Flogas Irish Am - preview day one

​Course record for Mullarney at County Sligo - 9 under par, 62.

  • 16 May 2019

​Picture: Mullarney in action this morning. Photo by Cashman Photography.

Portmarnock international Conor Purcell leads the field for the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship when the blue riband tournament moves west to Co Sligo from 16-19 May.
Purcell, number 25 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (as of 24 April), has already captured the Australian Amateur crown this year. The 21-year-old Dubliner enters his home championship as the highest ranked player and will play alongside German Michael Hirmer and Finland's Matthias Honkala in the marquee group of the opening round.

Hirmer, ranked inside the world's top 50, lost out to Purcell at the semi-final stage of the Australian Amateur last January. He plays regularly on the Pro Golf Tour and won against the professionals in Egypt last year. Honkala played on the winning Continent of Europe team at last year's St Andrews Trophy, winning all four of his matches including his encounter against Purcell in the final singles session.

West of Ireland champion, Caolan Rafferty, is an absentee due to a clash with third level exams. Former champion Peter O'Keeffe, successful in 2017, is among this year's title challengers.
"I think once you play well, things fall into place," said Purcell, who began the domestic season with a share of second at the West of Ireland, the first event on the Bridgestone Order of Merit. "I don't really put an emphasis on a particular tournament or a particular stretch of events. You just need to try keep doing what you're doing."
Purcell's strong showing at the West, also staged at Co Sligo, bodes well for his next title bid. The Flogas Irish Amateur Open was last played over the links at Rosses Point in 1950, when the legendary JB Carr prevailed. And with Rafferty, this year's winner at the West, unable to contest the national championship, Purcell is in pole position.
Rafferty leads the Bridgestone Order of Merit following his early season success but Purcell can leapfrog the current leader by finishing inside the top 13 this time around. The winner of the Irish Amateur will earn 425 points toward the order of merit series, the most valuable single prize on offer throughout the season.
"I think over the last year or so there has been a much bigger emphasis on playing at home," said Purcell, buoyed by Bridgestone's backing for the Order of Merit. "Bridgestone have done a great job in supporting it. You need a sponsor like that to back it. It's huge because I think there were a few years there where players put a bigger emphasis on playing abroad and playing big world-ranking events."
In each of the last two years, the Flogas Irish Amateur Open has been staged at Royal County Down, producing superb champions on both occasions. Robin Dawson, victorious in 2018, has since switched to the professional ranks, but Peter O'Keeffe returns for another tilt at the title he won in supreme fashion two years ago.
Of the 57 Ireland players in the field, O'Keeffe holds the second highest rank. The Douglas international, and fitness professional, is a formidable presence. At 37 years of age, the six foot five Corkman has the power and the guile to prosper once more.
Men's Home Internationals 2018 _B7E9133.JPG
Kilkenny's Mark Power (pictured above), now in his final year of secondary school, is at a considerable remove from O'Keeffe in terms of experience but it is not unknown for teenagers to win this prestigious prize. Gavin Moynihan, then aged 17, took the trophy at Royal Dublin in 2012. Power has already won the Irish Boys Open twice. The 18 year old impressed at the South African Stroke Play earlier this season, firing a final round 67 to finish in a tie for third.

Significantly for Power, this year's championships offers a chance to impress the Walker Cup selectors. Nine of the 26 players named in the Great Britain & Ireland squad make the trip to Co Sligo, including Mallow's James Sugrue. Scottish star Euan Walker, another player boasting strong credentials, won the African Amateur Stroke Play in February and has since posted two more top ten finishes.
The Flogas Irish Amateur Open continues to attract a high class international field. In all, eleven different countries are represented among the overseas contingent. England's Arron Edwards-Hill returns to Rosses Point after tying for second, alongside Purcell, at the West of Ireland. Players from Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, USA and Wales make up the rest of the field.
In total, there are 135 players teeing up at Co Sligo and the host club are understandably proud to be staging such a major golfing event.
"This is the biggest tournament that the club has ever hosted," said Co Sligo Captain Kevin Flanagan. "The course is fit for this type of championship."
On Easter weekend, the club marked its 125th anniversary with a gala ball, which was attended by 300 people. And there are two Co Sligo players in the starting field -- Ruairi O'Connor and Sean Flanagan, the captain's eldest son.
"It is a huge honour for me and my family," said Kevin, reflecting on the significance of this occasion. "The golf club is my mother's family when we're not around. She still plays golf twice a week. We are all really excited."
Notably, Kevin Flanagan served as Ireland captain when the Home Internationals were staged at Co Sligo in 2011. He has seen all that the course has to offer during a lifetime's involvement with the game.
"The views will catch the eye when the players come here first," he said, knowingly. "It is a very fair course. There are no blind shots. The greens are not particularly sloped and the rough is not particularly tough at the moment. I think approach shots will be the most important factor for the players."
Naturally, conditions will determine how much latitude the players will have. In recent years, the golf course has been restyled to better suit the modern game. An extension to the 17th green adds intrigue to the penultimate hole, already one of the most demanding at Rosses. A new tee box on the 14th brings with it an extra burden over the closing stretch.
As ever on links terrain, keeping out of trouble will likely put you in the picture.