And so it was for Tramore’s Robin Dawson, who ended his five-year wait for a major championship victory when surviving some back nine drama to win the Flogas Irish Amateur Open by four strokes from England’s John Gough and Castle’s Alex Gleeson at Royal County Down on two-under par.
The Old Lady of Newcastle bore her consider teeth on the final day, when a cold southerly wind, gusting close to 30mph at times, turned 22-year-old Dawson’s seemingly triumphal procession into battle for survival.
Six ahead of England’s Alex Fitzpatrick overnight, the big Waterford man lost a ball off the tee at the ninth but still extended his lead to seven shots over Gleeson and Gough heading down the back nine.
While Gleeson got to within six shots of him with a birdie at the 12th, Dawson looked to be cruising to a comfortable wire-to-wire victory when he birdied the 13th from 15 feet to go seven ahead again.
But Royal County Down is Royal County Down, and within 30 minutes, Dawson’s lead was down to three, leading to a fraught final hour and, eventually, a happy ending with the title heading for Tramore and Mallow’s James Sugrue an excellent tied seventh on nine-over after a closing 74.
After a bogey at the par-three 14th, Dawson blocked his approach to the 468-yard 15th into deep gorse, lost the ball and did well to convert a clutch nine-footer for a triple bogey seven after his fourth shot (his original provisional ball) had found a deep fairway bunker, forcing him to lay up in five.
After a fine par at the 16th, a nervy bogey at the 17th could have proved crucial but Gleeson did him a favour by three-putting from 40 feet a double bogey six, allowing the eventual champion to go the last with a four-shot lead on two-under. While Gough (with his Navan-born father on the bag), posted a 70 that included an eagle two at the fifth to set the clubhouse target at two-over 286, Dawson rolled in a six-footer for an adventurous closing par five for a six-over 77 and victory on two-under 282.
“I’m speechless, really,” said Dawson after his wire-to-wire win — his first major victory since claiming the Irish Boys Amateur Open in Lisburn five years ago.
“There have been a few sleepless nights the last couple of nights, and I am just relieved. That’s the word.
“I have just been knocking on the door for so long. I have so many top 10s in these championships, especially in match play. I have gotten to quarter-finals and semi-finals and been beaten on the last.
“It was nice to do it over four rounds, especially at a venue like Royal County Down.”
Dawson is now likely to move into world’s top 50, putting him in line for a place in the US Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach later this summer.
But whatever about the rewards that come with his first big win, he was simply delighted to match his friends and tuck a major victory under his belt.
“There were a lot of players with championships and I wasn’t one of them, which really bothered me,” he said.
“I feel very relieved knowing that all the stuff I have been working on has been the right stuff. This will give me a lot of belief.”
As for his back nine battle with Royal County Down and the nerves he felt on the eve of the final round and coming down the stretch, Dawson said: “I was basically comfortable until I got out ahead of it on 15 and hit a wayward shot to the right. But the last four holes, even if you have a ten-shot lead you are still not over the line. It is just such a brutal finish into that strong left-to-right wind.”
His putt for a triple bogey on the 15th was key but he was also pleased with his bogey after a wayward tee shot at the 17th and felt that once he got his drive away at the last, he was home and dry.
“I am good at gathering myself and getting going again,” Dawson said. “From there on, it was ‘keep it in play’.
“That seven I took at the 15th really brought me back down to earth.”
With that, he headed off to collect the trophy.
“It’s well overdue lads,” he said with a grin.