Conor Purcell leads the Irish charge on home turf at Co Sligo as the Flogas Irish Amateur Open gets underway at Rosses Point tomorrow.
It is the first time the home of the West of Ireland Championship has staged the national championship since 1950, when JB Carr was crowned champion, and though this year’s winner of the West Caolan Rafferty is unavailable due to university exams, there is a stellar homegrown cast of contenders teeing it up in a quality international field.
Portmarnock international Conor Purcell leads the way as the tournament’s highest ranked player, the 21-year-old ranked 21st in the World Amateur Golf Ranking as Ireland’s premier amateur championship moves west from last year’s venue Royal County Down, when Tramore’s Robin Dawson was victorious.
Purcell, from Portmarnock, has already shown this year that he has the game for Co. Sligo having finished in a share of second behind Dundalk’s Rafferty at The West of Ireland in April.
Australian Amateur champion Purcell can claim top spot from the absent Rafferty in the GUI’s Bridgestone Order of Merit if he can secure a finish inside the top 13 and the tournament favourite believes the championship is boosted by having 425 Order of Merit ranking points on offer to the winner, the biggest total of the season.
“You need a sponsor like (Bridgestone) to back it,” Purcell said.
It's huge because I think there were a few years there where players put a bigger emphasis on playing abroad and playing big world-ranking events.
Purcell is one of nine Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup squad members at Rosses Point this weekend hoping to impress the selectors ahead of the final team announcement in advance of September’s match with the United States at Royal Liverpool. They include Kilkenny’s Mark Power and Mallow’s James Sugrue, who is keen to make amends for a disappointing West of Ireland finish of 11th on a course he felt now “owes me something”.
Douglas international Peter O'Keeffe will be another home challenger, the Corkman looking to regain the title he won in 2017, but last year’s winner Dawson has since turned professional.
In a field of 154 golfers there are representatives from 11 different countries including Scottish Walker Cup hopeful Euan Walker, who won the African Amateur Stroke Play in February and a returning Englishman in Arron Edwards-Hill, who tied for second with Purcell at the West of Ireland.
And with the shortest journey of all to the first tee are Co. Sligo’s Ruairi O'Connor and Sean Flanagan, eldest son of club captain and Ireland’s 2011 Home Internationals captain Kevin Flanagan.
"This is the biggest tournament that the club has ever hosted," club captain Flanagan said. "The course is fit for this type of championship.
"It is a very fair course. There are no blind shots. The greens are not particularly sloped and the rough is not particularly tough at the moment. I think approach shots will be the most important factor for the players."