The victory for the 23-year-old Tullamore golfer in last year’s championship played a major part in his inclusion in the B&I team for a match, seen as a major springboard towards selection in next year’s Walker Cup match.
This is a clear indication of the important role Ireland’s oldest provincial championship plays in the promotion of a young amateur’s career, so it is not surprising that the entry for this week’s “South” is one of the strongest for a number of years.
With the weather promising to be on its best behaviour and the Lahinch links in its customary superb condition – although those who stray from the fairways are sure to pay a heavy price – the certainty is for some great golf over the next five days.
The programme gets under way with the first of two stroke-qualifying rounds today when it can be safely anticipated that there will be several scores in the 60s.
The lowest round at Lahinch in recent times was a 64 by Mark Campbell in 2011 at a time when the par was 71 and the major alterations under architect Martin Hawtree were in mid-stream. It is unlikely that this week’s competitors will be asked to play off the championship tees at every hole – when that happened this time last year, some struggled to get round in less than six hours.
Last year’s finalists, Grehan and Knock’s Colin Fairweather, were rewarded with their first Irish caps and duly helped Ireland to claim the Home International Championship at Royal Portrush. The stakes are just as high on this occasion as it is the last opportunity for the contenders to capture the eye of the selectors.
Last year’s leading qualifier, Paul McBride, is one of six current internationals in the field. At 147th in the world, McBride is the highest ranked player at this year’s South. Considering his silver medal performance last year, the Island player clearly relishes the Lahinch challenge and he is hungry for a win having lost out in the semi-finals of the Amateur Championship last month.
Fellow internationals Colm Campbell, Alex Gleeson, Colin Fairweather, Rowan Lester, Robin Dawson, and John-Ross Galbraith are also chasing silverware at Lahinch. Campbell won the Irish Amateur Championship at Royal Dublin in May.
With two major titles to his name, Whitehead’s John Ross Galbraith will be all out for a third having been unable to contest last week’s North of Ireland. The Portrush champion, Sean Flanagan from Co Sligo, has his sights set on a famous double this week .
Tramore’s Robin Dawson is another player with outstanding form this season, having captured the World University Championship in France last month.
Paul O’Hanlon (Royal Curragh) had only just returned from the professional ranks when he played out of his skin to win the East of Ireland at Baltray over the Whit weekend. He finished on 11 under par 277 and still had only a stroke to spare over Colm Campbell and two clear of Robbie Cannon and Stuart Bleakley, two recent past South winners who are back this week in search of another title.
Portmarnock youngster Conor Purcell, the hero of Leinster’s victory in the Interprovincial Championship at Fota a couple of weeks ago, could be a dark horse and would relish a big win before departing for college in the US at UNC Charlotte.
The Pierse Motors Championship begins today with the first of two stroke qualifying rounds, the leading going forward to the first match play stage on Friday with the final on Sunday afternoon.