Dream year gets better for Keating
Selection for the Ireland team competing in this week's Boys Home Internationals crowns a magnificent few months in the life of 17-year-old Seapoint clubman Dylan Keating.
The Dundalk Grammar School student, who is the reigning Drogheda Independent Coca-Cola Sport Star of the Year, gained national attention recently when he became the youngest ever amateur golfer to play in the Open Championship Final Qualifying competition.
And whatever happens in Wales this week - the Home Internationals begin today (Tuesday) - it will be hard to better that feeling of topping the leaderboard at Regional Qualifying in Baltray.
'It's been a mad year so far!' he acknowledged, speaking to the Drogheda Independent after hearing of his Ireland call.
'I didn't really expect to win the Regional Qualifying because I'd been playing in the Henry Cooper [Junior Masters in Nizels, Kent - Dylan came 30th out of 126 starters] and flew back the night before.
'I was really excited when I looked at the timesheet and saw some of the names on it. Simon Thornton's won on the European Tour events and there was Paul McBride and Robert Brazil and I've never played in a field of that calibre.
'I had six hours' sleep and got up the next morning and shot six-under par at Baltray. To win that was my biggest achievement this year and I'm still thinking today, did I really do it!'
Around 300 players from all over the world, including experienced Tour men, went on to compete in Final Qualifying at Royal Lytham and St Annes, with just 12 of them winning a place alongside the golfing superstars at Royal Portrush.
Keating never stood a chance in that sort of company but certainly didn't look out of place as he went round in a creditable five-over par for 36 holes as dozens of others carded 10-over or much worse. Fellow amateur Thomas Mulligan (Laytown & Bettystown) also made it to Final Qualifying, incidentally, and finished five shots behind Keating.
'I got a bit nervous out there because there was about 600 people watching, but it was a phenomenal experience,' the current Seapoint Junior Captain enthused.
'I was playing with Richard Finch and Matthew Jordan and a lot of people were following them, and there was a few from around the area who came out to watch me because I was the youngest in the field.
'I shot five-over par in the end, but I knew I wasn't qualifying after 15 holes of the second round and basically gave up at that stage!'
The thrill of playing on such a big stage, one step away from the Open Championship itself, has whetted Keating's appetite to give the Qualifying competition another go in 12 months' time.
'I went up to the Open at Portrush and it was strange looking at the packed grandstands and thinking 'I could have been playing in this'. It's not like it was out of the question,' he said.
'So I'm going to go for it again next year and I think I would be the youngest ever Irishman to play in the Open. I'm backing myself. Normally one-under gets you into Final Qualifying and this year it was three-under, and once you get through Regional Qualifying you have a chance.'
All the while plus-three handicapper Keating has been busy taking part in other big tournaments. He was third overall in the Ulster Boys Championship this year and winner of the Under-17 category, the leading qualifier for the Leinster Boys Championship where he placed fifth overall and Under-17 runner-up, and most recently he won the Boys Interprovincial Championship.
'It was great to get the win there with the lads,' he said, referring to the Leinster team's success.
'It's not one of the big things in my schedule because it's not Ireland, but it was an unbelievable team to be part of. We're all great mates and it's amazing that Leinster have won seven out of the last eight Interprovincials.'
On top of all that, Keating had the privilege of playing with nine-time Major winner Gary Player a few weeks ago.
'We were in Tenerife on holidays and Dad got a call from Gary Player's manager who asked did we want to play with Gary at Portstewart,' Dylan expained.
'It was one of those things where you wonder is it actually going to happen, but it did and that was an unbelievable experience.
'It was Gary, Gary's son-in-law, my dad and me - a nice little fourball! - and I got a lot of great tips. You're inspired when you play someone like Gary and I've changed my diet completely since then and I'm sticking to eating a lot more greens.
'He's 84 and he actually beat me!'
For this week at least, attention is focused on the Boys Home Internationals where Keating is joined in the team by another local debutant in Dundalk's Josh Mackin, and for the Seapoint teenager it's another achievement to tick off the bucket list.
'They just called Mum to say I was on the team and it was brilliant to get that news,' said Dylan.
'I was expecting it, very much so, because I missed out narrowly on the squad for the Europeans and this is a bigger team, but it's going to be an amazing experience and it's brilliant that I can play in it next year as well.'
For now it's all about golf, but soon it will be a massive reality check for Dylan as he returns to school life at Dundalk Grammar.
'It's going to feel weird going back, especially after transition year,' he said.
'My main goal is to get a scholarship to the States and I need to get the SATs exams done, and once I get them I can focus on the Leaving Cert.'