Rafferty tops qualifying at North of Ireland Championship

July 12, 2017

Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty set an impressive new course record on the Dunluce Links on his way to topping qualifying at the Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush on Tuesday.
The 24-year-old, who also topped qualifying at last month’s British Amateur Championship, fired a bogey-free, seven birdie round of 65 over the new Open Championship layout.
Rafferty was a semi-finalist at the North of Ireland in 2015 and recently helped Leinster claim a third consecutive Interprovincial crown. His fine run of form has earned him a place in the Ireland squad and he is now setting his sights on the Home Internationals.
His two-round total of 10 under par was good enough to edge Fortwilliam’s Hugh O’Hare into second place on nine under. The 18-year-old has played very little in recent months as he focused his attentions on A-Levels but with the studying now complete, he is back on course.
A student at St Malachy’s College, Belfast, Hugh will join a growing list of Irish golfers playing on the US College system when he heads to Louisville in the autumn.
Overnight leader, Rowan Lester, safely made it through to the match-play stages which get underway this morning, with a total of 136.
The cut fell at 145 with Royal Portrush’s Jamie Fletcher the only golfer to miss out on that mark. Defending champion, Sean Flanagan, remains in contention to retain his title, easing into the knock-out rounds on a level par.
Tyrone Clarke, son of Open Championship winner, Darren Clarke, also made it through to the match-play stages after firing rounds of 69/72.
* For those of a statistical bent – the new holes – the par five seven and the par four eighth both played over par in benign qualifying conditions.
The seventh was ranked 14th – and played to a par of 5.24
The eighth was ranked second hardest – and played to a par of 4.70

Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Championship leaderboard


Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Championship
At Royal Portrush (Valley scores first)
Leading scores
1 Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) 68/65 – 133 (-10)
2 Hugh O’Hare (Fortwilliam) 66/68 – 134
3 Robert Brazill (Naas) 65/71 – 136
4 Rowan Lester (Hermitage) 64/72 – 136
5 Ryan Berkeley (Dun Laoghaire) 69/68 – 137
6 Eoin Leonard (Wentworth/Killiney) (67/70) – 137
7 Finlay Mason (Moor Hall) 70/68 – 138
8 Jakes Hapgood (Southerndown) 68/70 -138
9 Colin Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire) 68/70 – 138
10 Kiet Van Der Weele (Rosendealsche) 67/71 – 138


Lester on top after opening day of North of Ireland Championship

July 11, 2017

Rowan Lester (Hermitage) Picture by Pat Cashman

Irish international Rowan Lester (Hermitage) leads the way after the opening round of qualifying at the Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
A quarter-finalist in 2015, Lester, playing The Valley Links, carded a bogey-free seven under par 64 on the revamped course.
He leads Jordan Hood (Galgorm Castle), Robert Brazill (Naas) and Ronan Mullarney (Galway) by a shot heading into Tuesday’s second round at the Dunluce Links.
“I struggled a bit at the start but adjusted on the eighth tee and from that point on I was really good,” said 22-year-old Hood who will play The Dunluce today (Tuesday).
“I was seeing the lines better on the greens and rolled in a few putts.

“The two new holes [on the Dunluce] are really good. The par five (seventh) isn’t as daunting as I first thought when I saw it and the eighth is a really good par four. It forces you to be aggressive off the tee.”

Kirkistown GC vice-captain, Neill Simpson, turned in the leading opening day score on the new Dunluce layout, a three-under par round of 69.
Simpson quit golf for almost 20 years but has returned to competitive action after rebuilding his swing under with PGA professional, Charle Bell at Blackwood GC.
His tactic of leaving the driver in the bag paid dividends as he was one of only two players – the other being Galway’s Colm Hughes (-1) – to finish the day under par on the new Open Championship layout.
Defending champion, Sean Flanagan (Co Sligo), is well placed to make the cut after an opening round of two-under par 70 on The Valley.
The leading 64 players after Tuesday’s second round of qualifying will progress to the match-play stages.

Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Amateur Championship leaderboard

The Cathedral Eye Clinic North of Ireland Amateur Championship
At Royal Portrush
Leading scores after 18 holes.
1 Rowan Lester (Hermitage) 64 -7
2 Jordan Hood (Galgorm Castle) 65 -6
3 Robert Brazill (Naas) 65
4 Ronan Mullarney (Galway) 65
5 Gregory Royston (Cotswold Downs) 66 -5
6 Hugh O’Hare (Fortwilliam) 66
7 Cathal Butler (Kinsale) 66
8 Paul Murphy (Rosslare) 66
9 Gavin Fitzmaurice (Balcarrick) 66
10 Colin Fairweather (Knock) 66

DDF Irish Open champion Jon Rahm eyes up major breakthrough at Birkdale

July 11, 2017

Jon Rahm celebrates DDF Irish Open success

Jon Rahm won the DDF Irish Open at a canter on Sunday.
Honestly, rules controversies aside, it was men against boys stuff at Portstewart.
“I’ve never played my best golf. To actually play my best golf that I can remember till this day and shoot 24-under on this golf course and win it by six, man, that is not something I would have believed I was capable of,” said Rahm
“I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of, and it’s a really, really special day.”
The new world number eight is still just 22-years-old. That’s the same age as Gavin Moynihan, who played out of his skin on Sunday, compiling a final round 64 to finish tied for 14th and earn the biggest pay cheque of his career.
In comparison, Rahm is already at the stage when he doesn’t need to worry about money. He has already topped the €2.5m euro mark on the European Tour alone. It’s major titles he wants now.
“I said at the beginning of the week, even before the tournament started, that I haven’t played — again, I haven’t played my best golf on links golf courses,” he added.
“There was always something else. And to play the way I did here, it proves to me I can perform properly on a links golf course.
“And that’s what I’ve got to take to The Open. I know now that I have what it takes. Before that, there was a little bit of doubt in my mind but now I know that I have what it takes to win a tournament on a links golf course.
“The Open Championship, it’s a little different deal just because a major championship will be set up probably harder than this week was. But nevertheless, I know I can read the putts right, and I know I can interpret the wind and I can hit the shots and I can manage myself around the golf course properly enough to have a chance to win The Open.
“Will that happen? I don’t know. But I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed this week.”

Beefed-up Glashedy Links primed for 2018 Irish Open challenge

July 9, 2017

The Glashedy Links

Beefed up Ballyliffin GC will welcome golf’s heavy-weights when the Irish Open heads to the Inishowen peninsula next year (July 5-8).
Ballyliffin Golf Club consists of two contrasting links courses, the Glashedy Links and the Old Course.
The Glashedy Links – where the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be played – opened in 1995 and was designed by Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock.
In preparation for hosting the event, Ruddy has made a number of significant changes over the winter.

Hole 1 – A fairway bunker has been installed on the left-hand side of the fairway at 300 yards.

Hole 2 – A new tee has significantly increased the dog-leg on this hole.

Hole 3 – A new fairway bunker has been added at 305 yards.

Hole 4 – A new elevated tee has been built, 115 yards further back from the existing tee-box which extends the length of the hole to 590 yards.

John Farren, General Manager at Ballyliffin Golf Club, said: “Ballyliffin is delighted to have been selected as the host venue for the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation, especially now that it is part of the Rolex Series.
“This is an incredible vote of confidence by the European Tour and their partners and will be a huge opportunity for us to showcase Ballyliffin, Donegal and Derry on the world stage.
“We look forward to working with Fáilte Ireland and agencies on both sides of the border in promoting the region. Ballyliffin’s close neighbours and destination partners –Royal Portrush and Portstewart – have both hosted tremendously successful Irish Opens and we look forward with confidence to continuing that focus on the world class links of the North Coast of Ireland.

“At 7,423 yards, our Championship Links has staged many top class amateur and professional events in the past and hosting the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in 2018 fulfils a long term ambition of Ballyliffin Golf Club to take our place on the world stage. We look forward to welcoming the European Tour and their partners to Ballyliffin in July 2018 and can assure you we will deliver an exceptional tournament.”

A regular championship venue, Ballyliffin Golf Club played host to the North West of Ireland Open in 2002, a dual-ranking event on the European Tour and Challenge Tour which was won by Sweden’s Adam Mednick.
The European Senior Tour also visited in 2008 when Spain’s Juan Quirós pipped local hero Des Smyth to the Irish Seniors Open title by a single shot.

Irish Open Day Two – NI Open champ Fox at home in Portstewart

July 8, 2017

While our ‘locals’ appear to suffer in the spotlight, some people seem to thrive in Northern Ireland conditions.
Ryan Fox fits into that category. The New Zealander, a winner of last year’s NI Open at Galgorm Castle finished day two at Portstewart in a share of fourth after a second round 66.
“NI has been very good to be me so far,” said the 30-year-old from Auckland.
“I really like both courses. Galgorm Castle last year was fantastic and I think this is even better.
“I guess when you have a golf course you like and it suits your eye you can shoot some good numbers and I have taken advantage of it this week.”
Fox opened the tournament with a five-under par 67 on Thursday and a run of four birdies in his opening nine holes gave him some early momentum.
A bogey at the first, his 10th hole of the day, failed to stall him and he went on to collect three more birdies.
“I have struggled with putting for most of the year and I guess I found the greens pretty easy to read,” added Ryan.

“I think I holed three or four over 30 foot in the first two days and most of my putts inside ten foot and that helps a lot. Obviously there’s been some good shots in there, as well.”

Ryan Fox, winner of the 2016 NI Open. 

As a reward, Ryan earned a late tee time on Saturday and will play alongside Jon Rahm at 1.20pm giving him plenty of time to watch the Lions clash with the All-Blacks.
He has a special interest in the outcome as his father, Grant, a former All-Black outhalf and is currently a selector for the World Champions.
He added; “Yeah, I’m very happy I get to watch it. I missed out on the last half an hour last week and didn’t see any of the first Test.
“I think the Lions might have poked the bear a little bit. The All Blacks are generally pretty good about fronting up after they have been beaten and Eden Park is their fortress.
“I’m hoping for an All Blacks win tomorrow. I might be the only one hoping that but I’ll be wearing my All Blacks jersey for sure.”

Irish Open Day One – Relaxed McDowell starts well at Portstewart

July 7, 2017

Jon Rahm

GRAEME McDowell admits he has let his frustrations get the better of him this season but a return to familiar surroundings paid off at Portstewart yesterday.
A five-under par 67 left the Portrush native trailing round one leaders, American Daniel Im and Frenchman Benjamin Hebert by three shots at the DDF Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.
“It’s been frustrating for all the right reasons because I’ve been playing well,” said Graeme.
“I’ve been walking away on Sunday nights not feeling like I got enough out of the week but that’s a better frustration than when you just know you’re not playing well.
“The game’s not been far away, and you know, perhaps it’s a week like this week that can give me that little bit of spark and that little bit of inspiration to really kick on for the summer.

“I’m really pleased with that start, and I’m looking forward to getting back it tomorrow.”

Starting at the 10th, Graeme reached three under quickly with birdies at the 13th, 14th and 16th but dropped shots at the 17th and 18th saw him turn in one under 35.
“It would have been easy to get frustrated at that point but I hit a beautiful shot into the second and made a couple of nice putts on that nine and turned a mediocre day into a decent day,” he added.
“I was happy with the way I rolled it on the greens generally and I hit a lot of quality shots.”
The 2010 US Open champion played some fine golf on his back nine, collecting four birdies at the second, fourth, sixth and eighth, to end the day in a share of ninth.
Irish duo, Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington are a shot further back after a day of low scoring on the North Coast.
“I definitely feel like it’s the least I deserved out there. I felt like I played great,” said Shane.
“I’m pretty happy with that. Four under in the first round is pretty good. I’m not going to complain.”
Harrington described his round as, ‘a nice, decent score’.
“I played average, had a few chances and if things had gone my way, I certainly could have made it a few more under par but I think four-under is an ok reflection of the day.
“The likelihood is you’ve got to be focusing on 20-under par or more this week, so I need some better scores later on in the week.
“If we get some wind, that will obviously defend the course but at the moment, with beautiful conditions, these guys are good, they are going to shoot low scores.”
A pair of 64’s for Im and Hebert established the course record at Portstewart and gave the unlikely duo – with a combined world ranking of 796 – a one-shot lead over Jon Rahm, Oliver Fisher and Matthew Southgate.

Portstewart ready to take centre stage at Irish Open

July 5, 2017

The spotlight is firmly on Portstewart Golf Club this week.
So often in the shadow of neighbour, Royal Portrush, the Strand course will be centre stage for the DDF Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.
To face up to the challenge presented by some of the world’s finest golfers a number of holes have been tweaked ahead of the tournament.
“The significant changes are on the back nine,” said Portstewart GC’s resident PGA professional, Neil Graham.
“The left-hand side of the 10th green has been lifted and a dune system has been built around the 10th green and between the 13th green. That has narrowed the approach into both greens.
“The 14th tee has been moved and a dog-leg has been created on that hole. A bunker has also been installed at around 280 yards from the tee. On a calm day, from the back tee it probably won’t be much of a problem but if the wind is into or across then it will get the players thinking.

“It demands a fade shot off the tee to avoid that big bunker and the two other bunkers that are on the left-hand side of the fairway.”

Neil is convinced that Portstewart will stand up to the test this week. Tournament host Rory McIlroy has given the course his seal of approval describing the opening nine holes as amongst the best in the world.
“Links golf depends on the weather. If it is relatively calm, with light winds, it will play into their hands and these guys are so good now that you could see 18 under win,” added Neil.
“It will be different if the wind gets up. The rough is thick and tangly simply because of the rain and the heat we’ve had in recent weeks. You can lose a ball very easily.

“In that case, it will be about plotting your way around and not necessarily hitting driver everywhere. It will put a premium on hitting the fairway and we’ll see a lot of long irons and hybrids being used.”

It’s obviously been a busy few weeks for Neil as he gears up for tournament week but he has taken the chance to scope out some of the better viewing points on the course.
“It’s been a fantastic experience to be involved ‘on the inside’ over the last couple of months, watching as the infrastructure goes up around the course,” he added.
“I stood on the top of the grandstand at the sixth tee the other day and if I had the time that’s where I would park myself.
“When you are on top of that stand you can see the sixth obviously but you can also see the fifth and the seventh. You can look at the fourth green and you can also see the 12th. It is a fantastic viewing point. Take a packed lunch, you could sit there happily for a couple of hours.”

Dermot McElroy determined to make the most of Irish Open invite

July 3, 2017

Dermot McElroy

Receiving an invite into the DDF Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation has been compared to finding the golden ticket in Roald Dahl’s famous Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
As one of the European Tour’s Rolex Series events, this year’s tournament at Portstewart GC has a prize fund of $7,000,000 and a first prize touching €1,000,000.
That’s life-changing money and a golden opportunity for those players who have played their way into the field or happen to be lucky enough to receive an invitation.
In that regard, the finger of fate has pointed in the direction of the vastly experienced Michael Hoey, former BMW PGA Champion, Simon Khan, and three young professionals making their way in the game, Gavin Moynihan, Gary Hurley and Dermot McElroy
Ballymena’s McElroy only turned professional in July last year but he has hit the ground running in 2017.
The 24-year-old is riding high on the Europro Tour order of merit and has made the cut in his last two Challenge Tour appearances (Belgium & Scotland)
McElroy expressed his delight at receiving the ‘call-up’ to play in Portstewart after finishing tied for 33rd at the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge
“It was one of the nicest phone calls I have had in a long time,” said Dermot.

“My management company tried every avenue to get me in, so to get that invite was great news. I actually got the ferry over to Scotland and drove up to Aviemore for this week’s event because I thought I would be driving back down to Newcastle to play in a EuroPro tournament next week but now, my plans have changed a bit.”

As an amateur, Dermot played in the Irish Open on three occasions – in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The 2012 event at Royal Portrush remains etched in his memory.
He added; “That was totally different. The crowds, it was like an Open Championship. There was over 100,000 people at Portrush. It was bunged but it was a great experience for me.”
While Dermot is still finding his feet as a professional, his recent performances prove that he is becoming more comfortable playing in the spotlight and he’s excited about getting the chance to compete on a course he has played many times.
He added; “I’m getting used to dealing with cameras and the extra attention you get when you start playing well at an event. It doesn’t really bother me now.
“I also know Portstewart pretty well. I played it a couple of months ago and I noticed some of the new tees they have put in so I’m expecting it to be a good test.
“For me, the week will be about trying to perform as well as I can. Yes, it is a big stage, and there is a lot of money involved, but it is just golf. If I am playing well and am able to play my normal game I don’t see why I can’t do well.”

Castlerock GC branding to feature on Shane Lowry clothing at Irish Open

June 30, 2017

Pictured at Castlerock Golf Club is Gail Ritchie from Bank of Ireland with Bert MacKay, General Manager of Castlerock Golf Club and Gregg Thompson, Captain of Castlerock Golf Club.

Castlerock Golf Club will be displayed across the shirt of Bank of Ireland ambassador, Shane Lowry, at this year’s DDF Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.
The club won the ‘Sponsor for a Day’ competition run by Bank of Ireland as part of this year’s Irish Open celebrations.
The competition was open to golf clubs across Ireland offering them the chance to have their name and logo displayed on Shane’s clothing for the first two days of the tournament.
Castlerock also won four tickets for each day’s play on 6th and 7th July, allowing a number of members to celebrate at one of the biggest sporting events of the year.
Bert MacKay, General Manager of Castlerock Golf Club said, “It will be such an honour to see Shane Lowry wearing our club branding and we are so grateful to Bank of Ireland for the incredible opportunity. Needless to say, we wish Shane all the very best of luck!”
Ian Sheppard, Regional Director NI, Bank of Ireland UK said, “As an official sponsor of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open for a second year, we are delighted to be a part of this world class event and to celebrate Castlerock Golf Club’s success in winning ‘Sponsor for a Day’.
“In common with Castlerock Golf Club, we share a passion for the local communities we serve. We look forward to seeing their name in the spotlight in what is set to be a memorable event for all involved.”
As part of the packed itinerary, Bank of Ireland has also teamed up with Confederation Golf Ireland (CGI) and the European Tour to run the popular Irish Open Skills Challenge for children under the age of 15.
Golf clubs have the opportunity to put forward teams of four to compete in the development skills challenge which will allow each player to be designated to a certain skill, including putting, chipping, the iron challenge and the driving challenge.
The individual skills scores will be combined for a total team score and the top teams from each region will compete in the National Final at Portstewart Golf Club on Tuesday, 4th July 2017 in the skills zone at the Open Championship Village. Winners will also have the chance meet some of the world’s top golfers.

Kilpatrick to realise Irish Open ambition at Portstewart

June 28, 2017

Richard Kilpatrick

Banbridge professional, Richard Kilpatrick, will realise a long-held ambition when he plays in next week’s DDF Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.
Richard earned his place in the Irish Open field by finishing sixth in the PGA in Ireland 2016 Order of Merit.
He will be joined at Portstewart by Damien McGrane, David Higgins, Colm Moriarty, Neil O’Briain and Simon Thornton
“I can’t wait. The crowds, the buzz, the field that is being assembled. I can’t wait to tee it up, let it go and see what happens. It will be some test,” said the Banbridge GC assistant.
“I had the chance to play in the Irish Open as an amateur but it often clashed with the Brabazon Trophy and the GUI would send us over to England to compete in that instead.
“It means a lot to get to play in my first Irish Open up here (Northern Ireland) and at Portstewart as well. My aunt has a place in the town and I played the course a lot as an amateur.
“Even now, during the winter and when I can in the summer months I try to get up and play. The club professional, Neil Graham, has been very good in accommodating me.”
Richard turned professional in 2007 after winning the East of Ireland Championship and helping Ireland collect the European Team Championship title.
He spent the best part of eight years playing on the Challenge Tour, Alps Tour and EuroPro Tour before opting to follow the PGA route.
He has performed impressively on the PGA in Ireland circuit in recent seasons and has two wins to his name in 2017 at the PGA Irish Club Pro-Am and the Ruddy Cup for Young Professionals.
And whilst he may be inexperienced in terms of playing at the highest level, he may have pulled off a masterstroke when is comes to hiring a caddy for the week.
Former college team mate and major winning LPGA caddy, David Jones, will lug Richard’s bag around Portstewart during tournament week.
Jones, who was formerly the PGA professional at Bushfoot GC, also happens to be a member at Portstewart GC and has cleared his schedule to caddy for Richard in the Irish Open.
“I’ve known Davy for years. I was starting my first year of college in America at the University of Toledo just as he was finishing his studies there. He was the groomsman at my wedding last December ” added Richard.

“The thing for me will be getting used to the atmosphere, to the grandstands and the corporate boxes. I’ve played a few rounds up there recently trying to familiarise myself with the place and how it will look during tournament week.”

That’s not something Damien McGrane will have to worry about. The Kells man has been there, done it and bought the t-shirt. McGrane topped the Order of Merit last year and also won the Irish PGA Championship. He is leading the way again in 2017 and if his competitive instincts take over he is capable of making an impact at Portstewart.
You can put Simon Thornton into the same bracket. A winner on the European Tour in 2013 (Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open), Simon is still returning to full fitness following surgery to his feet at the start of the year.
“I think I’ve only missed one [Irish Open] in recent years. It is a great event and you get used to playing in them but this will be a bit different now that’s it’s part of the Rolex Series,” said the 40-year-old.
“For us, as PGA guys, you have to try and blank all that out. You can’t really start thinking about the money that is on offer. You have to focus on those first two rounds and if you can make the cut great, then try and do as well as you can.”

A longer version of this article appeared in the July edition of Irish Golfer Magazine