Christmas had to come a little early for Gary Hurley this week as the National University of Ireland, Maynooth golfer got his yuletide celebrations done in good time for a dash across the Atlantic and a prestigious date with some of the amateur game’s leading lights.
The Paddy Harrington scholar will have to be up bright and early on St Stephen’s Day morning to drive from his Dungarvan, Waterford home to Dublin Airport for a morning departure for Phoenix, Arizona, where he will take his place in an 84-man field for the Patriot All America Tournament, starting Saturday.
The event is a 54-hole strokeplay invitational at Phoenix’s Wigwam resort and Hurley, 20, booked his entry as a result of his selection for the European Palmer Cup Team, when he made history as the first Irish-based collegiate player to represent his continent against the United States.
Not only was that seen as a feather in the cap for Hurley, who is in his second year of a business and management degree, but also for the Paddy Harrington scholarship programme at NUIM, which continues to go from strength to strength as a viable alternative for young Irish amateurs who may otherwise take up similar places at American universities.
While the USA golfers proved victorious in June at Wilmington Golf Club in Philadelphia, Hurley will be one of the European team members returning Stateside this week having parlayed their participation in the Ryder Cup-style event into a spot in one of US collegiate golf’s premier tournaments.
It caps a wonderful year for the West Waterford golfer who earned his Palmer Cup spot having won the coveted R&A Scholars’ Bursars’ Tournament in Scotland last April on the Old Course at St Andrews. While Irish golfers have represented Europe in the past in the matchplay event, Hurley was the first to do so while based at home and selection earned him his trip to Arizona later this week for a tournament which carries an A rating from the World Amateur Golf Rankings, putting it on a par with the US, British & Asian Amateur golf championships.
“I’m very happy to be going,” Hurley told the Irish Examiner. “We were told at the Palmer Cup that we would get invited back to a tournament in December but I didn’t think about it too much at the time. So when they emailed me afterwards and said I was in I was delighted.
“I like playing over there and playing against different players. The scoring can be very good because they’re so used to playing in good weather and it will make a nice change from playing in the rain, wind and cold on tough golf courses. I’m looking forward to it but it’s close enough to Christmas, although I’m not complaining.
“I’ll have to try and get to bed early on Christmas night, so I’ll have to be on my best behaviour, celebrate Christmas properly a little earlier.”
Hurley’s endeavours, both academic and sporting at NUIM leave the student in a good place, not just heading to American this week but also looking further ahead, buoyed by his Palmer Cup appearance and the realisation he can mix it with the best amateurs in the world..
“I had a good year this year. Making the Palmer Cup was very big for me. I missed a few tournaments at home because of it, but I wouldn’t take it away because it was probably the best tournament I’ve ever played.
“At the Palmer Cup, the standard was amazing. On the American team, I’d say at least five of their 10 players were in the top 10 in the world, so it was nice to see what the standard is out there.
“When good players are around you it makes you play better, at least it did for me when I was over there, because I felt I played very well. I wasn’t used to the greens, they were very fast compared to what we get over here but as the week went on I got better and started holing a few putts.
“It took a bit of time to adjust but I know that now, going over again this weekend, so hopefully that will stand to me and I can understand it more in terms of putting.”
It is not just participating in this week’s tournament but the dividend from it which he hopes to reap heading into 2014 that is the incentive for Hurley.
“Getting the chance to play in December in a high-quality tournament like this can hopefully give me a kick-start in January and February when all the tournaments start up.”
And while the transatlantic trip may be taking place in something of a whirlwind for Hurley, the Dungarvan student is level-headed enough to take a calm and relaxed approach towards his progress under NUIM head coach Neil Manchip as he edges closer to a goal of turning professional.
“I’ve been steadily improving over the last two years so if I can keep doing that I’ll be pretty happy,” Hurley said.
“We’ve sat down and looked at the parts of my game that I can improve and decided what we can work on but it’s just about tidying up a few areas, there are no major changes. It’s all about tweaking now rather than making a big, massive change.
“This is my second year at NUIM so there’s plenty of time and when you look at Miguel Angel Jimenez winning at nearly 50, I’ve got another 30-odd years at it.
“When I turn pro I’d like to know I’m ready. I know right now that I’m not ready to turn pro so it’s not really tempting me at the moment. There’s plenty of time.”
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