Monday 26 September 2016

Teamwork the key to tour goal

Colm Moriarty says our future professionals need to perfect their trade in amateur ranks.

Brian Keogh

Published 08/09/2016 | 02:30

Colm Moriarty wants to extend the team ethos to give amateurs a chance on the PGA tour. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Colm Moriarty wants to extend the team ethos to give amateurs a chance on the PGA tour. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

It's now nearly five years since Colm Moriarty took a step back from life as a full-time Challenge Tour player, complaining that he was close to becoming "institutionalised" by the grind of the second tier circuit.

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Today, he's just 12 months away from becoming a fully qualified PGA professional, but as much he loves being attached to Drive Golf Performance and teaching at Glasson Country House Hotel and Golf Club near his native Athlone, and competing on the regional circuit, the lure of the big circus remains strong.

He fully understands why every teenager in Ireland that holds a scratch handicap wants to join the PGA Tour gravy train and while he would never dent their dreams and tell them their chances of making it are somewhere between slim and none, he wonders if there is not a better way of helping more Irish youngsters take that giant leap.

After nearly 20 years playing top-flight golf - winning a South of Ireland Championship, the New South Wales Strokeplay and Matchplay titles, two Mullingar Scratch Cups and Walker Cup honours as an amateur - the 37-year old has accumulated vast experience.

In common with many players who never made the grade on tour but still have much to offer, his talents remain untapped by Irish golf.

Yes, we have Rory McIlroy and a host of major winners, but the reality is that we have just five players inside the Top 110 in the Race to Dubai and only four in the Top 100 on the Challenge Tour. France (for many years a poor relation to Irish golf) now has twice that number.

Sifting through Moriarty's results shows just how good a player he is.

In the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews he played with eventual winner Louis Oosthuizen for the first two days and went on to finish tied 37th alongside the likes of Soren Kjeldsen, Vijay Singh and another major debutant in Shane Lowry.

This year he showed flashes of his old self in the BMW PGA at Wentworth and in the Irish Open, where he was competing as one of the leading players on the PGA Irish Region last year.

"I always enjoy big events and feel quite comfortable when I get out there," Moriarty says on a quiet afternoon at Carton House, where the proverbial one man and his dog have been out to watch the Johnston Mooney & O'Brien PGA Challenge.

"For whatever reason, I couldn't get on to the tour full-time. I suppose I didn't score low enough on the Challenge Tour. My game probably suited the tougher courses on the main tour better, but that is no excuse. The guys who do well, they are able to play everywhere."

What separates the good players from the great ones is that unquantifiable X factor and while Moriarty acknowledges that the superstars have an aura of shakeable belief in their own ability, more can be done to make Irish golf stronger.

What that is, he's not quite sure, but he honestly believes that extending the team ethos that players enjoy as amateurs into the first few years of their tour careers is something worthy of further investigation.

"I think people need to remain in that team environment for longer," he says. "Whether you turn pro and your first two or three years you remain part of the GUI net until you get on to the main tour, I don't know.

"It is interesting that there are so many French guys on the main tour and the Challenge Tour nowadays. If you were to watch them in the European Amateurs, or whatever, the Irish lads will probably beat them as often as not.

"Look at how well the Irish guys always seem to be competing in the big amateur events these days. Really, a top Irish amateur should be right at the top of the pile when they turn pro. But, for whatever reason, the progression seems to stall.

"The Team Ireland Golf Trust was great for me as the money was always really welcome, but the early days of professional development for countries like France seems to be working, whatever it is they are doing."

For several years, the absence of a Challenge Tour event in Ireland left our budding tour stars scrambling to get their foot on the ladder and relying on the lottery of the Qualifying School.

Hosting an event gives that country the power to issue invitations to players from other countries, who then repay the favour by inviting Irish players who may not be exempt to their events.

There are more than 20 Irish players in action in this week's Volopa Irish Challenge at Mount Wolseley, but few have cards and most will be going to Stage One of the European Tour Qualifying School later this month. They won't include Moriarty.

"I made the cut four or five times at the Qualifying School and never got a card there either. But that's the way it is," he says.

"The margins are so fine.

"In my first year on the Challenge Tour, I lipped out on the final hole with a 40-footer in the Kazakhstan Open and finished second to Stephen Browne.

"If I had won that I would have got my card.

"The whole system nowadays appears to be guys playing full-time golf all the time from when they are 18 with nothing to fall back on. That's just hard.

"I am not saying the PGA qualification is for everyone, but at least it gives you something to fall back on."

He casts his eyes around Carton House, where former Tour player Francis Howley is Director of Golf and soon to move to Portmarnock Golf Club as head professional. Former tour winner Damien McGrane and multiple Challenge Tour winner David Higgins are playing too.

"I would never dent a young guy's dreams, because who wouldn't want to be on the PGA Tour.

"You are going to say, go for it. Dream as high as you can. But do you give it four, five, six, seven years? Or eight, nine, 10 years? Or one year? Everyone is different, I suppose."

Moriarty now finds himself on the cusp of a new career as a teacher of the game with magnificent new practice facilities coming on stream at Glasson.

He'll soon be joining the fraternity of fully qualified PGA professionals and while he has yet to make up his mind what he will do, with a wealth of knowledge to pass on to the new kids on the block, his arrival can only be a plus for Irish golf.

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