Murray ready to take on young guns as stars look to rise in the East
Amateur golf might be a young man's game these days, but don't tell Limerick's Pat Murray as he bids to overcome the young turks and a dodgy Achilles tendon in the East of Ireland Amateur Open at County Louth this weekend.
The 40-year-old Limerick international severed his Achilles tendon playing football just a few days before Christmas and spent the next four months in plaster.
But while he sated his appetite for an amateur major by winning the 'Close' in Enniscrone three years ago, the Tipperary native has unfinished business at Baltray where he was joint runner-up last year behind Lucan youngster Richard O'Donovan.
O'Donovan (21) is back to defend his title in a 156-man field that features Irish Close champion Chris Selfridge (20) and Irish Amateur Open winner Gavin Moynihan (17) of The Island.
Even without the presence of Walker Cup player Alan Dunbar (22), who has withdrawn following his recent bout of 'flu, and US college star Paul Dunne (19), the field is a strong one with Ardee's Eugene Smith (20) and Mourne's Reeve Whitson (20), second and fourth in the 'Close' at Royal Portrush last Sunday, two of the new breed of young guns to watch.
Murray has an enviable record at Baltray, where he has had six top-10 finishes since he finished tied second behind Ken Kearney in 2001. But he also knows that if he is to become the oldest winner of the East since a 39-year-old Jim Carvill triumphed in 2005, he needs his still weak left Achilles to stand up to 72 holes of punishment over the next three days.
"There are a lot of young guns around," Murray said. "I'm sure I was playing golf before some of them were born. But I've always said that when I feel I can't compete in these championships, I won't play in them."
Murray proved his fitness with a fifth-place finish on his return to action in the 36-hole Ballybunion Scratch Cup five weeks ago and showed form with a 66 in the club medal at Limerick last Sunday.
"The game is in quite decent shape," he said. "I just don't know about playing five rounds of golf in four days if you include the practice round. I am not in any pain, but I was initially told I would do well to make the South of Ireland. So, I've pushed myself hard to get back for the East and the Inter-pros."
Munster Youths winner Smith impressed in the 'Close' at Portrush and as a dual member of Ardee and Co Louth, he's got the game to win the title after honing his skills in New Zealand over the winter.
His goal is to win a place on the Leinster side and given his form so far this year, and his ambition, he can copper-fasten his place over the next three days.