Sligo is Yates country as Naas aces hopes to earn Ireland call-up
Naas ace Jonathan Yates combined raw power and finesse to capture the Radisson Blu West of Ireland Amateur Open at County Sligo and put one arm into an Irish blazer.
The strapping UCD student (22) took a giant step towards the title with a heart-stopping 1 up win over holder and favourite Dermot McElroy in the morning semi-final.
But he then had to combine his ball-striking superiority with some clutch putting down the stretch to defeat the determined Castle talent Daniel Holland 2 & 1 in the final, covering the 17 holes in an estimated one-over par to his opponent's five over in a bitterly cold, southwest wind.
Holland (26) had shocked an out-of-sorts Colm Campbell 5 & 4 in his semi-final but was out-gunned for much of the day from tee to green and, had it not been for his courageous short game, he might have fallen earlier to a player who appears destined to win an Irish cap this year. With Conor O'Rourke also making strides, Naas golf is flying thanks the the achievements of Walker Cup player and 2014 winner Jack Hume, and the club professional Gavin Lunny.
"Since Jack won here, things have really switched on in the club," Yates explained. "Myself and Conor work closely under Gavin, who has given us the knowledge of our swings to know how to cope under pressure and fix it if things go wrong.
"But as an influence, Jack has been incredible and he has taught us how to win and I had a great chat with him last night. He told me just to turn my phone off and forget everything and go and play."
Yates didn't quite follow Hume's orders, confessing: "The thing I shouldn't have done last night was look at the Paddy Power odds. I knew this morning would be tough against Dermot McElroy, the guy in form.
"But I knew I had a chance going out and if I could get past Dermot, I had a really good chance to win."
Two down after nine, Yates birdied the 10th and 12th to level with McElroy and took advantage of the Ballymena man's putting errors on the 14th and 16th to set up a one-up win.
But despite losing the first to a Holland birdie and struggling for half in bogey at the second, he won three of four holes from the fourth to go two up and was never caught.
A three-putt error at the eighth cost him a hole but he then made some crucial putts, holing from nine feet for birdie on the 12th to go two up and then cleaning up nervelessly for par at the 13th, 14th and 15th before a bogey in the midst of a rain squall at the 16th halved his lead.
True to tradition, the infamous 17th decided the title but it took a stellar Yates three-iron to break Holland, who missed the green right and failed to save par from 15 feet after a weak pitch.
After holing a four footer for the title, Yates said: "There was something nice about going out and winning it rather than Dan doing something to lose. It was a nice way to finish. I've hit that putt a lot of times, inside left, nice and firm. I just didn't think it would be for this."
Holland was proud to make the final considering he has played little lately.
"Mother nature gave me a glimpse there on 16 but he hit a great three iron on 17," he said. "That was a seriously good shot under pressure."
Yates always believed his ball-striking would prove the difference and he's hoping to win his first Irish cap this year.
"I had a bit of an ultimatum coming here," he said. "The Irish captain Tony Goode told me I was close to the Senior panel and said I needed a good result this week to have a chance. Hopefully this does what I want. I want to play in the Home Internationals this year."
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.