Jake Whelan took a giant step towards winning that elusive Irish cap when he birdied the last two holes to snatch a one-shot win over County Sligo’s TJ Ford in the Mullingar Scratch Trophy on Monday.
Thirty years after Paul McGinley etched his name on the famous silver cup, the Grange man (26) followed in the Dubliner’s famous footsteps when he closed with a four-under 68 to win his first big title on 15-under par.
"I am delighted to get over the line,” said Whelan, a long-time member of Newlands who only joined Grange this year. “It’s been a long wait. TJ played great golf coming in and it wasn’t looking great down the last few holes but I rode my luck, putted great and made some birdies at the right time.”
The final day of the 59th staging of the classic 72-hole event, sponsored this year by Sherry Fitzgerald Davitt & Davitt and Pinergy, was a brilliant advertisement for amateur golf.
Three strokes behind South of Ireland champion Ford after 36 holes, the eventual champion birdied three of his last five holes in the morning to lead by one from the Rosses Point man and by two from Enniscorthy’s Paul Conroy on 11-under after a super 68.
He birdied the third and sixth to remain in front, but then made “sloppy” bogeys at the seventh and eighth to leave the leading trio tied on 11-under with nine to play.
Two holes later he was three clear as he rolled in an 18 footer at the 10th, then made an outrageous birdie at the 11th, flighting a 190-yard five-iron under a branch from the left rough into the heart of the green before rolling in a 40 footer.
Ford made bogey and Conroy three-putted for a double-bogey there en route to a 71 that left him third alongside Galway’s Liam Nolan on 10-under.
The in-form Ford then stormed in front, rapping in four birdies in a row from the 13th to lead by a shot with two holes to go.
But Whelan, who had endured recent semi-final defeats in the Irish Close (2016), the West (2017), and the South (2019), rolled in a 20 footer at the 17th as Ford failed to get up and down for par and went to the last one ahead.
He then split the 18th fairway and after seeing Ford’s second from a fairway bunker rebound to safety from the water hazard, he badly hooked a 190-yard five-iron onto the back of the third green but played a sensational recovery to six feet and rolled in the birdie putt for victory.