The Douglas golfer, then 24, felt he had been unjustly treated by the selectors and decided to try his luck in the paid ranks. And this week at Lahinch, after a decade of wildly fluctuating fortunes, he intends to make his selection for next month’s internationals at Moortown, Yorkshire a mere formality.
As the highly impressive winner of the Irish Amateur Open Championship over the majestic and challenging Royal Co Down links in May, it would be reasonable to assume O’Keeffe’s inclusion is just that.
But he hopes to remove whatever remaining doubt there may be by making a considerable impression in the Pierse Motors South of Ireland Championship beginning tomorrow morning on the great West Clare links.
O’Keeffe was regarded as a tremendous talent from his earliest days at Douglas Golf Club. He made the Irish Youths team and was a regular for Munster while also revelling in life as a golf scholarship student at South-East Louisiana University.
However, missing out on an Irish team place hurt badly and led to him trying his luck at the European Tour School. He came through the first two stages at the 2007 school but narrowly missed out on the main circuit.
“It was a way of testing myself and I left happy with a Challenge Tour card in my pocket,” he recalls. “I returned to the school for each of the next six years and there were many good times and I enjoyed life on tour. I have always liked playing golfer under pressure while deciding that I would give it a go up to the age of 31 to see how things went.”
He was as good as his word. On reaching that milestone and accepting his game didn’t measure up to the standard, he returned to Cork and while waiting for two years to regain his amateur status, linked up with the Dennehys Health & Fitness and set up the O’Keeffe Golf Performance Centre, working with teams and panels concentrating on a swing studio and golf fitness based in Blackpool, with gyms in Ballincollig and Douglas.
“I was back in the Munster team for the 2016 Interpros but just as in my professional years, I was not happy with my swing, it just wasn’t good enough,” he said. “So I began to work with Noel Fox at the GUI National Academy while taking on board the help of Munster coach Fred Twomey, David Ruddy up in Tipperary, sports psychiatrist Canice Kennedy, and physio Darren Prince. I was building a formidable team and felt the results during the winter as my game got better and better.
“So I went into this season with lots of confidence. I finished runner-up in the Munster Stroke Play Championship at Little Island and the following week set off for Royal Co Down for the Irish Amateur Open. I called into Noel on the way and felt really comfortable going into the championship. My belief is that if my game is technically sound, I can compete with anyone and that’s the way it had to be that week with almost all the top amateurs in Britain and Ireland and other parts of the world making up probably the strongest amateur field of the year.”
Having positioned himself nicely with a couple of 70s over the first two days, O’Keefe’s hopes for a strong wind over the weekend were realised and he cruised home with a two under par aggregate of 286 by three shots from a group of Scots, English, Danes and Germans with the next best Irishman, Alex Gleeson, six shots back. It was little wonder that he believed he had more than booked that long awaited green jersey.
“I haven’t been told anything, only that I should keep playing and maintain my form,” he says.
“Hopefully that’s what will happen this week at Lahinch which is a great links that I love even if I have yet to do well in the South. It’s a title that I would love to win.”