Monday 24 April 2017

'Houdini' Walsh claims South

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

STEPHEN Walsh from Baltinglass, winner of the 110th South of Ireland amateur championship at Lahinch, should change his name to Houdini -- because he pulled off some great escapes en route to his triumph yesterday.

The 21-year-old Dubliner, who recently completed a degree in Sports and Exercise Management in UCD, came through yesterday's semi-final against 2009 champion Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) by 2&1 and defeated Andrew Hogan of Newlands 3&2 in the final.

"It's unbelievable. It hasn't really sunk in yet. I'm delighted," said the new champion.

Walsh, winner of the Ulster Youths last year, is self-taught, apart from lessons from his grandfather Des Tobin, who organised membership for him in Baltinglass when he was 14.

He dedicated his victory to his grandfather, who was there yesterday to see the first ever GUI 'Major' win for a Baltinglass member.

But it so nearly didn't happen. On the first day of stroke play qualifying he was six-over-par after eight holes and on his way out -- but rallied to a four-over-par 76.

Sunday's play was disrupted by fog, but Walsh held on to make the cut.

The match play series went steadily, with Walsh driving the ball very well all through the championship, but at two down after two holes in the final against Hogan, he needed to hole a 20-foot putt for a half, and got it.

"That putt on three, that was probably the biggest putt of the match because three down through three would have been a huge uphill battle," said Walsh.

Inspired by his great save, Walsh won the next two holes but turned two down when he lost the seventh to par and the ninth, again to par.

At that stage it was anybody's match, but the tide turned on the 10th, where Hogan was in trouble off the tee and in a greenside bunker in three and Walsh was in a bunker 30 yards from the green in two.

The Houdini in Walsh came to the fore, when he played a super bunker shot to 10 feet and holed the par putt. That reduced Hogan's lead to one.

Hogan, who had defeated Kelan McDonagh of Athlone/ NUIM on the 19th in the semi-final, then incurred a penalty shot on the par-three 11th which caused him to concede the hole.

His tee-shot had finished in GUR short and right of the green on sloping ground. Two attempts at dropping the ball resulted in it rolling back into the GUR and he was allowed place it.

The problem was that his pitch and run up the side of the green wasn't strong enough, and the ball rolled back into the GUR again.

His first drop was inside GUR, but on his second drop, as the ball was clearly rolling back into the GUR , Hogan was too quick to lift it -- and he picked it up before it crossed over the white line.

Once the referee called the penalty shot, Hogan conceded the hole as the best he could do was make five and Walsh's ball was already safely on the green in one.

All square then and they halved 12 and 13 before Walsh grabbed a one-hole lead on 14 with a 20-foot birdie putt.

He went two-up on the 15 when Hogan was in trouble after missing the green and a seven-iron to inside three feet on the par-three finished the match.

Walsh's caddy, Barry Conway (19), son of David Conway of Portmarnock and Lahinch fame, played a big role in the win, and no doubt will get a share of Walsh's winnings.

"I put €5 on myself each-way at 66/1 with Paddy Power for a laugh, so that's a bit of a bonus," he said.

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