Irish amateur golf’s 2016 rising

Brian Keogh reflects on a stunning year at home and abroad for Irish golf...
Irish amateur golf’s 2016 rising

Such is the strength in depth of the game in Irish amateur golf both individual and collective triumphs at international level are becoming the norm rather than the exception.

That Ireland won medals for the first time in the respective men’s and women’s World Amateur Team Championships, claimed the Men’s Home Internationals for the third year running and the Girls’ Home Internationals for the first time is only part of the story.

Irish women’s golf in particular has been hugely successful in recent years with Slieve Russell’s Leona Maguire taking time off en route to a brilliant share of 21st in the Rio Olympics to accept the Mark H McCormack medal as the leading women’s player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for the second successive year.

Eventual Olympic silver medalist Lydia Ko — herself the recipient of the McCormack medal in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — was on hand to make the presentation to Leona, who had another wonderful season both individually and for Duke University and Ireland before shelving plans to turn professional and announcing she will wait until she graduates in 2018 before taking the plunge.

Apart from her Olympic Games success, the Co. Cavan star was the leading amateur in the Ricoh Women’s British Open and a quarter-finalist in the Ladies British Amateur Championship at Dundonald. But it was in team play where she excelled, helping Ireland to an historic first medal in the World Amateur Team Championships in Mexico when she won bronze alongside Olivia Mehaffey from Royal County Down Ladies and Lurgan’s Annabel Wilson.

Annabel’s year was made by that bronze medal triumph in Cancun, having made history earlier in the summer by helping the Ireland win the Girls’ Home internationals for the first time. But for Leona and Olivia it was a year to remember as they also played alongside Skerries’ Maria Dunne in the Great Britain and Ireland side that defeated the United States 11.5 to 8.5 in a thrilling match at Dun Laoghaire in June.

It was only one chapter of an amazing 2016 story for Mehaffey. Not only did she win the Irish Women’s Open Stroke Play Championship by eight shots at The Island, she came within a whisker of retaining the Scottish Ladies Strokeplay, successfully defended the Welsh Ladies Open Strokeplay and then defeated the in-form Louise Coffey to lift the Irish Women’s Close at Lahinch.

All of that was before ending the year as third in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Girls’ golf had its high point when the Irish team of Wilson, Niamh McSherry, Julie McCarthy, Rachel Thompson, Valerie Clancy and Mairead Martin made history at Conwy, Wales by winning the Girls’ Home Internationals for the first time.

It was a special year for McCarthy of The Island in particular as she overcame an early season wrist injury and won the Ulster, Leinster, Irish and Connacht Girls’ Championships and officially signed up to play for Auburn University in Alabama from 2018.

With Laura Webb winning the Senior British Ladies title at Caldy and Mary Sheehy’s 50-foot-putt giving Ireland a 3-2 win over Belgium and the European Senior Ladies’ team title at Sierra Golf Club in Poland, it was a special year for women’s golf.

Gertie McMullen, who was also on the triumphant European Seniors team, did the double of the Irish Senior Women’s Open Stroke Play and Close titles, winning both of them for the second times.

As for the men, the outstanding Jack Hume — now a professional — kicked off a momentous year by winning the South African Open Strokeplay and the European Nations Cup in Sotogrande.

Naas Golf Club then added two new major winners to its growing list of top golfers when Jonathan Yates defeated Castle’s Daniel Holland in the West of Ireland final at County Sligo and Conor O’Rourke clinched a one-stroke win in the St Andrews Links trophy that went a long way towards earning him a first Irish cap later in the year.

Warrenpoint’s Colm Campbell got his second “major” in May when he held off Hume to win the Flogas sponsored Irish Amateur Open by one stroke in a low scoring affair at Royal Dublin.

In June, Carton House’s Paul O’Hanlon, the 2008 Irish Close winner who was reinstated in the amateur ranks after a stint on the mini tours, saw off a late challenge from County Louth’s Gerard Dunne to seal a one-stroke win in the East of Ireland Championship in Baltray.

Kilkenny’s Mark Power may get his chance of a senior cap after he was called into the senior panel for 2017 following a stellar season that brought the 16-year-old schoolboy victory in the Peter McEvoy Trophy at Copt Heath and a six-shot win in the Irish Boys Amateur Open.

He wasn’t the only young player to do well. Co. Sligo’s Sean Flanagan was also capped after he beat Tiarnan McLarnon to claim the North of Ireland at Royal Portrush.

So too was Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell, who beat Hermitage’s Rowan Lester in the South of Ireland final at Lahinch. Castle’s Alex Gleeson came of age when he beat John Ross Galbraith to claim the AIG Irish Close title at Ballyliffin.

That players like O’Rourke or Irish Amateur Open champion Campbell, who was also beaten semi-finalist in the South and West, did not make Ireland’s Eisenhower Trophy team highlights the strength in depth of the Irish senior squad.

Stuart Grehan, who won the Palmer Cup with Europe, was joined in Mexico by Hume and The Island’s Paul McBride, the Wake Forest scholarship star who reached the semi-finals of the British Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl.

They were the top three Irishmen in the world rankings at the time of selection and Ireland duly won a first World Amateur Team Championship medal since breaking with Great Britain in 2002, finishing tied third with Austria to take bronze behind Australia and England at Mayakoba El Camaleon Golf Club.

Tramore’s Robin Dawson won the World Universities title in Switzerland and was a member of the 11-man team with Galbraith, Gleeson, Grehan, McBride, Purcell, McLarnon, O’Rourke, Lester, Flanagan and match winner Campbell that claimed the Raymond Trophy for the third year running in the Men’s Home Internationals.

Other outstanding performances saw Power, Kevin LeBlanc and Thomas Mulligan make the Jacques Leglise team, Galway’s Ronan Mullarney win the Mullingar Electrical Scratch Trophy by five shots, Adrian Morrow claimed European Seniors title for a third time and Cork’s Tom Cleary his first national win in the Irish Seniors Amateur Open Championship at Ardee.

In club golf, Portmarnock’s Geoff Lenehan and Jack Pierse won the club’s first World Club Championship in Thailand while on the domestic scene, the AIG Cups and Shields at Carton House saw Warrenpoint (Barton Shield), Cill Dara (Jimmy Bruen Shield), Castle (Junior Cup), Nenagh (Pierce Purcell Shield) and Co Sligo (Senior Cup) take home silverware.

More in this section

GolfIrelandPlace: DundonaldPlace: MexicoPlace: CancunPlace: Great BritainPlace: United StatesPlace: Dun LaoghairePlace: MehaffeyPlace: IslandPlace: LahinchPlace: Conwy,Place: The IslandPlace: AlabamaPlace: Sierra Golf ClubPlace: PolandPlace: SotograndePlace: West of IrelandPlace: County SligoPlace: Royal DublinPlace: Carton HousePlace: County LouthPlace: BaltrayPerson: Brian KeoghPerson: Slieve RussellPerson: Leona MaguirePerson: Mark H McCormackPerson: Lydia KoPerson: McCormackPerson: LeonaPerson: Olivia MehaffeyPerson: Annabel WilsonPerson: AnnabelPerson: OliviaPerson: Skerries’Person: Maria DunnePerson: Louise CoffeyPerson: WilsonPerson: Niamh McSherryPerson: Julie McCarthyPerson: Rachel ThompsonPerson: Valerie ClancyPerson: Mairead MartinPerson: McCarthyPerson: LAURA WEBBPerson: Mary SheehyPerson: Gertie McMullenPerson: Jack HumePerson: Jonathan YatesPerson: Daniel HollandPerson: Conor O’RourkePerson: Colm CampbellPerson: Paul O’HanlonPerson: Gerard DunnePerson: Mark PowerEvent: World Amateur Team ChampionshipsEvent: Rio OlympicsEvent: OlympicEvent: Olympic GamesEvent: Ricoh Women’s British OpenEvent: Ladies British Amateur ChampionshipEvent: Irish Women’s Open Stroke Play ChampionshipEvent: Scottish Ladies StrokeplayEvent: Welsh Ladies Open StrokeplayEvent: Irish Women’s CloseEvent: UlsterEvent: LeinsterEvent: IrishEvent: Connacht Girls’ ChampionshipsEvent: Irish Senior Women’s Open Stroke PlayEvent: South African Open StrokeplayEvent: European Nations CupEvent: Irish Amateur OpenEvent: East of Ireland ChampionshipOrganisation: IrelandOrganisation: Duke UniversityOrganisation: Royal County Down LadiesOrganisation: LurganOrganisation: Auburn UniversityOrganisation: BelgiumOrganisation: EuropeanOrganisation: Naas Golf ClubOrganisation: Flogas

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