Irish amateur golf is riding the crest of a wave after a record five Irishmen played on the winning Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup side just a few weeks ago.
And yet as many of our young stars prepare to tee it up with the cream of the Challenge Tour in next week’s Volopa Irish Challenge hosted by Mount Wolseley Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort, tournament ambassador Christy O’Connor Jnr is both anxious and proud.
He’s proud that there is a new generation of stars waiting in the wings, but he’s also concerned at the vast numbers turning pro and worried they are not concentrating enough on the basic skills, shot-shaping and the short game, that separate the mere big hitters from those who will make it.
The 67-year-old former Ryder Cup player designed the stunning course at the Co Carlow venue but while he has immense pride in the achievements of all our young amateurs and rookie pros, he also sees many others who have taken the plunge and badly need direction and advice.
“If you are going out in tour events and shooting high numbers, either you are in the wrong game or you are not working,” O’Connor said of the new scene that sees thousands of hopefuls play mini tours just to prepare for Q-School or the chance to win one of five places on the Challenge Tour via their money list.
“We love to see the Irish kids coming through because it makes us so proud. But they have a lot to learn about tournament play.
“It’s impossible for all of them to make it and when I see some of the lads nowadays, and you don’t want to say anything because you can always be wrong, you say to yourself, ‘Oh my God! They haven’t got a chance.’
“They all hit it 340 but that is the end of it. Nobody seems to practise the little seven-iron to the green, drawing it and fading it. There’s too much bashing going on.
“As I told Shane Lowry, and he thanked me afterwards, pitch and putt until you are black in the face so that if you do miss a green, it is an automatic up and down.
“They all seem to want to crunch it but believe me, that is only one tenth of the game. The little hold up shots, the cut up shots, those are your bread and butter. That and the short game.
“There are only four par-fives on a golf course and, in fact, there are only two these days with the courses being stretched and par fives being made into par fours.
“Bubba Watson hits the ball a mile with his feet off the ground at impact, but he’s got an unbelievable short game.
“Then there’s the workrate these guys have, Rory, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day. They just never stop and that’s with fitness as well as practice.
“If any of the boys comes up to me, I’d be delighted to help any of them. “Look at the ladies on tour. From 120 yards they are trying to hole it, it’s just amazing and that’s the level you have to aspire to.
“The kids today are so good around their own course, shooting 67s and 68s and whatever. But put them out among 100 like themselves on a different golf course, and that’s the test.” O’Connor Jnr learned from some of the best of all time.
“Neil Coles was brilliant at managing his way around a course”, and he’s ready and willing to help the next generation.
“We have so much talent, it’s wonderful to see,” he said. “And of course many of them are really well coached and advised but if any one of them feels they need a little help, I’m there for them.
“The Challenge Tour is now fantastic and this is a great opportunity for Ireland and the Challenge Tour to do some really special at a really great venue like Mount Wolseley.
"It’s fantastic to be involved with it and to be ambassador for the tournament. I just want to help in any way I can.”
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