Royal County Down has a habit of punishing aggression but big hitting Douglas man Peter O’Keeffe kept his love of attack in check to open with a fine 70 in the Flogas Irish Amateur Open in idyllic conditions at the firm and fast Newcastle links.
The 35-year-old former professional has been enjoying his golf since his return to the amateur fold last year, and he used all his experience to plot his way to a one-under-par opening round and share eighth place behind England’s Nicholas Poppleton in Ireland’s blue riband event.
“Patience,” O’Keeffe said after a day of brilliant sunshine and a zephyr breeze. “It’s something you learn as you get older. I only used the driver twice and hit a lot of two and three irons because there is nothing to be gained. It is too fiery.
“It was all about good pace putting and hitting it in the right spots. But even with no wind it is still difficult.”
Rotherham native Poppleton, 23, made six birdies in a four-under par 67 to lead by a stroke from 21-year-old compatriot Matthew Jordan from Royal Liverpool and 19-year-old South African talent Kyle McClatchie.
McClatchie might have been forgiven for thinking he was at his home club, Serengeti, as he made plotted his way to a three-under 68.
And the entire field, many of them still reeling from a punishing week at the Lytham Trophy, appeared to be delighted with a fair course set up with the GUI reducing the course by 157 yards to a shade over 7,000 yards.
“It’s the first tournament I have been to in amateur golf where the set it up as fair as they can,” said Poppleton, who birdied the fourth, ninth, 12th and 13th and made up for bogeys at the par-three seventh and 14th holes with two-putt birdies from just off the green at the 16th and 18th.
“We played Lytham last week, and every tee box was on the back and it was just brutal. People don’t want to watch that. They want to watch somebody play some good golf. It’s a shame, but at most amateur golf tournaments, people think it’s a slog. They are scared of someone beating their golf course.”
Forrest Little’s Jack McDonnell played the course blind having failed to get a practice round due to his Maynooth University studies.
But he made four birdies in a two-under 69 to lead the home challenge in a share of fourth place with English trio Tom Sloman, Sean Towndrow and Gian Marco Petrozzi.
O’Keeffe shares eighth place with Portmarnock’s James Fox and Galway’s Joe Lyons but it was a mixed day for Ireland’s four Walker Cup panellists.
Tramore’s Robin Dawson finished with two birdies for a 71 but while Alex Gleeson and Conor O’Rourke battled for 72s, defending champion Colm Campbell has a fight on his hands to make the 54-hole cut after a disappointing 79.
American Stewart Hagestad, the leading amateur at last month’s Masters, started eagle-birdie but ran up a quadruple bogey eight at the ninth after greenside woes en route to a two-over 73.
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