Colm Kinsella talks to Pat Murray about his long overdue success in the South of Ireland Championship in Lahinch.
AT dinner the night before his South semi-final, Pat Murray wondered how many more chances he would get to claim the prestigious title staged over the spectacular Lahinch links.
Murray had lost seven previous semi-finals at the South of Ireland and it would be understandable if doubts were starting to set in.
The ‘Majors’ tend to be dominated by the game’s young guns, rising stars in their 20s and Murray has just turned 41.
But the secretary/manager of Limerick Golf Club turned the thoughts to a positive, using them to focus his mind on the task in hand, a last four meeting with Ardee’s Eugene Smith the following morning.
Murray duly put his semi-final hoodoo to bed with an impressive 3&1 victory over his opponent.
He was now just one step away from realising one of his greatest golfing ambitions.
And that afternoon, Murray duly followed in the footsteps of Darren Clarke in 1990, Paul McGinley, the following year, and Graeme McDowell in 2000 as South of Ireland champion.
Padraig Harrington has won three Majors in golf, but the ‘South’ eluded him. That puts Murray’s achievement into context.
In beating 22-year-old Stephen Healy, of Claremorris, by two holes in a nail-biting final last week, Murray added the prestigious title to his Irish Close success at Enniscrone in 2009.
An experienced international, Murray arrived at Lahinch having helped Munster to claim the interprovincial title at Royal County Down.
Murray’s hectic playing schedule through the inter-pro’s and South meant he played 15 rounds of golf in eight days. As well as battling his way past many talented opponents to claim the crown at Lahinch, Murray had to cope with a sore leg, having returned to playing golf in June, following an Achilles tendon injury he suffered at Christmas.
Back at work this week at Limerick Golf Club, Murray was still basking in the glory of his achievement.
“It’s great. I am thrilled with it,” Tipperary-born Murray enthused.
“Back at work, meeting people, it is fantastic.
“It is very hard to rate one success you have had as being higher than another.
“But winning the ‘South’ is extremely special for me. It is a Championship I dearly wanted to win.
“I have had an association with the South for a long, long time.
“I have great affection for Lahinch, It is easy feel at home there. The support is always great.
“I have always loved the course. It is so hard. It’s so weather dependant. The rough is high and you have crosswinds. You cannot get away with making mistakes.
“Although I had been beaten in so many semi-finals, over the years, I always look forward to the opportunity to go play there.
“I can understand why some players chose not to compete at Lahinch not wanting to face a four and a half-hour drive from Royal County Down after the inter-pros were finished to reach Lahinch.
“I left Royal County Down on the Thursday night and played nine holes at Lahinch on the Friday.
“It was a case of just parking the success with Munster in the inter-pro’s and concentrating fully on the South. “
In the final, Murray made a fast start against Healy, winning the opening two holes, but resilient Healy hit back to be all square at the turn. Murray held a one hole advantage on the Par 5 final hole.
“I was one-up playing 18 and I hit a good drive there and a two-iron to the front of the green,” Pat Murray said.
“I wanted to be sure of making five and if my opponent made four well and good.
“Being one down he had to go for it and his second shot went out of bounds.
“The feeling on the final green was one of pure joy for everyone who was there. It took a few days to sink in, but it has now.
“When you look at the names on the Cup, the list of previous winners, you realise how difficult this title is to win. And I know that more than most having been so close so many times before.”
Murray attributes his hunger for the game to an annual winter break from golf.
Although he is competing at the highest level in amateur golf for some two decades, his love of competition is very bit as strong as his fellow competitions, the vast majority of whom are significantly younger.
“I am lucky during the winter, I don’t play a whole lot of golf,” he said.
“I put the clubs away, bar an odd round. When I come back playing in February or March, I am hungry for it.
“For me that makes all the difference.”
While the mental side of the game is crucial at all levels and Murray studies the psychology of the game, he doesn’t use a sports psychologist.
“I don’t use a sports psychologist but I do read up about that aspect of the game quite a bit,” Pat Murray said.
A multiple Irish international, Murray returns to competitive action this Sunday when he will be a key member of the Limerick Golf Club side which takes on Killarney Golf and Fishing Club in the semi-finals of the Munster semi-finals of the Irish Senior Cup.
The Senior Cup remains the most coveted trophy in Irish club golf. Teams consist of five players in singles matchplay, playing off scratch.
Murray became the first Limerick-based golfer to claim the ‘South’ title since his clubmate Cian McNamara’s success in 2004 as an 18-year-old.