Grehan eyes triple crown at revamped Rosses Point
The noble links at Rosses Point is always the star of the show but Maynooth University's Stuart Grehan can claim the limelight as he chases a rare triple crown in the 93rd West of Ireland Amateur Open at County Sligo.
Only Joe Carr, who won the West-East-South triple in 1948, managed to hold three of those titles at the same time. But following his wins at County Louth and Lahinch last year, the 23-year old international from Tullamore has set his sights on more silverware in this year's Radisson Blu Hotel and Spa-supported championship.
It won't be easy for Grehan to prevail with the likes of defending champion Dermot McElroy of Ballymena and Irish team-mates Alex Gleeson of Castle and Whitehead's John Ross Galbraith just a couple of the top players more than capable of going all the way in the imposing shadow of great Ben Bulben.
Quite apart from the competition, which includes seven Co Sligo men headed by last year's leading qualifier and beaten semi-finalist Sean Flanagan, the course promises to be the biggest challenge of all.
No fewer than eight of the first 12 holes have been toughened up at the hands of golf architect Pat Ruddy, a Sligo native who admits he always looked at the Harry Colt's great links "with lover's eyes".
The new green complex at the par-five third won't be in play but new bunkering on six holes and extended greens at four, form part of phase one of an 18-hole project that will transform County Sligo into a links test that would challenge Rory McIlroy should he wish to bring the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to the scene of his wins in the 2005 and 2006 'West'.
While many had hoped to see Walker Cup player and 2014 winner Jack Hume return as the world No 13, the Naas player's absence only helps the likes of Grehan. A Paddy Harrington Scholarship student at Maynooth, Grehan is one of the new breed of Irish amateurs who play all over the world.
Named yesterday alongside Hume, Gleeson and Galbraith in the 2016 GB&I squad that will compete for the St Andrews Trophy this year and next year's Walker Cup, he's setting his sights on racking up trophies before even contemplating turning pro.
"The Walker Cup is a big goal of mine and I am putting the work now so that it will stand to me and I can have a chance of making that team," Grehan said. "I think my game has matured in the last six or eight months and even when I am not playing my best I can still get around in a decent score."
The 132-strong field will play two rounds of stroke play today and tomorrow with the leading 64 players qualifying for the first round of matchplay combat on Sunday with the final scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.