TWENTY-ONE year-old Stephen Walsh from the Baltinglass club in Wicklow staged a magnificent recovery at Lahinch yesterday to become the new South of Ireland champion.
Walsh, whose previous main claim to fame was victory in last year’s Ulster Youths Championship, was two down after nine but played some outstanding golf on the way home and, helped by an unfortunate error on the part of 23-year-old Andrew Hogan at the 11th, stormed home 3&2.
In disappointing contrast to the glorious sunshine of the previous afternoon, yesterday’s closing stages were contested in the kind of thick sea mist that had disrupted the qualifying rounds last weekend. However, the championship finished on schedule with a worthy young winner who now hopes to see his name included in the Irish team for next month’s Home International Championship at Rosses Point when it is announced over the next day or two.
“I came here very tired after playing the North of Ireland Championship, followed by the Interpros at Rosses Point last week and, after a 76 in the first round, was struggling to make the cut,” admitted Walsh.
“But I was three under for the nine holes we played on the second day and got in comfortably and from then on played well and putted well. I’ve had a few good displays this year and have learned from my mistakes and even though I’m now absolutely wrecked, this is still unbelievable. Winning the South is something we all dream of.”
Walsh, who beat 2009 champion Robbie Cannon at the 17th in the semi-finals, could hardly have started the final on a less auspicious note as he lost the opening two holes to par, birdie and indeed had to sink a 15-footer for a half on the third.
“That was the biggest putt of the match,” he reasoned.
Inspired by this escape, Walsh, who comes from Ballinteer in south County Dublin and recently completed a degree in sports and leisure management at UCD, drew level with pars at each of the next two holes only to drop the seventh.
Hogan, a 19th hole winner over last year’s runner-up Kelan McDonagh from Athlone, helped by finding heavy rough off the tee at the 10th, where Walsh displayed his mettle by getting up and down from a bunker for par.
The short 11th, however, very probably led to Hogan’s undoing. With Walsh on the green, he came up short in an area marked “ground under repair”. Having taken a free drop, he saw his second shot roll back towards the same spot but instead of allowing the ball come to rest, he picked it up while it was still moving. The penalty shot more or less handed the hole to Walsh, who never looked back.
The 12th and 13th were halved before Walsh struck a crucial blow at the 14th by rolling in a 20-footer. Walsh’s task was made all the easier at the next when Hogan put his second in thick rough, failed to get on the green in three and conceded the hole.
Walsh used the honour at the short 16th to absolute perfection as he drilled a beautiful seven iron to little more than a yard. When Hogan was again in thick rough to the left off the tee, the 110th South title was on its way to the UCD scholarship student who was bringing a major title to the Baltinglass club for the first time.
Although a Dub by birth, he is a club member through the influence of his grandfather Des Tobin, one of the most excited members of his gallery, and to whom Stephen dedicated his victory.
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