Local hopes in South of Ireland

Colm Kinsella looks ahead to the South of Ireland Amateur Open which begins this weekend in Lahinch

Colm Kinsella looks ahead to the South of Ireland Amateur Open which begins this weekend in Lahinch

MORE than 150 of the country’s top amateur golfers will tee it up in the South of Ireland Amateur Open Golf Championships which begins at Lahinch Golf Club this Saturday.

The final ‘Major’ of the amateur season, which is sponsored by the Clare Coast Hotels, continues over the testing Co Clare links until Wednesday, July 27.

A host of talented Mid-West players will be among the 156 players who will harbour ambitions of claiming the prestigious ‘South’ title.

The format for the championship has changed for this year’s renewal. The first two days of the event will feature strokeplay qualifying, with best 64 scores to qualify for match play stages which begins on Monday morning. The matchplay continues for three days right through to the final of the event on Wednesday afternoon.

The first three-ball is due to tee off for the strokeplay phase of the event on Saturday morning at 7am.Two Limerick-based golfers hoping to improve on their excellent showing at the 2010 ‘South’ are current Irish international Pat Murray, of Limerick Golf Club, and Cian Daly, of Castletroy.

Both men reached the semi-finals of last year’s event before bowing out of contention for top honours.

Murray, who turns 40 this weekend, is a seven-time semi-finalist at Lahinch. He was a member of the Irish side which competed at the European Team Championships in Portugal recently and featured for Munster in this week’s inter-provincial championships at Co Sligo Golf Club.

Murray’s interest in last year’s ‘South’ was ended by eventual winner John Greene, of Carlow, at the last four stage. He begins his quest for honours on Saturday morning in the company of Greg Carew, of Edenderry, and North West’s Garrett Mallon at 8.30am.

Twenty eight-year-old Cian Daly came agonisingly close to making the ‘South’ final 12 months ago before eventually losing out to Kelen McDonagh, of Athlone/NUIM, at the 20th.Daly will tee off alongside at James Fox, of Portmarnock, and Francis McGinn, of Ballycastle, at 9.30am on Saturday.

Daly’s clubmate, Eamonn Haugh, a ‘South’ semi-finalist in 2009, will also be aiming to secure his place in the matchplay stages of the competition when he begins the first of two strokeplay qualifying rounds alongside 2010 finalist McDonagh and Patrick Small, of Bangor, at 9.20am on Saturday.

Peter Sheehan, who won the title while playing out of Castletroy in ‘93, but who is now attached to Ballybunion Golf Club, gets his ‘South’ campaign underway at 8.20am.

The last Limerick-based player to win the ‘South’ at Lahinch was Cian McNamara, of Limerick Golf Club, in 2004.

McNamara became the youngest champion to list the prestigious trophy since 17-year-old Scot, Fred Ballingall, claimed the title over the spectacular Co Clare links in 1897.

The first ‘South’ final was contested by two Limerick members of the club- Dr GS Browning and MW Gavin.

‘The Irish Field’ of September 28, 1895 described the first ‘South’ of Ireland as follows: “The Lahinch meeting last week was unfortunate in the matter of the weather.

Nevertheless, there was a good entry, including well known players from some of the Midlands clubs. The Championship of the South of Ireland was won by Mr G Browning who, rather easily beat a fellow clubmate, Mr M Gavin, in the final by nine up and eight to play.”

The first championship was the only occasion that a left-hander won the Championship. Sixty four years later another left-hander, Paddy Donnelly, was a beaten finalist.

The Championship, since its earlist days, has attracted a number of overseas challengers, many of whom have made a significant contribution to the event.Several of Ireland’s top touring professionals have enjoyed success at the ‘South’ in the past.

Darren Clarke, who won the Open Championship at Royal St George’s on Sunday last, claimed the ‘South’ title as a 21-year-old in 1990. Clarke secured an impressive 4&3 success over Warrenpoint’s Jim Carvill in that year’s final.

Paul McGinley’s success in the 1991 ‘South’ would serve to seal his place on the Walker Cup side and he would in turn, make it through the Q Schools system and onto a lucrative career as a professional.

In 1994, David Higgins was victorious over Padraig Harrington by one hole. He would go on to defeat the Dubliner a couple of week later at the final of the Irish Close at Portmarnock at the 20th.Three-time Major winner Harrington also went down by one hole the following year at Lahinch to his good friend Jody Fanagan.

2010 US Open Champion Graeme McDowell took the title in 2000, defeating Ken Kearney by 3 & 2. He celebrated his 21st birthday at the championship in style and swept all before him that year.