Byrne shines bright to claim Irish Close title

Bernie McGuire
Bernie McGuire

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Douglas’ Sara Byrne is the 2018 Irish Women’s Close Champion.

The 17-year-old Junior Vagliano Player overcame Beth Coulter (Kirkistown Castle), Lucy Simpson (Masserene), Molly Dowling (Lucan), Sarah Cunningham (Ennis) and finally Louise Coffey (Malone) on her way to victory after gruelling winds coupled with tight fairways had made for a particularly tough tournament.

The opening 36-hole strokeplay qualifier was a little more challenging than usual with shin-high rough stretching the four-and-a-half-hour time allowance for the field, leaving only 20 minutes for the players to head back out for their afternoon rounds.

Valerie Clancy (Killarney), alongside her local caddy, neatly plotted their way around the tough links course and quickly became the ones to beat for the rest of the week. A one-under-par 72 paired with a 74 in the afternoon left seventeen-year-old Clancy on a level par total; allowing her to claim the Leitrim Cup as leading qualifier.

Clancy was just one of the top-32 players who progressed to the championship matchplay stages. The next 16 players competed in the plate matchplay event where they battled it out for the Ita Wallace Trophy.

Clancy claimed a 4&3 victory over Roscommon’s Chloe O’Connor in round one, but failed to advance past the second round after coming up against Maynooth scholar, Molly Dowling, who defeated the Killarney golfer on the 17th.

Dowling bowed out to Douglas’ Sara Byrne in the following match where the seventeen-year-old secured a 3&2 win to earn a place in the semi-finals. Meadhbh Doyle (Portarlington), Louise Coffey (Malone) and Sarah Cunningham all came out on top in their first three matches and joined Byrne to complete the matchplay event’s final four.

Meanwhile, Elm Park’s Leah Temple Lang overcame Una Marsden, Anna Foster and myself to face Elisa Corcoran (Grange) in the of the Ita Wallace Trophy final. Lang dominated the front nine and turned the corner with a 3up lead on Corcoran. Having successfully held onto her advantage, Lang took home the Ita Wallace trophy after a 3&1 triumph; adding another Plate victory to her Irish Girls Close plate win in Mallow last year.

In the semi-finals of the main event, Sara Byrne, being the youngest of the finalists, opted for the ‘fearless’ approach in her match against the more experienced Sarah Cunningham. Despite the nerves that go along with playing your first ever national championship semi-final, Byrne birdied the first hole to set the tone for the match.

However, Cunningham didn’t give in easily and her extra years of experience over Byrne may have helped her go one ahead at the 9th.  Byrne brought her best game to the back nine where she went ahead in the match and sealed a victory along with a place in the final on the 17thgreen.

Louise Coffey took advantage of Meadhbh Doyle’s shaky start in the second semi-final and a birdie on the 11thgave the Malone golfer a 3up lead heading into the closing holes. Nevertheless, Doyle didn’t go down without a fight and birdied 13 and 15 to claw away Coffey’s lead. Experience stood to the former international and another birdie on 16 saw Coffey snatch the second spot in the afternoon’s final against Byrne.

Coffey was first to draw blood in the final having won the third, but Byrne answered back promptly, winning the 5th,6thand 7thto turn the match around and go 2up. Coffey lessened Byrne’s lead to one shot before the tenth but Byrne’s aggressive play didn’t end there and she went 3up on the Malone golfer after the 12th.

A tough finish to the links course left everything to play for going down the stretch but a composed and fiercely determined Byrne didn’t relieve any pressure off the shoulders of her opposition. Having maintained her deserved lead from early on, a halved hole on the tough par three 17thwas enough for Byrne to be crowned the 2018 Irish Close Champion.

“This is just amazing, I knew I could do it,” said the jubilant winner. “When Louise won the 3rd I knew that it was better to be up at the end of the match than at the start, I knew that a one hole difference was nothing so I stayed patient.”

A definite highlight of her career, Byrne now heads back to Douglas where a celebration awaits;

“This is definitely my number one achievement to date, on the final few holes I got a bit nervous but I told myself that I had worked too hard to give this one away. This brings my golf career up a step and any event now I play in I can tell myself that I can win because I am Irish Champion!”

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