Experience proved crucial in the end as Paul O’Hanlon dug deep to hold off a back nine charge from local hero Gerard Dunne and claim the CityNorth Hotel East of Ireland Amateur Open by a stroke at a sun-kissed Baltray.
In what was a thrilling finish to an event marked by the absence the top dozen players in the country due to a clash with the St Andrews Links Trophy, it was ironic that the title went to the 31-year old from Carton House in his first start since regaining his amateur status 18 months ago.
No run of the mill amateur before he disappeared into mini tour oblivion from 2009 to 2012 — O’Hanlon lost to Rory McIlroy in the final of the ‘West’ in 2006 but bounced back to win the 2007 Mullingar Scratch Trophy and the Irish Close in 2008 — he extended his four shot overnight lead to five with a morning 69, then had enough with a 73 after lunch to win by one stroke on from a charging Dunne on 11 under par 277.
Level for the afternoon and four ahead with four holes to go, things got interesting when he bogeyed the 16th as Dunne drained a 35 footer for birdie to slash his lead in half.
It was then that his experience kicked in and after making a safe par at the 17th to go to the par-five 18th two in front, he played well wide of the bunkers on the left.
While Dunne eventually made a heroic birdie four for a 69 that got him to 10 under, O’Hanlon putted up to six feet from 10 yards short of the green and two putted from there for what he said was the sweetest of all his amateur wins.
“This is better,” O’Hanlon said. “I am working full time now and it kind of feels like one against the head. It’s come out of nowhere. It’s bizarre.
“I think when you’re playing for your livelihood, it’s somewhat easier because you’ve banked a lot of situations and you’re sort of saying to yourself, I’ve faced this before and I’ve come through it.”
On his choice of putter from well short of the 18th, he added: “When you have played for a few quid, you know you have to get the flat stick out and nudge it up to six feet as opposed to trying to play something real fancy.”
Formerly of the Curragh, O’Hanlon had extended his lead to five shots at lunch, carding a controlled 69 to lead on 12 under par from Shandon Park’s Stuart Bleakley, who would eventually card rounds of 67 and 70 to finish two shots behind in third alongside Balbriggan’s Robbie Cannon, who eagled the 18th to set the target at nine under.
While O’Hanlon began with a double bogey six and saw his five-shot lead shrink to one as Bleakley birdied the second and third, he made a crucial par save at the second and then birdied the fourth from 18 feet and the sixth from two to regain his cushion.
While he made a 20 footer from the swale at the back of the ninth to go four ahead with nine to go, O’Hanlon sandwiched a birdie at the 13th between bogeys at the 12th and 14th but still led by four with four holes to go.
“If you don’t do anything too destructive, he has to come at you,” he said when looking at Dunne, who had made five birdies and a bogey in eight holes to get to nine under.
O’Halon then bogeyed the 16th and with Barry Reddan on his back, Dunne birdied from 35 feet to halve the gap.
It proved too little, too late and O’Hanlon, the amateur with the head of a pro, cruised up the last to seal a famous victory that might open the door to a return to the Irish team, though he only plans to play the South and the Mullingar Scratch Cup as work takes priority.
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