CHARLIE MULQUEEN: A storied history down South

The notes of nostalgia were only too apparent over the past few days as the Lahinch traditionalists informed you that “the South of Ireland is nothing like it used to be”.

They point out that the atmosphere, crowds, characters and sense of occasion are light years removed from what it was in former times in this corner of Clare.

Few, if any, were happy about the remarkable decision of the GUI to post the Irish Home International team on their website before the championship got underway.

There was a time when the “South” champion was an automatic member of the national side.

These may well be the ramblings of Lahinch veterans who believe that nothing is ever as good as it used to be in their younger days. Or perhaps they may have a point.

It used not to matter where the finalists came from. The crowds turned up from near and far so as to be part of a major sporting occasion, to meet old friends and to enjoy a great game of golf on a magnificent piece of linksland. Nowadays, the need for a “local” finalist, or at least someone from Limerick (a requirement fulfilled by Pat Murray last year) or Cork before the gallery exceeds three or four hundred in number, is more or less essential.

As for the personalities of the modern game, it would be difficult to compare them with those who have graced the Lahinch stage over the years. A large percentage are full-time amateurs for whom golf is an all-consuming passion, in contrast to the days when the majority enjoyed the atmosphere of the place as much as the golf itself, and didn’t feel constrained by a need to be safely tucked up in bed long before midnight! Then there were the legends from near and far who adorned the championship over the years. West Clare natives would be highly indignant if you didn’t hold one of their own, the legendary John Burke, in awe. And if one of his contemporaries, Mick O’Loughlin, was nowhere like the same class of golfer, he was blessed with a unique and often cutting wit and has left behind a legacy of anecdotes, witticisms and yarns.

Then there was Greg Young, a native of Kilrush and beloved ofevery golfer in the Banner County. He was a gentleman to his fingertips but sadly the unluckiest of golfers. He reached the “South” final five times and lost in all of them. They still talk of the 1972 decider when his opponent, Rupert de Lacy Staunton, stood over a 15 foot putt on the 18th to bring the match into extra holes, with everyone in the huge gallery praying he would miss. As he drew the putter back, the bells from the nearby church pealed out the Angelus, and almost by divine intervention, Rupert rolled the ball into the hole and went on to win at the 20th.

Needless to say, the list of Lahinch legends is endless but whether they left with the magnificent solid silver trophy or with their heads bowed in defeat, they knew deep down that they had been involved in something very special. If in doubt on that point, they would do well to reflect on the importance placed in the very first championship, contested in September 1895. History tells us that it was a gala affair attended by the Chief Secretary of Ireland, Gerald Balfour, whose brother became Prime Minister of England seven days later. A contemporary report also informs us that the chief secretary had gone to the country “to ascertain for himself what they think to be best for their welfare. He and his wife Betty arrived at Lahinch in their horse-drawn carriage, as did most of the other distinguished guests including Lord Aberdeen and Sir Horace Plunkett MP for South Dublin.”

Even those who insist the South of Ireland is as colourful and as prestigious as ever could hardly hope to compete with that kind of elegance!

Could we roll back on the humble golf ball?

What’s next on the agenda after the banning of the belly and broom-handle putters in 2016? Could it be the humble golf ball will be under the microscope?

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have all questioned the technology being developed which allows balls travel further and further.

The debate was opened up once again during Friday’s second round of the Canadian Open when the South African Charl Schwartzel smashed a drive 352 yards, followed by a nine iron that finished in the hole for an albatross. Canadian golf writer, Lorne Rubenstein, was less than wowed as he tweeted: “How much more evidence before the ‘authorities’ roll the ball back”.

A quick retort on the social media site suggested that there was no way the pros would accept such an edict. Rubenstein wasn’t having any of it: “Don’t agree. Nobody quit when the drive was 260 yards.”

And, of course, he is right. Jack Nicklaus points out that “from 1935 to ’95, the ball travelled only six yards longer off the driver but now thanks to technology, it travels 50 yards longer”.

He was probably underselling the yardages.

I suspect we haven’t heard the end of the long putter controversy just yet but even that would probably pale with any attempt to rein in the influence of the ball. And, yet, if Jack, Arnie and Tiger believe it should happen...

Waterford’s double agenda

Contending for a Senior Cup-Barton Shield double is nothing new for Cork Golf Club but Waterford Castle will certainly be entering unchartered territory when they contest the semi-finals of the provincial stages of the two coveted competitions over the Mahony’s Point course at Killarney next month (August 8 and 9).

Waterford Castle meet Limerick in the semi-finals of the Senior Cup and on the following day have a date with Doneraile at the penultimate stage of the foursomes classic.

Draw details: Saturday, August 10, Irish Senior Cup (Munster semi-finals): 8.50am, 1st tee, Waterford Castle v Limerick; 10th tee, Tralee v Cork. Final, TBC

Irish Junior Cup (Munster semi-finals): 8am, 1st tee, Adare Manor v Tramore; 10th tee, Muskerry v Ballybunion. Final, TBC.

Sunday, August 11, Barton Shield (Munster semi-finals): 8am, Doneraile v Waterford Castle; 8. 30am, Nenagh v Cork. Final TBC.

Golfers could learn a thing or two from McDowell’s persistence

Graeme McDowell may have failed to survive one of those rarities of the USPGA Tour, a 54 hole cut, but nothing became the Ulster man more than the manner in which he responded to an opening 76 in the Canadian Open with a 65 on the second day.

Having endured a disappointing weekend at the British Open and with the WGC Bridgestone World Championship and the USPGA Championship filling the horizon, G-Mac might well have thrown in the towel and settled for a quiet few days to recharge the batteries.

Instead, he went out and tackled the Glen Abbey course like the true professional he is. Though he has won three tournaments this season, he had also suffered five 36 hole missed cuts on his record and didn’t want another. There was no slouch or slumped shoulders which are such a familiar sight of so many pros who have endured a hard day at the office. McDowell went out and produced an eagle, six birdies and just one bogey to improve by a remarkable 11 strokes on his first round score. Deep down, he will wonder at the wisdom of taking in Canada given the importance of the events over the next fortnight. But once he did so, he adopted the correct attitude, setting an example that many of his contemporaries would do well to take on board.


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