IF you are a fan of local golf and you did not go to Castletroy last weekend to watch the North Munster Area matches in the Irish Senior Cup - you missed a treat.
Whenever, old rivals, Castletroy and Limerick advance to the area final, the stakes ratchet up considerably. While Castletroy had qualified with ease, Limerick had to survive a Titanic Battle with Lahinch in the morning which saw three matches going to tie holes before Pat Murray ‘settled it’ on the 20th by defeating an unlucky Bob Loftus.
The exertions of the morning affected Limerick in the afternoon and they quickly fell behind in four of the five matches. By the turn, Castletroy were 1-up, 3-up, 5-up, 1-up and 3-down.
Limerick faces were looking grim but they dug in and gradually the game tightened and the tension rose in what became a thoroughly fascinating spectacle. Playing at No. 1, ex-professional, Justin Kehoe (Limerick) and Eamonn Haugh went all the way to the 21st where Haugh’s second shot was impeded by trees and he was unable to match Kehoe’s perfectly played 4.
Andrew McCormack (Castletroy) played with great composure to capture the scalp of an out of sorts, former, Irish Close champion, Pat Murray. One down for much of the journey, Michael O’Kelly displayed admirable fighting qualities to beat Dean McMahon by 1-hole.
In the last match, 21-years old, Darragh Fitzgerald (Limerick) may have played the best golf of all, shooting four birdies and only one bogey against Jack Ryan.
A Fascinating Bit of History
PRIOR to 1872, The Open Golf Championship trophy was a bright red, rococo leather belt presented by Archibald Montgomerie, aka Lord Eglinton, a member of Prestwick Golf Club and a former First Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who was at the epicentre of the development of the game in Scotland and Ireland during the 1850s.
When Young Tommy Morris won the Eglinton Belt for the third time in 1870, he was allowed to keep it and no championship was held in 1871.
The fourth time Young Tommy won (in 1872) was the first time that the Claret Jug was presented except for the fact that the cup was not on hand in time and it was only given to the winner some weeks later.
Sadly, Young Tommy Morris died on Christmas Day, 1875 aged 24-years. If he had lived who knows how many more championships he might have won?
As the first name to be etched on the claret jug, Young Tommy will never be forgotten unlike his friend and rival, David Strath from North Berwick. Strath finished runner-up to Young Tommy in 1870 and 1872.
In 1876, he tied with Bob Martin but was victimized by a bizarre ruling.
Whoever was in charge forgot to book the course and the competition took place in a haphazard manner with the championship contenders forced to mix higgledy-piggledy with other golfers and townspeople throughout the day.
At the conclusion of play, a protest was lodged against Strath because it was alleged that his approach to the 17th struck a spectator. After a fierce argument, The R&A ordered an 18-holes play-off for the next morning. Strath felt slighted and declined to play.
Two years later, suffering ill health, on Doctor’s advice Strath immigrated to Australia. Arriving there after a gruelling 84-day journey in the poorest of health, Strath died a mere 20-days after reaching the New World. He was 29.
The final injustice was the death was not recorded correctly and his burial place was ‘lost’ until 2005 when a gravestone was belatedly erected.
Words of the Wise
IT’S no surprise that the latest changes to The South of Ireland at Lahinch (which begins on Wednesday, July 22nd) did not make one iota of difference to the quality of this year’s entry.
Sad to say Ireland’s oldest championship is now by far our weakest and may no longer deserve the championship title.
From the perspective of the World Amateur Golf Rankings it barely counts. A host of Grand Prix tournaments (scratch cups to us) on the Continent are rated more highly. Stuart Bleakley winner of The South in 2014 earned fewer points than some non-qualifiers in The Amateur Championship.
Because of our traditional devotion to matchplay, Irish golf is being outflanked and left behind.
If we want to keep up, we will have to change. The game is global and the stakes are high. If Lahinch really wants to improve the attractiveness of The South it must find ways to increase its haul of WAGR points and that means incorporating as a minimum requirement a 54-holes stroke play segment.
One reason why the GUI sends its elite panel overseas so often is because Ireland does not have enough 54-holes tournaments carrying precious WAGR points.
If The South adopted a 54-holes qualifier (call it the SOI Medal) with, say, sixteen going forward for a separate matchplay event - then, and only then, will the best amateurs be interested.
Personally, I’d also like to see a separate, additional pre-qualifier adopted to give local players a glimmer of hope of playing.
The South needs a radical overhaul but the powers that be don’t seem to grasp what attracts the top golfers to come and play? Introducing a 36-holes qualifier and starting on a Wednesday was not the solution.