Monday 16 September 2019

Slow burner Rafferty all fired up for Walker Cup

Louth man now in right place to make his mark

Long road to success: Caolan Rafferty. Photo: Pat Cashman
Long road to success: Caolan Rafferty. Photo: Pat Cashman

Brian Keogh

He might be the oldest player named on the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team this week but Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty is happy to be Irish golf's slow burner.

While Amateur champion James Sugrue from Mallow and Portmarnock's Conor Purcell blazed a trail through the Boys ranks to make the Walker Cup team at 22, it's been a far tougher road for 26-year old Louth man, who has learned to take his lumps over the years and moulded himself into a more complete player.

"I'm delighted and honoured to make the team," Rafferty said of his call up for the ten-man side to face the USA at Royal Liverpool from September 7-8.

"There will be a few butterflies for sure, but if you didn't have those, there'd be something wrong with you."

He didn't break into the Leinster team until 2017, but he made such an impression that season that he made the Irish side and won five points out of six as Ireland captured the Raymond Trophy for the fourth year running at Moortown.

Like Paul McGinley, who was 26 before he made his first cheque on the European Tour, Rafferty has fought his way to the top the hard way, finally opening his championship account at Lahinch last year with victory in the South of Ireland Championship.

He added the "West" at Rosses Point to his CV in April and having decided to wait until he finishes his degree in Business Management at Maynooth University next year before contemplating a crack at the Qualifying School, he's enjoying golf for the right reasons

"To make the Walker Cup team, it's a bit surreal, to be honest," he confessed. "Three years ago, I wasn't on any team, just slogging on my own, doing the rounds. Now I am part of a Walker Cup team that has a great chance of winning.

"If I had to sum up what's made the difference, I'd say I just enjoy my golf. I took it up for enjoyment and never thought about doing it to make a living. Then when I started thinking about making a living at golf, that's when I played my worst.

"It was when I accepted that it's a game, a hobby to be enjoyed, that I changed and wondered why we put ourselves under so much stress and annoyance.

"Since then I have tried just to enjoy it and becoming more accepting of a lot of things. The bad days really used to affect me - like losing the semis of the North on the 20th in 2015.

"That's the most hurt I have ever felt about a round of golf. I felt down coming home in the car but I realised you have to experience the downs at some stage. Since then, bad days don't have as big an effect on me."

Having cut his teeth at Greenore Golf Club, caddying for his father, his game took off when he moved to Dundalk five years ago and hooked up with Brian Kerley and then with Dougie Bell at the Greenlife Golf Centre.

Now a far more consistent ball-striker, his improved mental approach to the game has helped him step up to a new level over the past two years.

"I only ever thought about making the Irish team," he said of his early days. "The Walker Cup was never on my radar. So just to become part of the GB&I panel last December showed how far I had come.

"Hopefully, we can win the trophy back now and make it an even more memorable week."

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