Irish golfers have captured four major championships since 2011 but in that same timeframe, eight of our best and brightest have taken the plunge into the professional ranks.
It remains to be seen how many more majors Rory McIlroy will add to his CV over the next 20 years, but it will also be interesting to see how many of the top Irish amateurs who have joined him in the cut-throat world of pro golf manage to make a living from it.
Last week, two more of Ireland’s top players jumped ship mid-season with 23-year old Richard O’Donovan (pictured below) from Lucan Golf Club, winner of the East of Ireland title in 2011, joining 22-year old Reeve Whitson from Mourne on the road.
O’Donovan’s first two starts come on the third tier PGA EuroPro Tour — he missed the cut in his opening event at Concra Wood by 15 shots — while Whitson will get his chance on the Challenge Tour having succeeded in his quest for seven invitations.
He gets his chance thanks to the Northern Ireland Open Challenge at Galgorm Castle, which ensures players from that country secure reciprocal invitations in other Challenge Tour events as “quid pro quo” for backing Europe’s second tier circuit.
The demise of the Challenge of Ireland has made life tough for young Irish pros who no longer find it easy to get their foot in the door on the Challenge Tour.
While the newly-formed Confederation of Golf in Ireland remains committed to reviving the event, it will be another year at least before the finance and sponsorship is in place for that goal to be achieved.
Whitson made his debut on the Challenge Tour in France last week, missing the cut by three and this week finds himself in faraway Azerbaijan — known in marketing circles these days as the ‘Land of Fire’ — for the first pro golf tournament to be staged in the former Soviet Republic in Central Asia.
With Stephanie Meadow making such a spectacular start to her professional career by finishing third in the US Women’s Open at Pinehurst — a performance that is on a par with the way McIlroy secured his card after just three starts in 2007 — our young players may feel under pressure to come up to superhuman standards.
Looking back at the nine players who made up the six-man Irish sides that won back to back European Amateur Team Championships in 2007 and 2008, all nine have since turned professional but only two — McIlroy and Shane Lowry — have full European Tour cards.
Gareth Shaw and Niall Kearney compete on the Challenge Tour while Jonny Caldwell, Richard Kilpatrick, Simon Ward and Paul Cutler battle on the minor circuits.
The Curragh’s Paul O’Hanlon has given up the mini tour grind to become director of golf at Macreddin Golf Club in Wicklow.
Since those great European sides, Irish amateurs have gone on to achieve great feats with Alan Dunbar winning the Amateur Championship and claiming Walker Cup honours alongside the likes of Kevin Phelan and Paul Cutler, another multiple championship winner.
Phelan earned his European Tour card at the first attempt last year and may well hold onto it with a strong finish to the year but it’s been a struggle for Dunbar and especially Cutler, while others such as Castle’s Dara Lernihan have opted for the club professional route. Others such as Brian Casey, Nicky Grant, Aaron Kearney, Cian Curley and Simon Ward continue to battle in the backwaters.
Winner of the Spanish Amateur Open last year, Whitson will not be short of good advice as his father Kevan is one of the most respected PGA professionals in the country.
“I just feel like the time is right,” Whitson said as he watched Rory McIlroy lay the foundations for victory in The Open at Hoylake. “Rory is a huge inspiration. I know Rory quite well and to see what he has achieved — obviously he’s a huge talent — for someone like me that’s a good motivation. You can see if you work hard there’s a chance to make a living from this.”
Around half our fledgling professionals have a university degree to fall back on should things not work out, which is something Meadow was keen to put in place before taking to the pro game.
Qualified with a degree in accountancy, she said: “You just never know what’s going to happen. You could have a car accident and never pick up a club again so it is good to have a qualification behind you and it takes a lot of pressure off you too, knowing you can go out and do what you love and enjoy it.”
Meadow didn’t need a degree in accountancy to count the $271,000 (€201,691) she banked on her professional debut at Pinehurst in the US Women’s Open.
Here’s hoping the latest wave of young guns chasing their dreams have similar accountancy “headaches” over the coming years.
McGovern wins Ballyliffin Pro-Am and helps friends reach Algarve
Headfort’s Brendan McGovern continues to shine brightly on the PGA Irish circuit.
On Saturday, the 48-year old carded a four-under-par 68 to edge out Ciarán Molloy and win the Ballyliffin Pro-Am having begun the day three shots behind overnight leader Neil O’Briain from Old Conna.
McGovern came through to win in style, sealing victory with an eagle at the par-five 18th as Blackwoodassistant Molloy also finished strongly with three birdies in his last five holes.
McGovern had double cause for celebration after guiding his amateur partners — Jack Duffy, Brian Phelan and David McGready — to the team prize. Their reward, is a four-night stay with three rounds of golf at Quinta do Lago in the Algarve.
A special mention also for Ardee professional Scott Kilpatrick who aced the 172-yard par-three fifth at the Glashedy Links on Friday.
Quality field set for ‘Walk in My Shoes’ ProAm
The PGA EuroPro Tour remains in Ireland this week for the ‘Walk in My Shoes Open’ at Mount Wolseley in Carlow with 23 Irish players seeking the top prize of €12,600.
Among them are former international and East of Ireland champion Richard O’Donovan from Lucan who made his professional debut in last week’s Kingspan Concra Wood Open in Castleblayney.
His debut did not quite go as planned as he missed the cut in Monaghan, but he is assured of another top class event when he tees it up at the Christy O’Connor Jnr. designed track tomorrow where Carlow Concrete Tanks and Carlow Graphics are also board as event partners.
Irish promoters, Big Meadow Sports (BM Sports) have teamed up with St. Patrick’s Mental Health Foundation for this year’s EuroPro to raise awareness of positive mental health during the tournament.
“It’s brilliant to be playing so close to home and supporting such a great cause as Walk in My Shoes,” said Challenge Tour regular and Tournament Ambassador, Niall Kearney.
The concept began when a 16-year old patient at St Patrick’s Hospital said he wished his friends could put themselves in his shoes.
A year-long campaign carried out by the St. Patrick’s Mental Health Foundation was developed. Funds raised are directed to their one-of-a-kind national support and information line which is available to thepublic and manned by mental health professionals who can listen, support and offer professional advice to anyone, anywhere in Ireland.
* To donate text ‘Shoes’ to 57802. €2 per text. €1.33 goes to Walk in My Shoes. You can also donate online at http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/donate/
Lisheen Springs caps big week with Leinster finals
Lisheen Springs is fast becoming one of the most popular clubs in the greater Dublin area — just eight miles from Tallaght on the Dublin to Blessington road.
Shane Lowry, fresh from his top-10 finish in the Open, popped in last week to give a clinic on behalf of his sponsors Srixon/Cleveland, much to the delight of former Tour player Raymie Burns, who is the club’s head professional. But the real excitement at the weekend revolved around the Leinster finals of the Junior Cup and Pierce Purcell Shield.
In the cup, Castle beat Ardee and Elm Park before defeating Rathcore 3½-1½ in the final to claim the Leinster pennant for the fourth time since 2005.
However, there was a new winner of the shield’s Leinster final, with Coollattin clinching a 3½ to 1½ victory over Tullamore in the decider.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved