Bleakley emulates Shandon Park legends to claim Lahinch green blazer
Published 31/07/2014 | 02:30
Four was the magic number once more as Shandon Park's Stuart Bleakley built on yet another fast start to beat Portmarnock's Darragh Coghlan 3&2 and claim the South of Ireland Amateur Open at a rain-soaked Lahinch.
A 150/1 outsider before the start, the 19-year old became the first player in recent memory to come all the way through from Saturday's first round to win the title.
And while it was his ball-striking that helped him steamroll his way to the decider, his nerveless putting touch proved crucial as he emulated Shandon Park legends David Long and Neil Anderson, who captured the crown in 1974 and 1984 respectively.
"I'm still in shock to be honest," said Bleakley, who started par-birdie-birdie-eagle and was five under through six as he beat Waterford's Eanna Griffin 3&2 in the morning.
"When I looked up at the board at lunch time I saw Davy Long won it in '74 and Neil Anderson in '84 and with this being 2014, I thought it was fitting."
As his father and caddie, the PGA professional Geoff Bleakley looked on, he added: "When I was getting my picture with the trophy before the final, I said to myself, 'No one is going to take this off me'."
The winner of two Fred Dalys in Ulster with his former club Balmoral, he added: "I've achieved a lot team-wise, but not individually before today. I knew I could do it before I finally worked out about six months ago that you have to do a lot of practice to go quite far in this game!"
Coghlan (25) came back from two down after nine to beat Richard Knightly of Royal Dublin by 2&1 in the morning.
But he admitted afterwards that nerves got the better of him early in the final, where he fell three down after three to a solid Bleakley, who won the first in par and the second with a conceded eagle three.
"My ball striking just wasn't there," Coghlan said of his slow start. "I suppose the occasion just got to me because it was there all week. I was solid this morning, so the only thing that changed was that it was the final."
Having lipped out for par at the third to find himself three down, Coghlan fought back, holing out well at the fifth for a half and again the sixth for a winning par to cut the gap to two holes.
Both holed five-footers for par at the seventh, but while Bleakley lost the eighth, he holed a good eight-footer to remain one up at the ninth and doubled his lead with a fine chip and putt at the 10th.
Coghlan got back to one down at the 12th, where Bleakley kicked through the back and bogeyed. But the match changed when the rain arrived on a stiff westerly wind and Coghlan three-putted the 13th and 14th to go three down.
When Bleakley converted a six footer for a half in par at the 15th he had one arm in the sleeve of the champion's green jacket.
He duly slipped the other arm into the Lahinch blazer at the 16th, where he splashed out of the right trap to three feet and after watching Coghlan miss from more than 30 feet, nervelessly holed the putt for the first individual title of his career.