Jason Sugrue (Mallow), Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk), Mark Power (Kilkenny), and Conor Purcell (Portmarnock), all of whom began the week at Hoylake, Royal Liverpool, preparing for the Walker Cup match against the United States in September, were all eliminated from the Pierse Motors sponsored South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch yesterday.
Ironically, John Murphy (Kinsale), who was omitted from the Walker Cup squad for the Hoylake training session, still stands his ground with all four of his erstwhile colleagues already on the sidelines.
Jake Whelan is a 24-year-old from Newlands who has been frustrated by missing the cut in every championship between the North of Ireland in 2018 and the most recent “North” a few weeks ago. So he had special reason to celebrate yesterday when capitalising on coming through the strokeplay rounds by pulling off the shock of the championship by beating British Amateur champion and 2017 “South” winner James Sugrue on the 18th.
“I was never down after holing a big putt on the 1st and it certainly is a great feeling to beat the amateur champion,” Whelan rejoiced. “These are the kinds of matches you want to play. There is little or no pressure on you and that’s how it was for me today, to just play my own game and see where that got me.”
Sugrue made no attempt to conceal his sense of disappointment at being unable to chase a second “South” title in three years. But he didn’t make any excuses, complimenting Whelan on how well he had played.
“Jake is a fine, steady player and my putting just wasn’t sharp enough today,” admitted Sugrue. “I’m a bit wrecked after all the golf of the last few weeks and won’t be playing the Close at Ballybunion next week. My next event is the US Amateur Championship at Pinehurst in a couple of weeks time.”
Personal fitness trainer Keith Egan of Carton House got in on the giantkilling act with an impressive win at the 19th against Mark Power. It was a very close affair all the way, the decisive moment coming at the 19th where the Kilkenny player pulled his approach shot well left of the green and left himself too much to do to match Egan’s well played par four.
Jason Rackard’s 20th green victory over defending champion Caolan Rafferty may well prove a lucky omen for Wexford hurlers in their All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary tomorrow. He is a grand nephew of the famous Rackard brothers who helped the county to a string of All-Ireland successes in the 1950s and yesterday he displayed much of the grit and fighting disposition of the famous hurling clan in winning a tremendous battle at the 20th against defending champion Caolan Rafferty.
Sean Desmond (Monkstown), winner of the Munster Students championship last month, was next man to bring down one of the five elite exempted from the qualifying rounds and straight into match play, when he also displayed commendable battling qualities in beating Conor Purcell, the 2016 champion, at the first tie hole.
Recent North of Ireland finalist Peter O’Keeffe (Douglas) was a relieved man to make his way through to the third round, accepting that he faced “a couple of banana skins” in Portmarnock’s James Fox and Paul Buckley, well-known in his earlier days for his exploits as a member of Kanturk. However, he has spent the last 11 years in Australia and the US and indeed was entered this week from the Memorial Club in Houston. He plans to return home to Ireland permanently with his golf in excellent shape although, like Fox, he fell by 3 and 2 to the in-form O’Keeffe.
Things are unlikely to get any easier for the towering Douglas player this morning as he comes up against Hugh Foley, the leading qualifier by seven shots. He came through with relative ease yesterday against Adam Doran and Peter McKeever.