Stuart Grehan from Tullamore was last night crowned winner of the 114th South of Ireland Championship after a four and three final win over Ulster golfer Colin Fairweather from Knock.
The loser’s surname wasn’t exactly appropriate on this occasion, as the final stages of the event were contested in almost persistent rain, but the finalists put on a fine show, with Grehan proving a worthy champion.
The 22-year-old became the first man since Jim Carvill to capture both the East and South of Ireland Championships in the same year, having been successful over 54 holes in the weather-marred Baltray event last June Bank Holiday weekend. He is also the first member of the Paddy Harrington Golf Scholarship programme at Maynooth University to win a major provincial championship.
“Winning two championships was on my dream list for this year,” said Grehan, who added, when pressed, that another item on the agenda was to earn his first senior international cap. The Irish team for the Home Internationals at Royal Portrush next month was finalised before yesterday’s final and will likely be announced today, with Grehan’s certain to be among the 11 names.
After the first couple of holes were exchanged, the final burst into life when Grehan followed a big drive down the 4th (The Klondyke) with a superb seven iron to six feet for eagle. The gap opened to two at the 6th but, in spite of a cold putter, Fairweather stayed close to his man and looked to have gained some badly-needed momentum when holing from a bunker at the 12th for a second eagle of the match to cut his arrears to one.
It was then, however, that Grehan showed his class. He hit a lovely gap wedge to a yard at the 13th for a winning birdie and then played the 14th and 15th in immaculate pars to close out the match.
“To win the South here at Lahinch is huge and I am really thrilled,” he said. “It’s been a great week for me and my putting and my mental game were spot on. The key match was against Alan Lowry, when I was two down with two to play, but birdied 17 and 18 and went through and after that my confidence was high.
“I owe a lot to my coach, Eamonn O’Flanagan, a member of The Heritage academy team and of course being a member of the set-up at Maynooth, where I am studying entrepreneurship. I know that a lot of guys in my situation would be considering a career in pro-golf, but that’s not on my radar at the moment. I have no intention of putting myself under unnecessary pressure.”
Fairweather reached the final thanks to a 19th green final defeat of Keith Egan of Carton House, who had to go all the way to the fifth tie hole before getting the better of Pat Murray in an epic quarter-final contest on Saturday evening. Egan was one down playing the 18th, but prolonged the contest with a birdie four. After that the standard remained of the highest quality. Egan drilled a superb shot to the par-3 fifth, the famous “Dell”, that almost ran into the cup, but went two feet past. Murray’s putt for a half lipped out and his chance of a second “South” was gone.
Egan again displayed his fighting qualities in the semi-final against Fairweather, coming from two behind with four to play to level the match at the 16th, before sinking an 18-footer on the 18th to halve the hole in birdie fours.
However, his luck ran out at the first tie hole, where he was unable to match Fairweather’s par four.
Mark MacGrath was carrying the hopes of his home club, Limerick, and Lahinch when he took on Grehan in the second semi-final. A grandson of former Lahinch president Maurice Power, a nephew of 1993 captain John Power and a son of current lady captain Stephanie MacGrath, the 19-year-old Munster Junior Interprovincial enhanced his reputation considerably in reaching the semi-finals, but on this occasion found Grehan a little too steady.
C Fairweather (Knock) bt K Egan (Carton House) at 19th; S Grehan (Tullamore) bt M MacGrath (Limerick) 2 and 1.
Grehan bt Fairweather 4 and 3.
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