If perseverance and commitment count for anything, then Pat Murray will win the West Coast Hotels-sponsored South of Ireland at Lahinch today.
The 41-year-old Tipperary born, Limerick Golf Club secretary/manager yesterday qualified for his eighth semi-final in the championship but, incredibly, has yet to reach the final.
The nearest he came was 1996 when he lost at the 21st to Kenneth Kearney, while the previous year he went down to eventual winner Jody Fanagan at the 19th.
Standing in his way this morning is 20-year-old Munster youth champion Eugene Smith, from Ardee who came through a remarkable quarter-final marathon against 2006 champion Simon Ward at the 25th.
Murray is keener than ever to lay his hands on a trophy that would mean everything — even surpassing the Irish Close Championship he won at Enniscrone in 2009.
“Yeah, this would probably be the pinnacle of my career,” he stated after coming through yesterday’s matches against Shane Hogan of Nenagh and Stephen Loftus of Lahinch.
“This is the championship I have always coveted more than any other.”
Murray looked in cruise control in his match against Hogan as he stood 3 up through 12 holes but eventually needed to go to the first tie hole before shaking off a stubborn opponent. He also got off to a good start against Loftus but this time didn’t relent his grip before clinching yet another place in the last four on the 15th green.
Murray’s cause is helped to some degree in that his opponent this morning, Eugene Smith, needed 44 holes to come through his two matches yesterday. He pipped Mullingar’s Des Morgan at the 19th in the morning and after losing the first three holes against Simon Ward, eventually got through with a birdie at the 7th tie hole where he hit a rescue club off the tee, followed with a gap wedge to six feet and sank the putt.
“Munster is a good place for me,” Murray smiled. “I won the Munster Youths at Muskerry earlier in the year and did well enough overall to get in the Leinster team last week after coming fourth in the Irish Close.”
The second semi-final involves Colin Fairweather, a surname that seemed decidedly incongruous given yesterday’s atrocious conditions, and Stephen Healy of Claremorris.
Fairweather, a son of Gordon, the club professional at Knock, has happy memories of a previous visit to the southern end of the country. As a 12-year-old, he won the Munster under-15 championship at Charleville, beating Rory McIlroy, two years his elder, in a play-off.
Now 21, his career hasn’t quite taken off in the meantime and he has yet to represent Ulster at senior level. However, the impressive manner in which he has reached his first championship semi-final, disposing of the holder Stephen Walsh in yesterday’s fifth round, is very impressive.
Stephen Healy, also 21, has clearly benefited from his years at Jacksonville College in Florida from where he graduated with a business degree. He reached the final of the West of Ireland at Rosses Point at Easter before losing to Harry Diamond while victory in the Dundalk Scratch Cup also helped him to claim a place in the Connacht team at Royal Co Down last week.
He beat two Ulster men yesterday, Cormac Sharvin of Ardglass in the fifth round and Ally Purdy (Ballyclare) with a birdie at the 19th.
Fifth round: S Ward (Co Louth) bt N Gorey (Muskerry) 19th; E Smith (Ardee) bt D Morgan (Mullingar) 19th; S Loftus (Lahinch) bt S Bryan (Delgany) 5 and 3; P Murray (Limerick) bt S Hogan (Nenagh) 19th; S Ryan (Royal Dublin) bt S McGlynn (Carton House) 1 hole; C Fairweather (Knock) bt S Walsh (Portmarnock) 5 and 4; S Healy (Claremorris) bt C Sharvin (Ardglass) 19th; A Purdy (Ballyclare) bt P Cullen (Royal Tara) 4 and 3.
Quarter-finals: Smith bt Ward 25th; Murray bt Loftus 5 and 3; Fairweather bt Ryan 3 and 2; Healy bt Purdy 19th.
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