Friday 19 January 2018

Kehoe returns to scene of 'South' glory

Justin Kehoe - won the ‘South’ in 2001 and played professional golf for six years
Justin Kehoe - won the ‘South’ in 2001 and played professional golf for six years

Brian Keogh

Just like Paul Dunne, Justin Kehoe knows what it's like to shoot 78 in the Open Championship.

But the difference between the Greystones amateur and the Birr man and who returns to action in amateur championship golf in the South of Ireland at Lahinch today after a 12-year absence, is he did it in the first round at Carnoustie in 2007 and missed the cut comfortably after a 79 on day two.

It was that 2007 Open that gave Padraig Harrington his first Major and inspired youngsters like Dunne to believe that Irish players were capable of achieving great things in the game.

Kehoe did his bit in the amateur game, winning the 'South' in 2001 with a 6&4 demolition of Stephen Browne before going on to turn professional.

Reinstated as an amateur three years ago, he understands better then most the true enormity of Dunne's incredible achievement over the Old Course.

"It is incredible what Paul did. Imagine making the final group on the last day of The Open," said 35-year-old Kehoe, who played professional golf for six years before reality hit home and he decided to become a chartered accountant, qualifying last December. "What an achievement. It is the stuff of boyhood dreams. Incredible golf."

The Shinrone native is playing off scratch again and dipped his toes into the competitive waters again this year, purely for fun.

"I played a few scratch cups this year and Barton Shield and Senior Cup for Limerick but that's about it," he said. "It's going to be a new experience for me - all over again.

"I got to the quarter-finals in 1998 and 2000 and won in 2001 and got the semis again in 2003, so I have some happy memories of Lahinch."

Kehoe's comprehensive win over Browne 14 years ago is still fondly remembered, more for the post-golf singsong than the final itself where Kehoe played the piano and Browne, son of the tenor Edmund Browne and a trained baritone himself, sang along during that evening's celebrations, has become the stuff of legend.

"My role has been somewhat overstated," added Kehoe with chuckle. "I have a reputation for being something of a pianist which I don't deserve. I might have played a couple of songs and Stephen joined in for one, maybe for 'Danny Boy'. He was the star attraction, obviously and I was just bungling along."

Kehoe was far from a bungling amateur and like Browne, he played as a full-time amateur for two years and turned professional in 2003 but he has no huge ambitions of upsetting the leading lights chasing international selection in Lahinch.

With Ireland's top six amateurs resting or in the case of Dunne, Cormac Sharvin, Gary Hurley, Jack Hume and Gavin Moynihan, at the Walker Cup squad session at Royal Lytham and St Annes, several top players are chasing the historic title and places in the Irish team that will defend the Home International title at Royal Portrush next month.

Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell and Stackstown's Richard Bridges are keen to impress Irish team captain Tony Goode and his selectors and keep their places.

But with one or two spots up for grabs, the likes of the Island's Paul McBride, Eanna Griffin (Waterford), Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock), Rowan Lester (Hermitage), North of Ireland runner up Gary Collins (Rosslare), Stuart Grehan (Tullamore) and Robin Dawson (Faithlegg) could come into the reckoning if they perform in Lahinch.

Kehoe, however, may still prove a handful should he make the Top 64 in strokeplay qualifying for Friday's first round of matchplay combat

"I have had my amateur career already and I am just going to Lahinch because I have some time to play golf," he said. "I am a long time out of the game and I don't have any great expectations."

Irish Independent

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