'Ancient' Murray fights for old guard in close defence
REIGNING Irish Close champion Pat Murray from Limerick won't give up his title without a fight -- even though he's feeling the age gap. Murray, 39 in July, has been battling away in the upper echelons of Irish amateur golf for over 20 years, but only last year at Enniscrone did he make his championship breakthrough and win the blue riband of Irish golf.
Was it worth the wait? Oh, yeah baby. Murray really enjoyed his day in the sun when he defeated Cian Curley of Newlands in the final.
But this week presents a whole new challenge when a field of 150 golfers, handicapped at 0.9 or better, starts out by playing stroke play qualifying on Saturday and Sunday at Royal Dublin golf club.
After that, the top 64 go through to the match play rounds when the weeding-out process begins on Monday, with the semi-finals and final this day week.
The field is packed with hungry young players, the best of them hoping to carve out a career in the professional ranks.
However, the likes of Murray, a career amateur who works as secretary-manager of Limerick Golf Club, remain focused on performing in the unpaid ranks.
That said, Murray is beginning to notice the changing of the guard as the guys he is used to seeing at domestic tournaments and abroad start to dwindle away.
"Am I ancient? Completely!" he states. "Up to now it wasn't too bad, but I noticed it more so in Sotogrande this year at the Nations Cup.
"Before, we had Gary Wolstenholme there, Nigel Edwards was playing, so was a Scottish lad, Glen Campbell, so I wasn't in the top three oldest fellas at a tournament like that.
"But this time, none of them were there -- so I got promoted straight back up to the top of the veterans list this year, at least in Sotogrande."
Murray can jest, but he puts in the work to keep his game in shape to compete with the younger brigade.
And he shudders to think how tempted he might have been to giving it all up before claiming that precious Irish Close title. Now Murray reveals that his pals won't let him rest on his laurels.
"Competitive golf takes up a lot of time, and costs money, even though you get some grants. I was going along wondering if it was worth keeping going, and I was just saying, 'I'll give it another year' and then another year, and then I won the Close. That was amazing because I had gone up to Baltray for the East of Ireland feeling my game was coming along, and then missed the cut. It was horrendous.
"I suppose the bit of maturity helped. I'm generally harder on myself than anyone, but I just said, 'right, that's gone, now let's give it a go in the Close'. And a few days later I had won it.
"After that my friends back home were saying stuff like, 'you can't give it up now, after winning the Close', so I'm still at it," says Murray.
Murray's joy was tempered by not making the six-man side for the European Team Championships despite being the holder of the Irish title.
He's diplomatic about it, but you know it hurt. And that has spurred him on for this season. "My ambition starting out this year has been to win another championship."
Those are the words of an ambitious golfer. With three championships gone -- the West of Ireland, Irish Amateur Open, and the East of Ireland won by Rory Leonard, Alan Dunbar and Cian Curley respectively, there's only the Irish Close, the North of Ireland, and the South of Ireland left to be won.
Of those, Murray would most love to win the South. That's the big one in his native Munster, and with six appearances in the semi-finals, he would be delighted to finally reach a final and win the venerable trophy.
How many more chances will he give himself? Murray is philosophical, but still enthusiastic.
"I've probably got more mellow about it. You see fellas throwing clubs and tantrums, the whole lot," he says.
"For me going to Royal Dublin is a couple of days holidays from work, and if I get to the point where I don't feel I can compete, then I'll say, 'yeah, that's enough'."
But with the Close to play this week and hopes of gaining an invitation to the '3' Irish Open at Killarney from July 29-August 1, Murray is far from being a beaten docket.