O'Hanlon holds nerve amid amateur dramatics
Paul O'Hanlon held off a back-nine charge from local hero Gerard Dunne to claim the CityNorth Hotel East of Ireland Amateur Open by a stroke at a defenceless County Louth.
In a thrilling finish to a sun-splashed East, it was fitting that the title went to the 31-year-old from Carton House in his first start since regaining his amateur status 18 months ago.
No run-of-the-mill amateur before he disappeared into mini-tour oblivion from 2009 to 2012 - O'Hanlon lost to Rory McIlroy in the final of the 'West' in 2006 but won the 2007 Mullingar Scratch Trophy and the Irish Close in 2008 - he led by four strokes heading into yesterday's final 36 holes and played them in two-under par, carding rounds of 69 and 73 to win by one stroke on 11 under.
The Kildare native's vast experience proved crucial in the end, even if 28-year-old Dunne closed the gap to one stroke, making up five shots over the last seven holes as he added a 68 to his morning 71.
O'Hanlon was four ahead with four holes to go having sandwiched a birdie at the 13th between bogeys at the 12th and 14th.
But when his lead was slashed to two as he bogeyed the 16th and Dunne drained a 35 footer for birdie to a huge local roar, he didn't panic.
After making a safe par at the 17th to remain two ahead, he played left of the bunkers at the 18th and used the putter from 10 yards short of the green to set up a winning par five for what felt like the sweetest of all his amateur wins.
"This is better," said O'Hanlon, who is training as an accountant after the sums failed to add up on the mini-tour circuit.
"I am working full-time now so it feels like one against the head. It's come out of nowhere. It's bizarre."
It was, he said, his professional as much as his amateur experience that made the difference under pressure.
"I think when you're playing for your livelihood, it's somewhat easier because you've banked a lot of situations and you're sort of saying to yourself, I've faced this before and I've come through it," he said of his safety-first par at the 18th.
"When you have played for a few quid, you know you have to get the flat stick out and nudge it up to six feet out as opposed to trying to play something real fancy."
Formerly of the Curragh, O'Hanlon had extended his lead to five shots at lunch, carding a 69 to lead on 12-under from Shandon Park's Stuart Bleakley, who would eventually finish two shots behind in third alongside Balbriggan's Robbie Cannon.