Jonathan Yates believes he’s close to his dream of an Irish cap after combining raw power and finesse to capture the Radisson Blu-sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open at County Sligo.
The strapping UCD student, 22, put one arm in an Irish blazer and took a giant step towards the title with a heart-stopping one up win over holder and favourite Dermot McElroy in the morning.
But he then had to combine his ball-striking superiority with some clutch putting down the stretch to defeat the determined Castle talent Daniel Holland 2 and 1 in the final.
Holland, 26, had shocked an out-of-sorts Colm Campbell 5 and 4 in his semi-final match but he was out gunned for much of the day from tee to green and had it not been for his courageous short game, he might have fallen earlier to a player who appears destined to win an Irish cap this year.
With Jack Hume winning the title two years ago and Conor O’Rourke improving, Naas golf is flying with the help of club professional Gavin Lunny.
“Since Jack won here, things have really switched on in the club,” Yates explained. “Myself and Conor work closely under Gavin, who has given us the knowledge of our swings to know how to cope under presser and fix it if things go wrong.
“But, as an influence, Jack has been incredible and he has taught us how to win and I had a great chat with him last night. He told me just to turn my phone off and forget everything and go and play.”
Yates didn’t quite follow Hume’s advice to the letter, confessing: “The thing I shouldn’t have done last night was look at the Paddy Power odds. I knew this morning would be tough against Dermot McElroy, the guy in form. But I knew I had a chance going out and if I could get past Dermot, I had a really good chance to win.”
It wasn’t looking good when he fell two down after nine, but Yates holed 30 footer for birdies to win the 10th and the 12th and level with McElroy.
He then took advantage of the Ballymena man’s putting errors on the 14th and 16th to go two up and while he lost the 17th to a fine McElroy par, he held on to win one up, but despite losing the first to a Holland birdie in the final, he won three of four holes from the fourth to go two up and was never caught.
A three putt error at the eighth cost him a hole but he then made some crucial putts, holing from nine feet for birdie on the 12th to go two up before clearing up nervelessly for halves in pars at the 13th, 14th and 15th.
A bogey in the midst of a rain squall at the par-three 16th halved his lead and made for an exciting finish on the fearsome 17th where a stellar Yates three-iron eventually broke Holland’s resistance.
The Dubliner missed the green right and failed to save par from 15 feet after a weak pitch and Yates two putted from the left fringe for a winning par, holing a four footer for the title.
“There was something nice about going out and winning it rather than Dan doing something to lose,” Yates said. “It was a nice way to finish.
“I’ve hit that putt a lot of times, inside left, nice and firm. I just didn’t think it would be for this.”
Holland was proud to make the final considering he has played little lately, explaining: “Mother nature gave me a glimpse there on 16 but he hit a great three iron on 17.
"That was a seriously good shot under pressure. I just got tight early, steered a few shots and I paid for it.”
Yates always believed his ball- striking would prove the difference and he’s hoping not to win his first Irish cap this year.
“I had a bit of an ultimatum coming here,” he said.
“The Irish captain Tony Goode told me I was close to the senior panel and said I needed a good result this week to have a chance.
“Hopefully this does what I want. I want to play in the Home Internationals this year.”
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