Grehan crowned East champion as bad weather forces early finish
A howling wind and driving rain forced officials to cancel the final round of the CityNorth Hotel East of Ireland Amateur Open and declare Tullamore's Stuart Grehan the first 54-hole winner in the event's 75-year history.
Since the 'East' was first played in 1941, the winner has always completed 72 holes on the famous County Louth links in Baltray.
But after a third round marred by driving rain and high winds, and with gusts of 100kph and torrential rain forecast for the remainder of the afternoon, tournament officials decided to call off play as the final group struggled for par on the third green.
"To win feels great," said Grehan, who was tied fifth behind Gavin Moynihan in the recent Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin. "I felt good coming in this week but I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself.
"I didn't get a lot of sleep last night and I was nervous this morning and over the first tee-shot. But once I got that away, I was fine."
Needless to say, the decision to call curtail the event did not appease everyone, especially those who had picked up a few early shots in the final round.
But, as Leinster Golf's honorary secretary Joe McNamara, the championship director, explained: "The weather was only going to get increasingly worse, so we made a decision to cancel the round rather than prolong the agony.
"Up to 6mls of rain was forecast from between 2 and 6pm and it was impossible to play the game to a proficient standard."
Nobody could argue that Grehan was nothing other than a worthy winner as he shot rounds of 67, 69 and 76 to win by five strokes on four-under-par 212 from Knock's Colin Fairweather, with Castle's Alex Gleeson taking third place on two-over-par 218.
Grehan had stormed six shots clear overnight - the biggest halfway lead for eight years. And while he was just four strokes ahead of Gleeson playing the last two holes in a morning round of 76 that featured two birdies, two bogeys and double bogeys at the par-three seventh and 15th holes, he dug deep when needed. As Gleeson finished bogey-bogey for a 75 and Irish Close champion John-Ross Galbraith took nine on the 18th for a 79, Grehan pitched to six feet to set up a crucial par at the 17th before draining a slick 12-footer down the hill for par at the 18th.
Fairweather posted a 73 to finish as Grehan's nearest rival, five behind on one-over par.
"I would have preferred if they had played on because I was chasing Stuart but it was absolutely the right decision," Gleeson said in the clubhouse after beginning the afternoon par-par.
Grehan, 22, had also parred the first two and he was thrilled to get his first senior championship victory, having won the Irish Youths title after a play-off in Loughrea in 2012.
He left Eastern Michigan University in 2013 suffering from homesickness and complaining, ironically, that the bad winter weather near Detroit made it impossible to practise.
Having secured a Paddy Harrington Scholarship at Maynooth University, where he studies Entrepreneurship, the improved mental game and putting techniques he has picked up were the keys to his win, especially in yesterday's tough weather.
"It's fantastic to win such a prestigious title," he said. "Maynooth has been great for me because it offers a nice mixture of golf and the academics and my game has come on a lot in my first year there."