Never mind the pros — amateurs flying high

Never mind the Irish pros and their majors, there is plenty of homegrown talent poised to follow them on the road to stardom if the form of Ireland’s leading amateurs is anything to go by.

Never mind the pros — amateurs flying high

Gavin Moynihan’s success at the Scottish Amateur Stroke Play a fortnight ago, with compatriot Jack Hume in a tie for second, underlined the strong recent form with The Island club man shooting up the World Amateur Golf Rankings from 253rd to 10th in the world following his Panmure success.

West Waterford’s Gary Hurley finished 10th and was the leading Irishman in the prestigious St Andrews Trophy at the weekend and as the Golfing Union of Ireland’s leading amateurs prepare for a hectic couple of weeks, Irish team captain Padraig Hogan told The Irish Examiner of his delight heading towards both the British Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush and Portstewart as well as the Irish Open, when the GUI will have Moynihan, Hurley, Dermot McElroy and Robbie Cannon in the field for the European Tour event.

“Everyone’s in great shape,” Hogan said. “We’ve had a good couple of weeks, particularly in Scotland where we had first and second in the Scottish Amateur, which was fantastic, and we had quite a few of them go over to St Andrews at the weekend, playing the St Andrews Trophy. They’re full-time amateurs basically, we do have one or two students and one or two full-time workers who do very well to hang on to the coat-tails of the full-time amateurs. So it’s very positive to see the amount of good players around at the moment.”

With the St Andrews Trophy clashing last weekend with the Irish Close at Seapoint and next week’s Irish Open clashing with the British Amateur, the demands on the cream of the golfers at the GUI’s disposal is a testament to the depth of strength in the Irish amateur playing pool right now.

“It’s a deep squad and we’re very lucky to have four invitations each year to the Irish Open and for a lot of guys it’s a great opportunity to get more experience of playing in these events,” Hogan said.

“Unfortunately this year for the first time in a few years, it’s clashing with the British Amateur and so we had to pick our teams.

“One or two of the players approached me and asked me if it was possible for them to play in the Irish Open and we went to the GUI and the Walker Cup selectors to ask them what their preferences were.

“If it was a Walker Cup year, it might have been a different story, they might have wanted them to play in the British Amateur, but they were more than happy for them to play the Irish Open.

“We asked the top players where their preference was and we were lucky enough to accommodate the 10 players between the two events.”

The attraction of playing the British Amateur is multiplied by the fact that the R&A is taking the prestigious championship to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1993, with the club’s Dunluce Links very familiar to the Irish contingent as annual visitors for the North of Ireland championship while Chris Selfridge won the Irish Close there two years ago.

“It does indeed,” Hogan agreed. “I know the six players we’ve selected, and it’s not just them, I think there are 10 other Irish golfers in the field as well, but they would have huge aspirations of doing particularly well on the basis that they know both courses.

“It’s not quite as simple as that, though, because the field that will arrive in Portrush and Portstewart for the British Amateur will be top class. To make the cut will be an achievement. It’s the top 64 and ties and I think there’s a field of 288 and everyone in that field is probably capable of winning it. So from that perspective we’re looking forward to it and we hope a number of players make the cut and we may get a winner like Alan Dunbar two years ago. That would be very special indeed.”

The Irish boys, including Ulster’s Reeve Whitson, Selfridge and Cormac Sharvin, are also sure of strong support with Hogan adding: “It’s golfing country and they’re very, very supportive up there.”

Likewise in Cork when the Irish Open rolls into Fota Island next week and all eyes may not necessarily be on Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and the other European Tour stars.

“Gary Hurley’s from West Waterford and he’s only half an hour from home so he’ll get huge local support. Gavin Moynihan played last year and really enjoyed the experience, he played Walker Cup last year and has just won the Scottish Amateur so there’ll be quite a bit of interest in him. Robbie Cannon won the Irish Amateur last year and I’m sure he’ll bring down some followers from Dublin as well while Dermot McElroy got to the final stage of the European Tour Q School last autumn and there’s sure to be a lot of interest in him. Those are four very good representatives in the Irish Open and we’re quite happy with that.

“So it’s all looking quite good and I’m relishing sitting down with the selectors and selecting the team for the Europeans in two or three weeks’ time. I think we have a cracking squad for the Europeans this year.”

Which makes the next two weeks something of an ongoing audition, both up on the Antrim Coast and down south in East Cork. “The guys are always looking at the amateur world rankings themselves and most of the entry to these competitions now are based on those so the more you play, the more you compete, the more you perform the better your ranking.”

And if Moynihan hangs on to his top-50 world ranking, he will earn automatic exemption into the US Amateur without the need for pre-qualifiying.

“It’s something the guys are striving towards and it would be a great achievement,” Hogan said. “Fantastic.”

Portrush starlet Meadow finally emerging from the shadows

Also riding high in the World Amateur Golf rankings is Portrush player Stephanie Meadow, currently the women’s number seven, although not for long. Meadow will turn professional next week having qualified for the US Women’s Open, which rolls into Pinehurst after someone departs the North Carolina course with the men’s US Open trophy.

Meadow, the 2012 British amateur women’s champion, would have preferred, no doubt, to have signed off her amateur career with another Curtis Cup victory but alas, that was not to be as the United States trounced Great Britain and Ireland in St Louis. Meadow, 22, had been one of the heroines of GB&I’s 2012 victory at Nairn but normal service was resumed on American soil as the US women scored a 13-7 victory at the weekend.

Still, there was some personal success for the Florida-based Meadow. After halving both her foursomes and fourball matches with teammate Georgia Hall, the University of Alabama student rounded off her unbeaten weekend with a singles victory over the USA’s Alison Lee, 2 and 1.

Tralee to stage Kerry Scratch Cup

Tralee Golf Club are banking on their world famous links and a new sponsorship with Kerry Group to help attract a strong field for their 110-year-old Kerry Senior Scratch Cup next month.

Tralee GC will stage the 36-hole tournament on July 5 with a €2,000 total prize fund and club captain Alan Kelly said: “We are delighted to bring the Kerry Scratch Cup to Tralee Golf Links and I would like to thank Kerry Group for their generous support.

“The Kerry Scratch Cup will bring the country’s top amateur golfers to Tralee, as they take on the challenge of our links course, internationally regarded as one of the top 10 ocean courses in the world.”

The field will be limited to 81 competitors with the entry sheet set to close on June 27. With time running out, entry will be based on the lowest exact handicap received should the number of applications exceed the number of places. The €50 entry fee includes lunch between rounds and for further information call Tralee Golf Club on 066 7136379 or email richard.rafferty@traleegolfclub.com.

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