream win in Baltray

Irish Golfer

Caolan Rafferty celebrates a famous win at the East in Baltray. Photo: Thos Caffrey / Golffile.

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After coming so close to glory on more than one occasion, including heartbreak in a play-off last year, Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) can finally add his name to the list of Kingspan East of Ireland Amateur Open Champions.

“I wanted to win this pretty bad so just knew, keep at it, keep at it and see what happens,” said Rafferty.

“It was just one of them days where anything I looked at was going to go in and I kept giving myself chances.

“I just grinded it out and got there in the end”.

Coming into Monday’s final two rounds the Louth native found himself three shots off the pace but a solid bogey-free round three which included four birdies brought him right back into contention, signing for a -4 round of 68 and sitting just one shot off the lead.

“I just knew that I had to go low. I only made three bogeys all week which is a good sign as well but I just knew if I kept doing what I was doing I would give myself a good few chances even though I didn’t hit the ball overly well,” said Rafferty.

“I still had a lot of chances in the first three rounds just didn’t hole a lot, so I said if they start dropping which they did early on that we’d be all good.”

It was in his final round where the Irish international showed the class that had made him a West of Ireland and South of Ireland champion in the past, carding an impressive -7 round of 65. However, flashbacks of the play-off in 2023 must have been ringing around in the Dundalk golfer’s head as a bogey on 18 almost let his nearest competitor in.

“It’s one of them, you just put so much into it and then keep falling short and then when I done what I done on 18 I was like don’t tell me I’ve done it again” said Rafferty

“I just had the ball below my feet, went with a three wood probably shouldn’t have done it. I had no idea of the scoring but played it as if I’m one behind let’s press and make birdies so went with three wood, hit an awful three wood” said Rafferty.

Royal Dublin’s Max Kennedy was the man who fought all the way to the final hole, birdies on 15 and 16 putting pressure on the leader. Coming down 18 a birdie would have been enough to force a play-off but when his six-foot putt for a four came up just short, Rafferty emotionally embraced his parents Ciaran and Carol-Ann on the practice ground as the new East of Ireland champion.

“Made hard work of it on the last but was nice to get it over the line. Played really solid today, didn’t do anything really wrong just held a lot of putts. I just went out with the mindset of needing to shoot a low one,” said Rafferty.

While Rafferty felt his ball striking was not at its best this week in County Louth his new putter and time spent on the practice ground paid dividends in the end.

“I drove the ball poorly all week, found a bit of a groove on the last few I suppose but down to striking wise it wasn’t one of the better weeks or one of the better rounds,” said Rafferty.

“I changed the putter two weeks ago, spent three and a half hours on the putting green which I’ve never done in my life and we figured something out that might just give me a bit of feel and a bit of confidence and just today I read the greens really well.”

In coming so close in 2018, 2022 and last year relief and delight were etched across the champion’s face. The celebrations for the 32-year-old cannot come fast enough.

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