Sunday 17 December 2017

Memory Lane: A look back at when an Irishman first won a tour event in America

It's 92 years since Pat O'Hare won at Pinehurst

Following Rory McIlroy’s latest victory on US shores, Dermot Gilleece recalls the feats of the first Irishman to win an official tour event in America

Irish golfing victories in the US have been fairly thin on the ground. Prior to the relatively recent exploits of our leading professionals, one thought of the World Seniors' win by Christy O'Connor Snr in 1977; of Claire Dowling's amateur success in the 1983 South Atlantic tournament, and of Champions Tour wins by Christy O'Connor Jnr and Des Smyth.

Long before the current generation of golfers thought to look west for fresh fields to conquer, however, there was an Irish trailblazer in the New World. And his greatest triumph came on April 1, 1922.

That was when Pat O'Hare captured the North and South Professional Open at Pinehurst. And it happened to be the only staging of the event over 54 holes, after Donald Ross, the course designer and resort manager, decided that the second round should be abandoned because of torrential rain.

Darren Clarke with the Accenture World Matchplay at La Costa in 2000.
Darren Clarke with the Accenture World Matchplay at La Costa in 2000.

Three O'Hare brothers, Paddy, Jimmy and Peter, from 4 Anglesey Terrace, Greenore, all became outstanding professional golfers.  Peter, the eldest, emigrated to America early in his career, and was tied seventh in the 1924 US Open and spent the remainder of his life as a club professional there.

Jimmy, who won the Irish Professional Championship in 1920, was reputed to have been the first owner of a motor-bike in Skerries, where he served as professional before World War I. And Pat, as the reigning Irish champion from 1919 at Portmarnock, emigrated to the US the following year, where he became professional at the Richmond club in Staten Island, New York.

It may be that the Americans accidentally misread his name or that the error was down to an immigration official on Ellis Island. Either way, they preferred the Irish lilt of Pat O'Hara, which is how he was identified in reports of the Pinehurst victory. In the wake of his triumph, he came home for a planned two-week holiday but never returned to the US. Instead, he regained the Irish Championship in 1927.

The North and South Amateur was inaugurated at Pinehurst in 1901 and two years later the venue also launched the North and South Open and the North and South Women's Championship. The professional event, in which Ross was the inaugural winner, went on to become one of the leading tournaments on the US scene.

It gave Ben Hogan his first, important victory in 1940 but was eventually abandoned 10 years later after including most of the game's great names in its roll of honour.

Meanwhile, in 1922, Pat O'Hare spreadeagled the field to lead by six strokes after a superb second round of 69. Then, when the round was declared void because of the weather, outraged friends tried to persuade him to withdraw on the grounds that he had been terribly wronged. But he replied: "Not me. I beat them today and I'll go out and beat them again tomorrow."

As it turned out, O'Hare was as good as his word, carding rounds of 75 and 72 for a 54-hole aggregate of 220. He won by four strokes from his closest challenger, Clarence Hackney of Atlantic City.

Jock Hutchison, the reigning British Open champion, shot 78 and 81 to finish on 229. And it would be 78 years later, before O’Hare’s achievement as an Irishman was emulated by Darren Clarke in the Accenture World Matchplay at La Costa, in 2000.

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