One had to admire the brave efforts of the superlative field that qualified for the match play stages of the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch last week.
Image from Golffile
To a man they played outstanding golf in what might charitably be called the vilest of conditions, with lots of shocks and lively talking points to savour. I even have praise for the Munster Branch Officials who gave the players a stern lecture on the 1st tee (in public) about how slow play would be frowned upon and dealt with.
The South is traditionally a graveyard for favourites. This year was no exception. Only one full time amateur, Conor O’Rourke, managed to reach the last four. In an Irish (and Lahinch) context at least, the World Amateur Golf Rankings can be dismissed as irrelevant. The working amateur is still alive and kicking! No wonder ‘the GUI elites’ prefer to play abroad and avoid playing in championships at home – if they can.
With Irish places for the Home Internationals and perhaps a Walker Cup place or two up for grabs – the elite panel had to show up at Lahinch this year. In my view, the best solution (by far) to overcome the ‘uncertainties of match play’ is to run the tournament in the 54/16 format.
The extra 18-holes of qualifying will allow the cream a better chance of rising to the top. Under the present regime (36/64) too many elites are ‘dispatched’ in the rounds of 64 and 32 and never even reach the last 16, but I would hate to see the match play segment disappear altogether. As the twice ‘South’ champion, Vincent Nevin, likes to say: stroke play is a test of golf; match play is a test of the man!
The impressive finalsts, Conor O’Rourke (Naas) and James Sugrue (Mallow) displayed outstanding physical fitness and generated extraordinary power through their legs; essential when driving a golf ball into a ‘heavy wind.’ But putting counts most and when Sugrue holed a 35-foot on the exposed first green for a birdie three, he put a firm grip on the oldest and handsomest trophy in Irish golf, which never once slackened. 20-years old Sugrue is a ‘beast’ of a golfer with a great future ahead of him.
Although he lost an absorbing final, O’Rourke did nothing wrong. He played superbly throughout his eight rounds and should have done enough to be elevated to (well-deserved) Walker Cup status. Sugrue is impatient to pursue the pro game but might be wise to refine his game further before taking the plunge.