Young Irish stars hoping to take Adare by storm

TWENTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD Peter O’Keeffe from Douglas has been a professional for less than six months but through hard work and perseverance lines up alongside Europe’s elite at Adare this week.

Having learned the rudiments of the game from around the age of 12 under professional Dave White at Frankfield, O’Keeffe represented Munster Boys before making the Irish youths team.

By this stage, he had developed into a strapping 6ft 4inch, 16 stone giant more physically suited to the second-row of a rugby pack.

But he was also putting his powerful physique to good use as he developed into one of the longest strikers of a golf ball in the country and caught the eye of some good judges not just in Ireland but in the US as well.

“I took a late scholarship to the States,” he says. “I was apprehensive, and then went when I was 22 and finished last year at the age of 25 at the University of South Eastern Louisiana near New Orleans.

“I won my first event in 2006 and played really well in my last two years. A good structure helped me develop as a player and I came back and played well last summer with the ambition of making the Irish team or going to the Tour School.

“I won five out of six in the interpros up in Baltray. Munster won the championship and having played number one all week — I beat Richard Kilpatrick twice in the one day — I was convinced I was getting on the team. But I didn’t. So I went to Tour School and birdied the last two holes at St Annes to get through the first phase on the number.

“I wasn’t playing great when I got to Cadiz for phase two but began nicely and had a chance to win it before finishing 5th in the end on six under par. I was happy with that and went to San Roque a week later for the final. I played very average for the week and missed the four round cut but that still gave me category 12 on the Challenge Tour.

“So missing the Irish team was probably a blessing in disguise. I will be trying to improve my category and progress out of the Challenge Tour.

I will get into 20 out of 32 tournaments. The goal is to make the top 80 at least which would give me a full card.

“People would say the odds are against me but that just increases the challenge. I have full belief in my own ability and all the Irish success over the past few weeks has been an inspiration because these guys went down the same route as I’m going down now. It’s just a game of patience.”

The Challenge Tour can be an expensive place from which to try and forge a career and in this respect Peter O’Keeffe has been fortunate in receiving outstanding support from the Old Head, Egans Opticians and Team Ireland Golf Trust. However, he obviously has a long way to go before rubbing shoulders with the cream of the European Tour so one might well wonder how he managed to get into the field at Adare this week.

“I badgered everyone possible,” he smiled.

“I wrote to Tom Kane at Adare Manor, my father knows Michael Martin and I told him to ring him and ring him and ring him. I annoyed Seamus Brennan about it at the Sports Council launch and sent him a letter.

“And then last week I got a call from the European Tour to say my invitation had gone through. Putting it to good use now is the next thing.”

TWENTY-NINE-YEAR OLD Belfast man Michael Hoey aims to return to the European Tour in style this year by winning the Challenge Tour Order of Merit. Fresh from his Moroccan Open victory, he insists that merely regaining his Challenge Tour card by finishing in the top 20 isn’t enough.

“Anyone who wins a tournament is going to feel like they can go on to win the Order of Merit,” he says. “But the win in Morocco has taken me up to sixth place and I really feel that I’m playing well enough to go on and win again and finish first.”

Hoey, British Amateur champion in 2001 and a member of the successful British & Irish Walker Cup team that year, also won on the Challenge Tour this time last year in Italy but failed to capitalise on that triumph. However, he believes his game is now in completely different shape.

“I’ve done a lot of work on my short game over the winter and it’s in great shape and that’s the key to playing well really,” he adds.

Partnering former Masters champion Mike Weir, amongst others, at last year’s World Cup in China when he represented Ireland along with Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin, convinced Hoey that he could find his way back onto the European Tour.

“Hitting great shots just after the big name players have hit great shots and you’re thinking that there’s really not that much difference,” he says. “We played some tremendous golf in Aruba to qualify for the World Cup and played great again in China, although the finish was a little disappointing.”

Michael’s victory in Morocco earned him a late invitation to the Irish Open.

“I’m so much more confident going to Adare this week than I was last year,” he said.

“I finished third there in the Irish PGA in 2000.

“I know it’ll be set up differently but it’s good playing a course where I’ve have done well in the past. You have to drive it well and I’m doing that.”

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