BRENDAN WALTON had good reason to be grateful yesterday that there's a Ryder Cup hero in his family.
A couple of remedial sessions with his Uncle Philip at The Island this week ensured 24-year-old Brendan's game was ship-shape for yesterday's wind-swept first qualifying round of the West of Ireland.
Walton cruised around Rosses Point in level-par 71, just one off the pace set by his fellow Paddy Harrington Scholarship student at Maynooth, Stephen Brady, and Kilkenny's Craig Martin.
Conditions were mild by comparison with many notoriously bleak days at the West. Yet with southerly breezes gusting to around 30mph, it wasn't surprising to see Brady and two of his Co Sligo clubmates, Barry Anderson and Steffan O'Hara, prominent at the head of the field.
Irish international Anderson, another 'Paddy Harrington boy' at Maynooth, shared third with Walton and Forrest Little's former East of Ireland champion Eoin Arthurs.
The 72 posted by O'Hara, winner of the Munster Youths Amateur Open Stroke Play in Killarney this week, placed him sixth with, among others, Portstewart's Paul Cutler, one of the hot contenders for a place in Tuesday's final. However, there was a real spring in Walton's step.
"I played really solid golf the whole way round," he said with a smile. "I hit it great in the wind and there's one man to thank for that."
That man is Philip Walton, Europe's match-clincher at the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oakmont and one of the most naturally gifted links golfers in these islands.
Though he never won the West himself, his advice gave his nephew's prospects a timely boost.
Concerned with his poor play in last weekend's Lee Valley Scratch Cup, young Brendan put through an SOS call last Sunday.
"I was hitting the ball all over the place, so I phoned the uncle for help," he explained.
"We played at The Island on Monday and he invited me back there on Tuesday morning for a session on the range. He sorted out a few things. I was swinging too quick, so he told me to slow it down and keep the left arm straight and it worked a treat. I was ripping my irons in the wind all day.
"It's fantastic to be able to give him a call ... and it saved me the €100 I'd have had to pay for a lesson," joked Brendan. "He's still a great player. It's his rhythm -- the ball makes a different sound when he hits it."
Ballymena's Dermot McElroy (17) the bookies' favourite, could have done with similar advice as he opened with a 74.
"My driving was rubbish," he said. "I was trying to hit it too hard and too fast (in the wind)."
Cutler (21) who cut short Rory McIlroy's hopes of a West of Ireland hat-trick in 2007 before losing in the final himself, had a roller-coaster ride yesterday.
After a bogey at the first, eagle threes at the third and fifth, a double-bogey six at seven and further dropped shots at 10, 11 and 14, Cutler showed his mettle into the teeth of the gale, playing the testing final four holes in two-under courtesy of sweet birdies at 15 and 16. Watch this man!
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