Purcell displays star quality to capture 'South' title
Portmarnock's Conor Purcell marked himself out as a star of the future with a hugely impressive 4&3 win over Hermitage's Rowan Lester in the final of the Pierse Motors-sponsored South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Lahinch yesterday.
Forty-three years after his father Joey claimed his first Irish cap with a masterful performance in the Interprovincial matches, the 19-year-old made himself a shoo-in for selection for next month's Home Internationals when he made an eagle and four birdies in a 25mph west wind at the pristine Co Clare links.
He had to dig deep to see off Warrenpoint's Irish Amateur Open champion Colm Campbell at the 18th in the semi-finals, coming back from one down with three to play to make his only visit to home hole in six matchplay encounters.
A two at the 16th and superb pars at the last two holes secured his place in the decider, where he was an estimated one-under par for the 15 holes played to Lester's four-over.
"He has it all," Campbell said, shaking his head. "I didn't do a lot wrong."
Purcell's win, which came in just his fourth men's championship appearance, was secured in a flurry of stellar shots from the eighth to the 12th, which he played in one-under par to go from all square to four up.
Up and coming Lester, 20, looked to be heading out to Castle's Daniel Holland in the semi-finals but he took the match to the 19th where he holed an outrageous, downwind 20-footer from the swale left of the green for a winning birdie three.
In the final, the first was halved in bogey fives and when Lester's superb pitch-and-putt birdie at the long second was matched by Purcell's 25-yard explosion shot to 10 feet and a perfect putt for a half, it was clear that quality would win the day.
In the end, it turned out to be Lester's lone birdie and Purcell showed his class, winning the tough third in par and the Klondyke (par-five fourth) with an eagle that required a drive, a short iron and a 12-foot putt.
"It was a tough day when a strong wind made average shots look like bad shots," Lester said. "But fair play to Conor. He played great."
Three bogeys in a row saw Purcell lose the fifth and seventh to be pegged back to all square before he hit what was arguably the match-winning shot at the 166-yard eighth - a glorious draw into the left-to-right gale that finished four feet from a back-left flag.
"Funnily enough, I had eight-iron, which I had stiffed twice on eight earlier in the week and I hit it to the same distance again," Purcell explained. "I'd been hitting fades against the wind there all week but I was trying to hold in back into the wind there and it ended up around four feet away."
He then birdied the ninth from 10 feet to go two up and struck a psychological blow at the 10th by almost chipping in for par after a poor second saw him overshoot the green in three.
Lester had a 10-footer for a win in par but missed, then bogeyed the 176-yard 11th by pushing his tee-shot after Purcell had drilled a four-iron straight into the draught and made a facile three.
"Probably my best shot of the day," he said.
A two-putt birdie four at the 12th put Purcell four up and he parred the next three holes to secure a famous win.
Reminded that his father won five-and-a-half points out six at Lahinch in 1973 to secure his international call up that year, Purcell Jnr said: "Well, I felt I needed to make a statement this week to put my name in the hat for home internationals. We will see what happens now.
"We won't tempt fate, but we certainly hope so."
As for his win and his general level of confidence, he said: "Confident? I am very confident. I feel I have a good bit of experience with boys golf. Hopefully this is the first of many (wins)."
SOUTH OF IRELAND DETAILS
Semi-finals: Rowan Lester (Hermitage) bt Daniel Holland (Castle) 19th; Conor Purcell (Portmarnock) bt Colm Campbell Jnr (Warrenpoint) 1 hole. Final: Purcell beat Lester 4&3