Roganstown star Séan Keeling (15) looking to qualify for The Open next week after topping qualifiers at Baltray
Rory McIlroy is a hero to thousands of kids all over the world and while Irish golf is keen to see who can follow in his footsteps on the world stage, teenager Séan Keeling from Roganstown looks to have the passion and the talent to achieve big things in the game.
It would be unfair to compare any young golfer to McIlroy, who became the youngest winner of the West of Ireland at 15 and the Irish Close at 16 in 2005 and went on to win both titles again the following year.
But young Séan, who at 15 shocked a top-class field at County Louth on Monday by winning the Regional Qualifier for The Open Championship by two strokes, appears to have that X-factor.
He will now have a chance to win his place at St Andrews when he joins Cork’s John Hickey, Derry’s Ruaidhri McGee, Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan and amateurs Alex Maguire, Thomas Abom and Robert Moran in Final Qualifying at St Annes Old Links on 28 June.
David Carey, John Murphy, Brendan McCarroll and amateurs Peter O’Keeffe and Thomas Finnegan will go at Fairmont St Andrews as Tim Rice and Gary Hurley compete at Hollinwell and Ronan Mullarney at Prince’s with four spots in the 150th Open on offer at each venue.
Boys international Keeling looks to have as good a chance as anyone after carding eight birdies in a seven-under 65 at Baltray to win his Regional qualifier.
He’s a product of the Made in Holywood Golf Academy, which has operated at Roganstown in Swords since 2009, where Geoff Loughrey, a former assistant to McIlroy’s coach Michael Bannon, is the professional in charge.
With Bannon a frequent visitor and Loughrey the main mover, Roganstown achieved incredible success last year by winning the Fred Daly and AIG Senior Cup All Ireland titles.
Séan Keeling played on both teams while his old brother Patrick (18), another young gun with major ambitions in the game, holed the winning putt in the Senior Cup win at Castle.
“Our coach Geoff Loughrey is unbelievable,” Patrick said. “We couldn’t have done it without him.”
Plus four handicapper Patrick, who wants to try Q-School but also play Walker Cup before he thinks about the pro ranks, admits he’s a huge rival of his younger brother Séan (plus four), who beat current internationals Alex Maguire and Matthew McClean as he helped Roganstown to All Ireland glory.
Loughrey makes no secret of what he is doing at Roganstown, where he has a huge stable of golfers, including former West of Ireland and Irish Close champion Hugh Foley and English international Arron Edwards-Hill.
“We are looking for the next Rory,” said Loughrey, “Michael Bannon is part of it as well, and we have a dietician, a deal with Srixon, so the equipment is right, a psychologist in Séan McGonigle, so we have a big development team.”
Séan, who like brother Patrick attends Belvedere College, also has major ambitions.
“I’m very competitive, and my ambition is to stay in Ireland, try and make the Walker Cup team and then turn pro,” he said after Roganstown’s Senior Cup win last year. “I think I have the game for that if I keep working hard and stay on track. I just want to keep trending up and see where it takes me.”
Roganstown fell 3.5-1.5 to Royal Dublin in the quarter-
finals of the Leinster North AIG Senior Cup last month, but Séan continues to impress and is ranked the third-best Under 16 in Europe, and Ireland’s number nine in senior golf, according to the European Golf Rankings.
He was runner-up in the French International Boys Championship at Les Aisses Golf in April and captured the Connacht Boys title at Galway the following week before finishing eighth in the Fairhaven Trophy and sixth in the Flogas Irish Men’s Amateur Open at The Island.
“I’ve known Séan since he was eight or nine and he’s just awesome,” Foley said.
“We love to throw labels on young guys, but it’s a pleasure to train with him and see him progressing. So let’s just let him keep going. I don’t think he’s going to get sick of it too soon.”
“He’s a great driver of the ball and a fearless putter,” Loughrey said.
“There is no scar tissue there. He only sees good putts at the moment.”
While he’s competed often against men, he plans to contest the British Boys and English Boys championships this summer with the AIG Irish Men’s Close also on his radar.
Made in Holywood is also proud of Foley and Edwards-Hill and a host of 14 to 17-year-olds who will soon be making a name for themselves on the Irish scene, not to mention Calum Scott of Scotland.
“The players come and stay at the hotel at Roganstown, and Michael Bannon comes down often to keep an eye on everyone.
“Srixon’s Ian Steel helps the boys with equipment and they also have a dietician and sports psychologist.
“It’s great that Ireland has one of the best young players in the world in Séan.”