Rafferty finally claims South prize

Caolan Rafferty pushed aside disappointment and made a little piece of history with a 20th-green victory over Rowan Lester, in yesterday’s final of the 117th South of Ireland Championship, in Lahinch.

Rafferty finally claims South prize

By Charlie Mulqueen

Caolan Rafferty pushed aside disappointment and made a little piece of history with a 20th-green victory over Rowan Lester, in yesterday’s final of the 117th South of Ireland Championship, in Lahinch.

A 25-year-old student of business and management at NUIG Maynooth, Rafferty became the first Dundalk member to capture a senior championship trophy and put himself in contention for a place in the three-man Ireland team for the Eisenhower Trophy, to contest the World Amateur Championship, at Carton House, next month.

There was sympathy for the 22-year-old Lester, who lost a second ‘South’ final in three years.

Rafferty got off to a slow start, losing the long second to a birdie-four and the short fifth to a par, but he insisted this was not caused by nerves, but rather picking the wrong lines on the impeccable greens, having been hugely impressive in this regard in his semi-final defeat of Mark Power.

The next par-three, the eighth, was playing straight into the fresh wind and Rafferty narrowed the gap, thanks to a superb tee shot, and was back on terms with a birdie-four at the 12th.

Rafferty went ahead for the first time with a soft win in par at the 13th, but Lester was back on terms with a par at the 15th, where the Dundalk player overshot the green with his second.

He then hit what he described as “my worst drive of the match”, into a bunker, to drop one behind at the 17th, before both played the 18th contrastingly, but brilliantly.

Lester hit the green with a drive and three iron to within 20 feet, at the 534-yards par-five, whereas the Hermitage man needed to produce a magical-wedge approach for his third, which spun back to three feet.

But he missed the birdie for a half, a lapse that was to prove fatal, as Rafferty claimed hole and match with an 18-footer for birdie, at the second tie hole, even though he drove into a bunker off the tee.

“I’ve been knocking down and kicking in that championship-winning door for longer than I care to remember,” said Rafferty, whose caddy, Eoin Murphy, also of Dundalk GC, has just been picked on the Irish Boys team.

“I showed how much I wanted it over those last few holes, even if I was genuinely sorry for Rowan that he missed that putt on the 18th, after such a wonderful approach.

“But it gave me another chance and I was determined to take it. My four-iron from 209 yards, at the 20th, was a crucial shot, after catching the bunker off the tee.

"I can’t tell you how much this means, especially with my dad, Ciaran, among the gallery, along with a good few more Dundalk members, as well.”

The morning semi-finals, which promised two fine matches between four highly talented golfers, were damp squibs.

Lester took an early lead against Jack McDonnell, from Forrest Little, and got home at the 16th, while Rafferty proved the steadier of the two in his clash with Mark Power, who made a few errors that cost him dearly and he succumbed at the 14th.

The challenge from the home province fell away on Saturday, with defeats for the defending champion, James Sugrue (Mallow), who lost 4 and 3 to McDonnell, for the Cork GC pair, John Hickey and Garry O’Flaherty, and for Peter O’Keeffe, of Douglas.

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