Who is Kerry's greatest ever golfer?

Eoghan O’Connell in action back in 1997
Eoghan O’Connell in action back in 1997

I was involved in a discussion last week with a group of friends as to who should be included in the greatest Kerry football team since 1975 and it was great fun looking back over the years and recalling some of the great names to have worn the green and gold shirt.

Soon, however, my thoughts turned to golf and it got me thinking about all the great golfers that Kerry has produced over the years from Dr Billy O'Sullivan right up to Waterville's Mark Murphy, the last Kerry man to be capped at full international level by Ireland.

Then I found myself asking "Who is the greatest ever golfer to come out of Kerry?

The answer to this is likely to be different from everybody you might ask, but let's take a look at a few of the notable candidates. There may be others but these are the ones that I consider worthy of mention. Several players from the county come to mind immediately, including those who represented Ireland at full international level like Graham Spring from Tralee, Killarney's Paul Murphy and the aforementioned Mark Murphy from Waterville. No doubt their achievements in playing for their country must be recognised, but as neither of the three won any of the GUI's 'big five' Championships, then none of them can really be considered for the accolade as Kerry's greatest ever golfer. Ballybunion's Seán Quinlivan did win the East of Ireland Championship in 1997 but was never capped at Senior level for Ireland so he too falls into that category along with the other three.

You could say the same possibly about Dr Billy O'Sullivan of Killarney and Dooks who was the first Kerry golfer to really come to prominence back in the 1930s. He never managed to win a major championship, but in view of the fact that he played for Ireland 68 times between 1934 and 1954 then he must be considered ahead of the others.

The next man to come along from the Kingdom was again a Killarney member, the great Michael Guerin, who will forever be remembered for winning the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch three years in a row from 1961 to 1963, whilst representing Ireland on eight occasions in that three-year period. Guerin went on to turn professional at the height of his career before reverting back to amateur status a few years later. He was still a great player for many years after but he never regained the glittering form of the early 60s.

Ballybunion's Pat Mulcare burst on the scene in the mid to late 60s and won the South of Ireland in 1971 beating Ted Higgins in the final. Mulcare, who was by then playing out of Woodbrook, as he worked in Dublin, went on to win the East of Ireland Championship three times in a row from 1971 to 1973 and represented Ireland 72 times between 1968 and 1980. He was also a member of the Walker Cup team at St Andrews in 1975 winning two of the three matches he played, beating Jerry Pate and Dick Siderowf in the foursomes and Siderowf again in the singles whilst losing his other singles match to Curtis Strange.

Mick Morris, whose career overlapped with that of Mulcare, was known first and foremost as a footballer, winning All-Irelands with Kerry in 1969 and 1970, before taking to golf as a member of Portmarnock in Dublin where he worked with the ESB. The Tralee man won the Irish Close in 1978 and the South of Ireland in 1982 whilst playing 51 times for Ireland between 1978 and 1984.

Ballybunion's Tommy Corridan was something of a boy prodigy, winning all four provincial boys titles as a teenager and representing Ireland at Boys and Youths level before his career went into freefall when he couldn't keep the ball on the fairway. However, after a winter spent with Ted Higgins on the range at Ballybunion, he emerged in the summer of 1983 a new man, and went on to win the Irish Close beating Tramore's Eddie Power in a memorable final at Killarney. Tommy, who played out of Castletroy at this stage as he lived and worked in Limerick, went on to play 21 times for Ireland in the next ten years or so.

Killarney's Eoghan O'Connell was the next Kerryman to emerge, although technically he is from Ballydesmond in Cork. O'Connell burst on the scene in 1984 winning the Irish Boys title, and three years later was a member of the Irish Youths and full international teams who did the double, winning the European Championships at both grades. Eoin never managed a win in one of the major championships, but he represented Great Britain & Ireland in the Eisenhower Trophy and was a member of the first ever Walker Cup team to win on American soil in 1997 when in the final day singles he managed a half against no less a man than Phil Mickelson to clinch the trophy. O'Connell also won the leading amateur title in the Irish Open on two occasions and was the leading qualifier at the British Open in 1987 at North Berwick.

Waterville's David Higgins is a man I write about quite a lot on his exploits as a professional, and he was the next Kerry golfer to step up to the mark. In a glittering period over a few short weeks back in 1994 he won the South of Ireland Championship and the Irish Close, beating Padraig Harrington in both finals. Higgins also played for Ireland 12 times between 1993 and 1994 before joining the professional ranks.

So which of these players is Kerry's greatest ever golfer?

Well, it's a tough one to call but purely on achievements and not ability I would have to rule out Dr Billy for not having won a championship, Michael Guerin for a brief international career, and Mick Morris, Tommy Corridan and David Higgins for not having played in the Walker Cup. That leaves Pat Mulcare and Eoghan O'Connell as the only two men from Kerry to have played Walker Cup, which is just about as high as one can go as an amateur golfer.

They both had glittering careers and one could argue that Mulcare played on a losing Walker Cup team while O'Connell made history as a member of the first Great Britain and Ireland team to win in America. However, I think in view of his haul of four major amateur titles and his Walker Cup appearance, as well as 72 International appearances in a 12-year span, Pat Mulcare is - for me at least - the greatest ever Kerry golfer.

Now, let the arguments and debate begin!