South African teen Martin Vorster revels in Baltray glory

Winner Martin Vorster (South Africa) with The d Hotel-sponsored East of Ireland Championship trophy after his victory at County Louth Golf Club. Picture: Pat Cashman

South African teenager Martin Vorster became the second youngest winner in the history of the East of Ireland Championship when he closed with a brace of five-under 67s to win by four strokes from Carton House’s Paul O’Hanlon at County Louth Golf Club.

At the age of 17 years, four months, and 12 days, he was just seven days older than last year’s winner, his close friend Christo Lambrecht, who is also a product of the Louis Oosthuizen Academy.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Vorster, who won last year’s Junior Open at St Andrews, after he gave an exhibition of big hitting and shot shaping to finish on nine-under-par 279 on a day of 25mph southwest winds at the storied Baltray links.

“I have been close quite a bit the last few months to finally push through, I have no words. It’s a pretty amazing feeling. 

"This is my first international senior win and it’s a big one for me. Hopefully the first of many.”

Vorster started the final day four strokes behind County Louth’s Adam Doran on one-over-par, but raced through the field in the morning, hitting 17 greens in regulation in a bogey-free, five-under 67 from the white tees to lead by a shot at lunch from 2016 champion O’Hanlon, who shot 70.

Naas’ Robert Brazill and Sligo man Sean Flanagan, now playing out of Portmarnock, were just three behind after rounds of 67 and 69 respectively.

But it soon became clear that Vorster was going to be the man to catch, and he while he went out in two-under 35 after following birdies at the first two holes with a bogey at the fifth and a chip and putt birdie from greenside rough at the eighth, he just had to keep his foot on the gas.

O’Hanlon turned in level-par, but then birdied the 10th and 11th to get within one stroke of the eventual winner. 

But he could only par his way home from there and Vorster was relentless, getting up and down from rough right of the 14th for birdie to go two ahead, before doubling his advantage with a birdie-birdie finish.

His six-iron to a foot at the 180-yard 17th gave him a cushion playing the par-five 18th where he chipped to three feet from just off the green to leave himself a three-footer for a closing birdie putt and a memorable victory.

“I was four behind starting out, and I just wanted to play it shot-for-shot and hit fairways and greens,” Vorster said. 

“I knew I had to chase if I wanted to get it down and thankfully today, a few putts dropped.”

As for his shot of the week, he had no doubt that it was his tee shot to the 17th.

“I think that was the best six-iron of my life,” he said. “It was 165 metres straight into the wind and I just wanted to hit a small-draw six-iron, and to hit it to a foot was fantastic.”

His shot shaping impressed the watching Des Smyth, who declared the Pinnacle Point talent “the real deal”.

The local caddies had already spotted his talent and after seeing him in practice, many of them had put money on him at odds of 20-1.

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