South of Ireland win sets Conor Purcell up for an Ireland call

Another young golfer of considerable potential burst on the scene at Lahinch yesterday when 19-year-old Conor Purcell performed with the assurance and skill of a veteran when beating Rowan Lester of Hermitage by 4 and 3 in the Pierse Motors South of Ireland Championship.

Purcell, a member of Portmarnock, sat his Leaving Certificate at Malahide Community School in June, and became one of the youngest ever winners of the title in modern times. Limerick’s Cian McNamara, nowadays the professional at Monkstown, was a year younger when he triumphed in 2004.

Lahinch is certainly proving a happy hunting ground for the Purcell family. Conor’s father, Joey, garnered 5½ points from a possible six to help Leinster win the Interprovincial Championship there in 1973 and his immediate reward was selection on the Irish team for the Home Internationals. Now there is little doubt that Conor will follow in his footsteps when the side to defend the title at Nairn, Scotland, next month is announced this week.

“I came here knowing I needed to make a statement to get on the team and while I won’t tempt fate, I am now quite hopeful,” said a young man who holed the winning putt for Leinster in the recent Interprovincial Championship at Fota Island.

“I will play the Barton Shield for Portmarnock next week followed by the Mullingar Scratch Cup, an event I would love to win because my father comes from there. After that, it’s off to college in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I’ll serve four years of apprenticeship before considering a life in the pro game.”

His father watched every shot and was understandably proud while pointing out: “Obviously I have helped him and there but to be honest, I didn’t need to do a whole lot with him. It all seems to come so naturally and easily to him and I think we saw evidence of that out there today.”

Joey has been professional at Portmarnock since 1991 and retires shortly to be replaced by Francis Howley, the current director of golf at Carton House.

Purcell produced some outstanding shots on the way to victory. Those to stand out were the par five 5th, the famous Klondyke, where he hit an eight iron approach to twelve feet and sank the eagle putt. The manner in which he conquered the 8th, where he punched an eight iron to four feet, and the 11th where he drilled a four iron of 176 yards into the teeth of a very strong wind, were also shots of the highest quality. Further birdies at the 9th and 12t defied the best efforts of Lester to get back into the match.

The championship has always been synonymous with sporting romance and this year it was supplied by 65 year-old Arthur Pierse who came through the qualifiers before taking two notable scalps in match play. However, the Tipperary man’s latest challenge for a title he first launched as long ago as 1972 came to an end in Saturday’s third round when the demands of 36 holes a day over a long and difficult track proved too much and he was well beaten by Daniel Holland. Pierse was in contention until the 9th when only one down but Holland sank a big putt to turn two up and Pierse ran out of steam after that body blow.

Holland then ended the double hopes of Sean Flanagan who had captured the North of Ireland championship the previous week before going on to meet Rowan Lester in the semi-final. This match was notable for the fact that it took four hours and forty minutes to complete 18 holes and finished 50 minutes behind the second semi-final between Conor Purcell and Colin Campbell that had begun a quarter of an hour earlier, giving a whole new momentum to the vexed question of slow play.

The Purcell-Campbell match had to be called through as early as the 6th hole because of the tardiness of the pair in front. Purcell duly won on the 18th and it was 70 minutes later before he was joined in the decider by Lester who defeated Holland on the 19th.

Semi-finals:

R Lester (Hermitage) bt D Holland (Castle) 19th; C Purcell (Portmarnock) bt C Campbell (Warrenpoint) 1 hole. Final – Purcell bt Lester 4 & 3.


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