Rathmore's Alan Dunbar believes his hopes of making this year's Walker Cup team have been hampered by a "stupid" decision by the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) not to exercise its right to nominate four players for the prestigious St Andrews Links Trophy.
The 21-year-old, who won the St Andrews Links title two years ago, will carry the favourite's tag in the East of Ireland Championship -- which gets underway at Baltray today -- when he believes he should be trying to impress the R&A selectors alongside 13 members of the 16-strong Walker Cup squad at the home of golf.
"The St Andrews Links Trophy is the second biggest tournament and if you have a good week there, it is always going to boost your Walker Cup chances. A top-five or a top-10 finish there would be almost bigger than winning here," Dunbar said.
"I entered it and one of the St Andrews Links people saw me on the reserve list and rang the GUI and asked them if they wanted to use their exemptions and they still said no. I think it's stupid. You would think they'd want their players to play in the Walker Cup."
New GUI general secretary Pat Finn explained that, while he felt sympathy for Dunbar, his hands were tied by Union policy. "The bottom line is that when you have a decision of Central Council made not to nominate or send a squad to events that clash with our own, you simply can't do it, regardless of what the circumstances are," he said.
Dunbar's only option now is to try win the East at a fast-running Baltray, where he is the 8/1 bookies' favourite in the 156-man field ahead of Ballymena's Dermot McElroy, another Walker Cup candidate, Limerick's Pat Murray and 2008 winner Eoin Arthurs from Forrest Little.
Meanwhile, on a day when people were putting shirtless on the nearby Himalaya's Putting Course at St Andrews, Paul Cutler did well to keep his cool in carding a two-over 73 on the first day of the Links Trophy.
Cutler was two-under par with just four holes to play, but the reigning Irish Amateur and West of Ireland champion came unstuck at the par four 14th, taking a double bogey and then bogeyed the next to finish with a two-over-par 73 on the New Course.
Fellow Walker Cup aspirant Rhys Enoch led the field after carding a six-under-par 66.