Monday 22 January 2018

Lowry strikes blow for below-par southerners

Portugal Masters winner Shane Lowry
Portugal Masters winner Shane Lowry
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

IRELAND'S golfing stock has never been higher -- but golfers from the south of the country need to start performing if they are to match the feats of their northern brethren.

It's a startling statistic that Shane Lowry is the first player from the Republic to win on the European Tour since May 2009.

That was the famous occasion when amateur Lowry plundered the Irish Open title from Robert Rock and a host of top class European Tour professionals at Baltray.

Since then the cupboard has been bare of winners from the 26 Counties until last Sunday, when Lowry, this time as a professional, bridged the gap by his success in the Portugal Masters at Vilamoura.

Every other title claimed by an Irish player, including four Major Championships, in the intervening three years and 150 days has gone to a Northern Irishman.

In addition to those Majors -- 2010 US Open (Graeme McDowell); 2011 US Open (Rory McIlroy), 2011 British Open (Darren Clarke), 2012 USPGA (Rory McIlroy), there have been 11 Tour events won by golfers from this island from 2010 up to Lowry's victory in Portugal.

Celebrations

McIlroy, McDowell and Michael Hoey have three of those titles each on their CVs, while Darren Clarke has two.

We have to go back to 2008 for big celebrations south of the border.

That year Padraig Harrington won two Majors -- the British Open and USPGA -- while Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie were first-time winners on Tour.

Even then, the Northern lads struck gold four times, with Clarke and McDowell being acclaimed on the winner's podium twice each.

And what harm? It makes for friendly rivalry to compare the statistics, particularly as all these Tour winners emerged from the GUI development programme.

Funnily enough, there are people in this country who don't realise that golf, just like rugby, operates on a 32-county basis, as I discovered to my surprise recently when I met a chap who didn't believe this was the case.

Taking the broad view, this small country punches way above its weight in terms of international success and long may the current crop of Tour stars continue to thrill us by their exploits.

It is, however, interesting to speculate on whether it is an inherent drive or simply a talent base in the Ulster golfing structure that has paid such dividends.

At amateur level in the GUI 'Majors,' the titles have been shared around the provinces, particularly the Blue Riband, the Irish Close championship.

The Close winners from 2007-2012 inclusive have been Shane Lowry (Esker Hills), Paul O'Hanlon (Curragh), Pat Murray (Limerick), Dara Lernihan (Castle), Paul Cutler (Portstewart and Chris Selfridge (Moyola Park).

Alan Dunbar won the 2010 Irish Amateur Open, and Gavin Moynihan (The Island) emulated Dunbar's feat in this prestigious international event earlier this year.

Dunbar, of course, underlined his talent with a stunning success in the British Amateur championship two months ago.

As of now, though, the Ulster coaching system has thrown down the gauntlet to their counterparts in Leinster, Connacht and Munster to produce players capable of reaching the dizzy heights of mcIlroy and Co on in the professional game.

Irish Independent

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