Thursday 14 December 2017

Blind faith pays royal dividend for McDonnell

Forrest Little's Jack McDonnell:
Forrest Little's Jack McDonnell: "I hit the driver everywhere, hit it well and just played for the front of greens all day and let it run up." Stock photo: PA

Brian Keogh

Forrest Little's Jack McDonnell took advantage of his lack of knowledge of Royal County Down to lead the home challenge in the Flogas Irish Amateur Open at a fiery Royal County Down.

The 22-year old sociology and geography student at Maynooth University has been so busy preparing for his final exams that he didn't have time for a practice round. But despite playing the course blind, the Connacht interprovincial limited his mistakes to two front-nine three-putts and made four birdies to open with a two-under-par 69 and share fourth place, just two shots behind Rotherham native Nicholas Poppleton.

Cautious approach play usually pays dividends at the Newcastle links but when asked the key to his score, McDonnell said: "Not knowing where to go!" The reigning Munster Youths champion added: "It was a hit and hope. So I hit the driver everywhere, hit it well and just played for the front of greens all day and let it run up."

Royal County Down was left defenceless in a light breeze and brilliant sunshine. But while the championship course was shortened by 157 yards, just 13 players broke par with 23-year-old Poppleton firing six birdies in a four-under par 67 to lead by a stroke from 21-year-old compatriot Matthew Jordan from Royal Liverpool and 19-year old South African talent Kyle McClatchie.

"It's the first tournament I have been to in amateur golf where they set it up as fair as they can," said Poppleton. "We played Lytham last week, and every tee box was on the back and it was just brutal."

Experience clearly paid off as Galway's Joe Lyons, Douglas' Peter O'Keeffe and Portmarnock's James Fox ended the day tied for eighth after rounds of 70.

Eddie McCormack and Mark Morrissey shot level-par 71s to share 14th with Tramore's Robin Dawson whose fellow Walker Cup panellists Alex Gleeson from Castle and Naas' Conor O'Rourke battled for one-over 72s. Defending champion Colm Campbell, the other Irish Walker Cup hopeful in action, had a 79 while American Stewart Hagestad, the leading amateur at last month's Masters started eagle-birdie but ran up a quadruple bogey eight at the ninth en route to a 73.

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