The West – TJ Ford’s ‘major’: ‘Winning would be a fairytale’

Ronan MacNamara

TJ Ford (Photo by Matthew Lewis/R&A)

Ronan MacNamara

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Local winners of the Connolly’s Audi West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship have been scarce since the days of the great Cecil Ewing (ten-time winner). In fact, there has only been one Sligo born winner in the last 73 years, Barry Anderson in 2017.

The Royal Dublin golfer beat Jack Pierse to end 67 years of hurt since Ewing’s tenth and final triumph in 1950.

In the intervening years, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington have etched their name onto the famous wooden board in the Co. Sligo GC clubhouse and someone who would love to join them is Sligo’s own TJ Ford.

Ford’s love affair stretches back long before he started competing. His father played in the West of Ireland, Ford himself spectated as a child, was a ball spotter and a caddy to match. Winners wouldn’t come more local than the 25-year-old who lives just two minutes away from the club.

It’s no secret that this is the championship for him, having already created a catalogue of special memories sprinting along the fairways chasing autographs from the superstars to be.

“It’s definitely my major,” says Ford. “It’s an event that I have been following, been at and been involved in from caddying to ball spotting since I started playing golf. I remember being a child going around with a towel and asking all the players to sign it. I know playing in it now, that’s a weird thing to be doing.

“I got McIlroy’s autograph, I got Paul McGinley, it would have been Cutler, Dunbar and those guys. I have it somewhere it’s a Spanish towel so I must have got it away on holidays somewhere and covered in green sharpie.

“I have a Rory McIlroy signed ball one of the really old Titleist ProV’s which came out after the Tour Balata back in 2005 or 2006 when he won it. He was only 15 or 16. The green sharpie is fading you can just about make out his autograph so I must try and get Neil Manchip to try to get it resigned or something. But yeah, I have a few cool collector’s items,” added Ford, a former South of Ireland champion.

Winning the West of Ireland on home soil would be very special for Ford and perhaps the only thing that could make it more special is that it’s the centenary edition of the championship.

Ford won’t be the only local man looking to golf his way into Sligo folklore with five club members including 2017 winner Anderson aiming to give the Rosses Point faithful something to cheer about over the Easter period.

“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s the hundredth year so it’s a big one and I’m looking forward to getting going,” Ford explained.

“It would truly be fairytale stuff to win it. We have a great crop of players coming through, we have a really strong senior cup panel this year and there’s definitely a lot of local interest in it. I want my name on that trophy and on the board inside the clubhouse but any local man would be great and the celebrations would be class.

“There is a huge buzz and it’s a big year for the club. There’ll be a good crowd so hopefully we can keep plenty of local interest. The new format can take some of the local buzz away from it a little. Top-64 traditionally you would get a lot of top names and it’s game on but top-16 it’s a little tougher and harder to do that.

“Hopefully we can get as many local lads through as possible and the field looks really strong which is fantastic.”

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