Seven medals for Special Olympics athletes

​Team Ireland Special Olympic Golfers have just returned from the World Games in Abu Dhabi with a fantastic haul of medals.

  • 08 April 2019

​PHOTO: The athletes celebrate their medal haul.

From a team of eight athletes they returned with 5 gold, 2 silver & a fourth place. In total there were 185 athletes from 36 countries competed at the World Games.

Special Olympics golf has 5 different levels. Team Ireland had athletes competing in Level 2 alternative shot (athlete with a regular golfer), Level 4 nine hole singles & Level 5 eighteen hole singles.

The team was made up of

Level 2: Andrew Simington & Phyl Kelleher (Elm Park Golf Club)
Mairead Moroney & Jean Moloney (Ennis Golf Club)

Level 4: Mark Claffey (Elm Park)
Jill Connery (Ulster Special Olympics)

Level 5: John Keating (Eastern Special Olympics)
Simon Lowry (Loughrea Golf Club)

In Abu Dhabi the overall standard of golf was very high. The lowest handicap athlete was Casper Christianson from Denmark who plays of 2.8 handicap. He shot two 69s on the first two days & went on to win the gold in the top division at level 5.

Simon Lowry from Loughrea plays off 11 handicap. He shot rounds of 85, 81 & 80 on the first three days. He was four shots of the lead in his division prior to the final round. He shot a 69 which included an albatross 2 on the par 5 seventh to win the gold by 2 shots. His previous best score was a 75.

John Keating comfortably won his division at Level 5 to win his gold.

Mark Claffey won gold in his division at Level 4. The video of him being declare the winner went viral as his reactions were captured on camera.

Jill Connery from Ulster finished forth in her division at Level 4. Jill previously represented Ireland at the World Games in LA in 2015 where she won silver at Level 2. She has since progressed to Level 4. Jill had a hole in one at our first training session in Grange Castle in November.

After a slow start Andrew Simington & his partner Phyl Kelleher played great golf on the final two days to clinch the gold in their division. Phyl is Andrew’s regular partner in Elm Green & is 80 years old.

Mairead Moroney was the oldest athlete competing in any sport at the games. She was the centre of media attention & was featured in many interviews on TV & in the press. She loved every minute of the limelight & told her personal story very well. Her playing partner Jean Moroney also from Ennis ensured that Mairead made the most of the experience of a lifetime. They won silver in their division.

Yas Links in Abu Dhabi was the venue for the World Games. This course is ranked 44 in the World Rankings. It is a long difficult course with plenty of water & thick rough. The greens are large & very undulating. The wind blew for the first few days making scoring difficult.

Team Ireland had great support in the run up to the games. Our training was done at Grange Castle, St Margarets, Portmarnock & Portmarnock Links. We got coaching from the local Pros. In addition Leonard Owens PGA attended all our training sessions & was excellent with the athletes.

I suppose the highlight of our training was the 2 hour clinic given by Padraig Harrington. He was brilliant with the athletes. Once introduced, he remembered all their names afterwards.

Overall Special Olympics in Ireland have around 1k athletes registered for golf. While the World Games is the ultimate achievement it is what happens in our clubs on a weekly basis that is important. There is big potential out there for future athletes as well as for golf courses & their members.

Report by Michael Forde, Team Ireland Coach.

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