Seven of Ireland’s best face Open qualifier at Sunningdale

SEVEN Irish players have entered for the British Open Championship final qualifier to be held over the Old and New courses at Sunningdale Golf Club on Monday next.

They are led by regular European Tour players Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Peter Lawrie, Rory McIlroy and Gary Murphy, all of whom compete in the French Open which ends on Sunday night.

They can avoid the daunting 36 hole test at Sunningdale by finishing in the leading positions in Paris and so claim the two spots on offer for Royal Birkdale from a “mini order of merit” which closes on Sunday night. Two other Irish golfers, Michael Hoey and Colm Moriarty from the European Challenge Tour, are also in the Sunningdale field.

So far, defending champion Padraig Harrington along with Graeme McDowell and Damien McGrane are the only Irish players to have qualified for Birkdale. Even should the others fail both in Paris and Sunningdale, a place will also go to the highest placed finisher in the Scottish Open who isn’t already exempt.

The leading twelve from a strong field of 120 that also contains players of the calibre of two time US Masters champion Jose-Maria Olazabal, Charl Schwartzel, Jeev Milkha Singh, Johan Edfors, Mikko Ilonen, Raphael Jacquelin, Thomas Levet, Scott Strange, Thomas Bjorn and a whole host of other prominent names have entered for Sunningdale. On top of all that, regional qualifiers will be held throughout the UK on Wednesday next, July 2nd, from which a small but yet to be stipulated number will go through to final local qualifiers to be held at Hillside, Southport & Ainsdale and West Lancashire. Royal Dublin is the Irish venue with 72 golfers, the large percentage from this country, hoping to keep their chances alive of making their appearance at Birkdale. It’s a tough ask but one achieved last year by Birr’s Justin Kehoe and a few years back by Danny Sugrue of Killarney.

Sugrue and his brother John are among the contenders at Royal Dublin on Wednesday next when they will be joined by a number of familiar names including Mark Campbell, Padraig Dooley, Graham Spring, Raymond Burns, Richard Kilpatrick, Noel Fox, Peter O’Keeffe and Mark Murphy.

Meanwhile, two Irish teams have been announced for forthcoming events. This year’s European Senior team championship takes place at Shannon Golf Club from August 13th-16th and Ireland has picked a powerful team that looks well capable of retaining the title.

Adrian Morrow, who captured the Irish Seniors at Westport in May and the European Seniors Individual Championship at the Old Course in Vilamoura, Portugal last week, returns to the international fold following his last appearance for Ireland at the Home Internationals in 2000. Morrow has played for Ireland on 39 occasions with his first appearance coming in 1975.

He is joined on the team by Arthur Pierse, winner of the British Seniors Amateur Championship at Nairn last year. The former Walker Cup player finished second to Morrow at the European Seniors Individual Championship in Portugal. Maurice Kelly and Liam McNamara finished third and fourth at Vilamoura to round off a fantastic week for Irish Seniors golf.

Mourne’s Hugh Smyth played a vital role in Ireland’s win last year. One hole down on the 18th tee, Smyth levelled his match and went on to win on the third extra hole to give Ireland the title. John Carroll (Bandon), captain of the successful Munster interprovincial team last year, makes his Seniors international debut at Shannon. The European Seniors Amateur Team Championship began in 2006 when Ireland finished runners-up before winning the title in 2007 at Bled Golf Club, Slovenia.

Meanwhile, the Golfing Union of Ireland has selected its squad for the McGregor Trophy (English Boys’ Under 16 Amateur Open Championship) due to take place in Wiltshire from 1st-3rd July. The event is played over 72 holes stroke play.

European Senior team championship, Shannon GC: J Carroll (Bandon), M Kelly (Killeen), A Morrow (Portmarnock), L McNamara (Woodbrook), A Pierse (Tipperary), H Smyth (Mourne). Non-playing team captain: T Basquille.

McGregor Trophy selection, High Post Golf Club, Wiltshire: S Barry (Navan), G Collins (Rosslare), G Donohoe (Enniscorthy), D McElroy (Ballymena), M McKnight (Lisburn), D Murphy (Portarlington).


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