Tuesday 17 October 2017

Irish Open assault next chapter in Phelan's remarkable story

Karl MacGinty

KEVIN PHELAN today plans to wind down after 12 exhausting days in the elite competitive arena ... by playing golf.

Oh, to be 22 again.

Phelan this morning heads for Long Island, New York, for a social round at one of the most exclusive clubs in the United States.

Invited by a member (and family friend) to play The National Golf Links of America, Phelan will take this priceless opportunity to run the rule over the venue for September's Walker Cup.

The Waterford Castle favourite is too modest to assume he'll return there in the autumn with the Great Britain and Ireland team.

However, Phelan's performance in one of the most physically and mentally demanding US Opens in recent memory surely boosted his selection prospects.

His feet have barely touched the ground since Phelan broke Sean O'Hair's course record at Wilmington Country Club with a superb 67 on the eve of the Palmer Cup matches between university golfers from the US and Europe.

One of the leading performers on a European team well beaten by its hosts, Phelan then headed for Merion last Monday but was limited to less than nine holes of practice per day on the East Course as storms and torrential rain threatened to turn the US Open venue into a quagmire.

On Thursday, he showed phenomenal maturity and shot-crafting skills to open with 71. As leading Irishman in the first round, he was two strokes better than Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and even Tiger Woods.

He then made the cut on eight-over with a second-round 77, while Major champions Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke had to take the weekend off.

Phelan found the going tough during Saturday's 78 but had three birdies on his card yesterday as a closing 74 left him with a share of 62nd on 20-over, just one behind Ryder Cup ace Martin Kaymer and two clear of experienced Swedish playing companion Peter Hedblom.

Born in New York, Phelan was reared by parents John and Josephine in their native Waterford before, at age nine, going back to the States, where he recently completed four years as a psychology student at North Florida University in Jacksonville.

His ambition, beyond the Walker Cup, is to go to Q-School in Europe and the US this year ... in the meantime, watch out for the next exciting chapter in Phelan's career when he plays the Irish Open next week at Carton House on a Montgomerie Course that he says "fits my eye".

POWER PLAY SENDS DONALD OFF COURSE

IT'S a mystery why a player of Luke Donald's incredible ability would have to wait until his 10th US Open before truly contending.

This championship should suit the gutsy Englishman, whose trademark accuracy, stunning short game and sure putting seem a perfect match for the most relentless of golf's Majors.

Donald appeared to confirm the theory that his lack of length left him at a significant disadvantage when the pressure comes on at the Majors ... while others can shift up a gear at those fraught times, he constantly plays close to his limit.

For example, Donald was sharing the tournament lead as he stood on the tee at the 253-yard 17th and again over his 229-yards second shot into the green at 18 on Saturday.

On both occasions, he carved his ball right into deep rough, leading to a bogey, double-bogey finish. "It was both yardages," he explained. "I had to get a little extra out of the two-iron ... my poor swings are when I attack too hard from the top and I get out of sync and they go right."

ACE STEFANI JUMPS FOR JOY ON HALLOWED TURF

WITH one sweep of his club on the East Course yesterday, Shawn Stefani (31) from Texas, carved out a place for himself in history as the first player to make a hole-in-one at a US Open in Merion.

If you were taking bets on which hole might get aced, the 17th would probably be your last pick ... it has played incredibly tough this week, though the tee was moved up to 213 yards for the final round.

The route Stefani took to this ace was even more unlikely. He pulled his four-iron left of the green but his ball took a favourable hop in the rough, bounded onto the putting surface, rolled all the way up to the back-right cup and disappeared.

"I didn't know what to do but jump up and down for joy. I'd never made one in a tournament before," said Stefani, playing his rookie season on the US Tour this year after a couple of Web.com wins in 2012.

"The Philly fans can be tough on you or they can love you forever. I'm sure they appreciated me getting down and kissing their ground," he added. Stefani's ace was the 40th in the history of the US Open, the most recent landed by Peter Hedblom at Winged Foot in 2006.

ONE DRINK AND POLICE CAR TOO MANY IN MOSTLY PEACEFUL WEEK

THE cops at Haverford Township Police Department reckon it's a while since they heard one side of a telephone conversation as funny as this:

"Hi Mom, I've got myself into a bit of trouble at the US Open.

++++++++++

"I stole a police car, crashed it and now I'm in jail.

+++++++++

"No, I'm not joking.

+++++++++

"Yes, I am being serious ... "

There was more bad news for Mom as her son explained it was going to take $25,000 to bail him out. And since the car contained two shotguns, he's also been charged with stealing the firearms from the police.

The 'kid', 22 from New Orleans, was visiting the US Open; had a few too many drinks the other night and spied the empty police car, its lights flashing and engine running, at a road junction.

Unable to resist, he jumped in and took it for a spin, eventually crashing a couple of miles away ... into a police post, where he was instantly surrounded by dozens of cops and arrested.

He remembered nothing of the incident when he awoke in a cell the next morning and made that phone call the police found amusing but wasn't remotely funny to his poor mother.

One cop we spoke to expressed sympathy for the youngster, saying: "I've no tolerance for violent crime but nobody was hurt in this incident, the kid has no priors whatsoever, just imbibed had a few too many drinks and did something stupid."

Otherwise, there were precious few arrests during a peaceful week at Merion ... off the golf course!

Irish Independent

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