Lytham offers Irish hopefuls chance to stake proclaims
THE month of May has not opened in a very merry way in terms of weather conditions, but there's a pep in the step of the elite golfers as competition activity ramps up to intense levels.
Ireland's top male golfers get a bonus package this month, as two of their prestige events take place on the 2012 British Open and Irish Open courses. First up is the Lytham Trophy played this weekend at Royal Lytham & St Annes, the venue for the British Open in July (19-22).
Royal Portrush, where our Major winners Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell will be huge attractions for the Irish Open (June 28-July 1), hosts the Irish amateur Close championship from May 25-27.
These are only two examples of the fine venues where the GUI's elite men and boys can find themselves in action. The access to quality courses and international travel is a big plus, and it was interesting to hear Harrington talk about this as a key factor in deciding to make golf his main sport.
Speaking on 'The Late Late Show' on Friday, Harrington revealed that he originally thought his sporting destiny would be as a Gaelic footballer.
"When I was a kid I played everything. I thought I was going to play Gaelic football. My dad (Paddy, RIP) was a good Gaelic footballer and I was captain of the school team and I thought I was going to go on and play Gaelic, only that I got picked to play for Ireland in golf when I was 15 years of age," he explained.
"I got sent away to such exotic climates as Glasgow, but it was a fantastic trip, to head away.
"I'd been away before, but the difference between playing for Broadford Rovers soccer on a Saturday afternoon and letting in four goals, and travelling away to play for your country -- it was easy. Golf became my No 1 sport."
Harrington's remarks serve as a reminder of the great opportunities provided by the GUI and the ILGU for talented young players.
As a proving ground and a foundation, Tour hopefuls can't do any better than to follow the amateur pathway trodden by the greats of Irish golf in GUI championships and the Scratch Cup circuit.
Success in the amateur game doesn't automatically translate to a great professional career, but it's the place to learn how to compete and hopefully how to win.
Exposure to international tournaments such as the Lytham Trophy -- in which 144 players from around the globe will tee it up -- is invaluable.
Ireland will be represented at Lytham by seven quality players -- Alan Dunbar (Rathmore), Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park), who won the West of Ireland title last month, East of Ireland champion Richard O'Donovan (Lucan), Nicky Grant (Knock), Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Rory McNamara (Headfort) and Reeve Whitson (Mourne).
Walker Cup winner and former Irish Amateur Open champion Dunbar will hope to emulate his pal and Walker Cup team-mate Paul Cutler by landing the Trophy.
Cutler, who turned professional last year after the Walker Cup success over the US, won at Lytham in 2010, becoming the first Irishman to win the event in 28 years.
The Lytham Trophy is the first major event on the British amateur schedule each year.
Players must have a handicap of 0.4 or less. It is played over 72 holes, with one round on Friday, one on Saturday and 36 holes on Sunday.
Hermitage ready for scratch cup
HERMITAGE GC is the centre of the women's golf scene on Sunday for the annual 36-hole Ladies Scratch Cup, sponsored by Dermot Kelly Motors.
The event always attracted a quality field, but it has an added dimension as the Hermitage tournament doubles as the final of the ILGU/Titleist Ladies Scratch Cup Series.
There are six Scratch Cups in the series and players were awarded points with an order of merit.
After five competitions -- a player's best four performances count -- Karen Delaney of Carlow leads the points table on 122. She is 10 points clear of Deirdre Smith of Co Louth (112), with Mary Dowling of New Ross third on 102.
Hermitage counts for double points, so the issue is far from over.
Leona Maguire, recent winner of the Irish U-18 stroke-play championship and fifth in the Helen Holm Trophy last weekend, is joined in the event by her twin Lisa, who returns after being sidelined with a wrist injury.
Leona is twice a winner of the Hermitage Scratch Cup -- the first time was in '07 when she was only 12, making her the youngest winner of the trophy.
The Scratch Cup winners to date are: Smith at Royal Portrush); Paula Grant (Lisburn) at Royal Co Down; Sarah Cunningham (Ennis) at Cork; Sue Phillips (Woodbrook) at Woodbrook; Delaney (Carlow) at Lahinch.
Healy recovers in style
STEPHEN Healy of Claremorris bounced back from the disappointment at losing the West of Ireland final to Harry Diamond by winning the 50th staging of the Dundalk Scratch Cup.
Healy (22) was the surprise packet of the West at Rosses Point. Although he is a former Irish Boys champion, he had been off the Irish scene for a few years while he was at college in Jacksonville, US.
The Claremorris golfer lost his enthusiasm for the game and was ready to give it up when he returned to Ireland last September, but was boosted by advice from his father and he got down to work.
Healy has been tutored by Brendan McDaid of Rathsallagh GC and the progress has been very encouraging.
He lost the West final by only one hole in a close match with Diamond, and last weekend defied the elements and a strong field to reign at Dundalk.
His opening 77 left him four shots adrift of 2011 winner Ciaran Molloy (Ardee), but Healy scored a highly impressive second-round 71 for 148 in driving wind and rain to beat former winner Des Morgan of Mullingar by just one shot.
"The wind blew as strong as it can on a parkland course. It was just so hard. You had to be so patient. You couldn't force it," he said.
Ace famine leads to grand saving
EUROPEAN Club owner Pat Ruddy had his cheque-book ready to sign over €1,000 to one of his customers for a hole-in-one -- but nobody got the golden ace.
Ruddy had offered the prize to any golfer who could ace the 200-yard par-three sixth hole in his open events from January to March 31.
Sadly for the punters, the hole yielded nothing. Ruddy estimates there were around 2,000 attempts.
It just goes to show how difficult it is to get an ace, and given the element of pressure, perhaps it's well nigh impossible.