The 24-year-old from Waterford, buoyed by two top-three finishes in March, is well on the way to retaining his European Tour card for next season and having previously won an interprovincial title with Munster at Royal County Down in 2012 he goes into this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in good spirits, great form and eager for the tough challenge this renowned links will lay down for the next four days.
Sitting in the RCD clubhouse after a practice round in the company of Shane Lowry and fellow Munstermen Cian McNamara and former team-mate Gary Hurley, Phelan told the Irish Examiner about his love of links golf, playing the Irish Open and his adjustment to life on the European Tour which has seen him settle in nicely this season with a runner-up finish at the Joburg Open and third place at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco.
After a difficult rookie season which saw him forced to return to Qualifying School despite a third place at the Hong Kong Open in October, those results in March have boosted his confidence and whetted his appetite for greater success.
“I started to play really well towards the end of last year and I was disappointed the season ended,” Phelan said. “I had a good finish at the end of the year in Hong Kong and I just tried to keep that going and had a couple of good finishes at the start of this year, so pressing on.
“I had a couple of good finishes close to each other (in March) and it was nice to get in contention and have a chance to win and give it a go down the stretch. “It would be good to get in that position as much as I can, keep testing myself and try to push on.”
His total prize money s far this season of €161,234 from eight events are close to matching the €174,382 he earned from 26 starts in 2014 but rather than easing the pressure all Tour golfers face in trying to keep their cards, Phelan said that has not been an issue for him since the start of 2015.
“I tried to take my mind off that from the word go this year. I spent a lot of time last year thinking about it and it didn’t do me any good so I try to just focus on the golf, prepare as well as I can and just play and the rest will look after itself. I’ve found the best players don’t spend too much time worrying about keeping their cards, they just prepare as well as they can every week.
“Prepare well, play well and just leave it at that. Don’t try and protect anything, if I’m near the cut keep trying to make birdies, same as if you’re up on the leaderboard. “
Which brings Phelan to this week and the Waterford Castle golfer’s fourth attempt at his national Open. Phelan certainly has the experience around Royal County Down in addition to his practice rounds here . He was a member of the Munster team alongside fellow Irish Open participant Hurley which won the Interpro title here in 2012. Phelan appreciates the more cerebral test links golf offers.
“It’s nice change from hitting it as high and far as you can every time,” he said. “You have to think your way round, pitch the ball well short of some of the greens and it requires a lot more thought than some of the parkland courses that we get.
“You can hit so many different shots, there’s so many ways to do it on a links course, whereas I played in Austria last week on the Challenge Tour on a soft, parkland course and it was just target practice, hit it as high as you can and aim at every pin. This will be a lot different, different winds and this course usually gets a lot of crosswinds that certainly makes it interesting. It’s a different challenge.”