But the former amateur team mates had to play second fiddle to shock 3 Irish Open winner Shane Lowry, who reverted to his “amateur” role when he teed it up in Colm Moriarty’s pro-am team at the Darren Clarke designed Champions Club yesterday
The Clara man, 22, has endured a torrid start to his professional career since he took the plunge into the paid ranks following his amazing victory at Baltray last month.
But he’s not among the 26 Irish hopefuls chasing the €24,000 top prize at Moyvalley despite the fact that the European Tour has a one-week break due to the Austrian Golf Open being moved back to September.
Set to return to action in the BMW International in Munich in two weeks’ time before playing the French Open and the Barclays Scottish Open, Lowry will spend his time re-charging his batteries and honing his game.
“Everything’s happened so fast since my win, so this week is a good chance to relax and take stock,” said the Offaly ace, who is still waiting to earn his first euro as a professional.
“It’s important to support golf events in Ireland, so when I was invited to play in the Pro-Am for the Challenge of Ireland, I jumped at the chance.”
Lowry missed his first two cuts as a professional and while he failed to earn one of 10 places in the Open despite shooting one-under par in the 36-hole international qualifier on Monday, he believes his game is coming around.
“I was fairly pleased with how I played in Open qualifying at Sunningdale,” he said. “So I’m moving in the right direction. This week gives me the chance to work on a few things and I’d rather do that here than on the practice ground. I’m also working on my fitness and I’m meeting with Eric Miller again this week.”
Douglas man O’Keeffe is hoping to improve his status on the Challenge Tour this year by finishing inside the top 45 in the rankings while Muskerry’s Turner is determined to take advantage of a sponsor’s invitation.
Thanks to a grant from the Team Ireland Golf Trust and earnings of around €26,000 on the satellite tours in the US so far this season, he has decided to enter the qualifying schools on both sides of the Atlantic.
“I’d love to play a few more events on the Challenge Tour,” he said.
“If I can finish in the top 10 here that will get me into next week. If it doesn’t work out I will head back to the US to play on the Hooters Tour to get ready for the Q- School.”
The field at Moyvalley includes 2001 PGA champion Andrew Oldcorn and a host of young guns hoping to earn one of 20 European Tour cards.
Royal County Down based Simon Thornton is the best placed of the Irish at 36th in the money list but O’Keeffe feels the par-72, 7,370 yard course will suit him. Having made two of his first three cuts of the year, he believes his game is more consistent thanks to the work he has done on his short game.
“This course suits me this week because it demands long hitting and hopefully the wind will blow. That will play into the hands of the ball strikers,” O’Keeffe said.
“The pro game hasn’t been too bad for me so far. I’ve been at it a year now and the key is to get off to a good start and get going early. I have been doing a lot of work on my short game with John McHenry. The better your short game, the easier it becomes and I have just been working on my consistency. My putting has really improved.”