Ryan overcomes back injury to bag big prize
BEWARE the injured golfer. That was the lesson to be learned from the final of the Irish Independent-GUI 'Most Improved Golfer' competition on the Montgomerie Course at Carton House.
Our overall winner was 21-year- old Stephen Ryan from County Tipperary GC, who shot a magnificent 39 points off a 12 handicap.
Ryan's performance was all the more remarkable as he injured his back a few days before the final -- so much so, that he doubted he would be able to tee it up as scheduled.
"It was just a strained muscle. I did it a couple of years ago, so I knew what it was, but I also knew it would stay for a few days," said Ryan.
"I was thinking I mightn't have been able to play, but it wasn't too bad when I got up and I slowly warmed it up. Around the 12th hole I began to feel a few twinges, but it didn't get any worse," he said.
Whatever about the injury, Ryan's golf was the essence of stability as he had nines of 21-18 on the card for a victory by two shots from nearest challengers Niall Carroll (The Heritage) and Colin Wilton (Banbridge).
The County Tipperary golfer's formula for success on this challenging inland 'links,' which has hosted the Irish Open, was excellent driving and steady putting on the immaculate greens.
"The drives were good, the irons were so-so, but I putted well. It's fantastic to win this competition and I'm very grateful to the sponsors, the Irish Independent and the GUI," he said.
Ryan has come down from 19 handicap to 12 since he joined County Tipperary in summer 2010.
His success, and indeed that of each qualifier who had to seriously lower their handicap to get to the final, showed there is a great appetite for improved performance among club golfers nationwide.
Almost 8,000 GUI members entered the competition and the finalists across the four categories were given a serious test by the Union.
General secretary Pat Finn and members of the championship committee ran the final with their usual precision and the competitors faced a big challenge off the white tees on the fine Montgomerie Course in blustery conditions.
GUI president Eugene Fayne and honorary secretary Albert Lee were present to honour the competitors, as was Carton House president Lee Mallaghan.
The category one winner was The Heritage secretary/manager Niall Carroll, who returned 37 points off two handicap to pip Colin Wilton on the back nine.
Carroll began the year off six, and dropped four shots, helped by winning the club singles match play and two Medal competitions.
"This was the first year I concentrated on golf. I gave up other sports and just said I'd give it a good go. I had four birdies and five bogies, so I'm happy with the way I played. The greens were excellent and so was the course," he said.
Owen O'Keeffe, a member of Ballykisteen GC and a former senior hurler with Tipperary's Cappawhite club, won category two with 30 points from Killarney's James Ormonde on the back nine.
Category three was won by 28-year-old former Laois U-21 and minor footballer Peter Murray, who plays out of Carlow GC.
Murray has lowered his handicap from 20 to 12. Prior to this year he had played very little golf, but in his youth was a competitive pitch and putt player, which helps with the short game.
Galway native Alan Tierney, a Tulfarris member, won category four with 30 points off 14. He is another of the prize winners who put a big effort into golfing improvement and it paid off as he has gone from 24 to 14 handicap this year.
Overall winner: 39 pts Stephen Ryan (Co Tipperary)
Category 1: 37 pts (back 9): Niall Carroll (The Heritage). 37 Colin Wilton (Banbridge). 35 James Cullinane (Lisselan).
Category 2: 30 pts (back 9) Owen O'Keeffe (Ballykisteen). 30 James Ormonde (Killarney). 28 David Lynch (Castlecomer)
Category 3: 35 Peter Murray (Carlow). 33 Colin Byrne (Monkstown). 31 (back 9) Gerrard Cuddihy (Carlow).
Category 4: 30 Alan Tierney (Tulfarris). 29 James McEvoy (Dublin Mountain). 26 (back 9) Jamie Shortt (Old Conna).