Moyola Park’s Chris Selfridge took the title but not before West Waterford’s Gary Hurley hit one of the most dramatic birdies ever seen at Royal Portrush to set up a nerve-jangling finale to the Golfsure sponsored Irish Amateur Close at a sun-kissed Dunluce Links.
Seven strokes behind the eventual winner with a round to go, Hurley got to within two shots of the leader with two holes to play when he produced one of the shots of the championship.
Two under for his round, the NUI Maynooth Paddy Harrington Scholarship player, hit a snap hook into bushes left of the par-five 17th.
He then hacked his second shot across the fairway to the downslope of the famous Big Bertha bunker more than 300 yards from the pin but hit what he described as “the best three-wood of my life” to 15 feet and sank the birdie putt.
That briefly left Hurley tied for second with playing partner Reeve Whitson on four under par, just one behind Selfridge who had nervously frittered away a six shot lead early in the round.
Selfridge, a 20-year old University of Toledo scholarship student from Derry, then failed to two putt the 17th for birdie, three-putting from 25 feet to send the championship to the last with everything on the line.
Needing a par to win, the 2007 Ulster Youths champion hit a good drive and then looked on as both Whitson and Hurley bogeyed the 484-yard 18th.
Hurley had hit the green in two but run to the back edge, from where he hit a poor 40 foot putt and missed an eight footer for a par that could have forced a play-off.
As Whitson signed for a 73 and Hurley a 70 to tie on three under 285, Selfridge had the luxury of a bogey to win but made par anyway, chipping dead from short right of the green.
“I’m delighted,” said Selfridge, who shot a 75 to finish on five under 283.
“The longest I slept Saturday night was an hour, I was tossing and turning so much.
“Two years ago I didn’t have a coach. I was a weak scratch handicapper, barely in the Irish Boys team and I went to Johnny Foster at Greenacres Golf Centre in Ballyclare and he just completely changed me.”
Former South of Ireland champion Foster walked every step of the way in the final round and Selfridge, who looks a certainty to make his Senior debut in August’s Home International Matches in Glasgow Gailes, was grateful.
“It’s all thanks go to him,” he said.
“He rebuilt everything. I couldn’t hit the ball at the start, but I am hitting it good now.”
Muskerry’s Niall Gorey, who was just four behind Selfridge overnight after a pair of 71’s, slipped to a third round 78 and then closed with a 76 to finish 13 shots behind the winner on eight over.
Ardee’s Eugene Smith (20) claimed an impressive fourth place on level par 288 but pre-tournament favourite Alan Dunbar, battling flu all week, withdrew after a third round 80 ended his hopes.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved