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Winning Ireland's amateur 'Majors' can provide gateway to professional ranks

IRELAND'S amateur 'Majors' offer a gateway to wealth, fame, and professional Major titles -- that's the conclusion to be drawn from the experience of our main Tour players.

And it's a big endorsement of the GUI championship series, which opens with the Radisson Blu Hotel-sponsored West of Ireland championship from April 6-10.

The West has been in existence since 1893 and the traditional Easter staging of the championship has seen the participants battling it out in gales, rain, hail and even sunshine -- sometimes all on the same day.

Despite the vagaries of our weather, the cream usually manages to rise to the top, and the lesson is clear -- any young amateur with ambitions of a long, lucrative career on Tour should first try to succeed in the top amateur home events.

Right now we have 10 Irish players on the elite European Tour, and all but one have eclipsed the best in the country at least once in GUI championships. The exception is Damien McGrane, who took the road less travelled by first qualifying as a PGA club pro, then combining duties as professional at Wexford GC with Tour events, before finally going full-time on the pro circuit.

All the rest, including our Major winners Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, came through the GUI system and were successful in the amateur championships.

And of course, Shane Lowry pulled a rabbit out of the hat by sensationally winning the 2009 Irish professional Open at Baltray as an amateur. Lowry had already proven his quality by winning three GUI Majors by then and has gone on to make his mark on Tour.

These guys are inspirational figures for the new generation of young players, but they also highlight the level of performance required of anyone embarking on life as a professional.

It's one thing to join the paid ranks -- it's quite another to gain a Tour card.

If that aim is achieved, the next challenge is to become established and maintain your place as a Tour regular. Winning at least once is another step up -- and on it goes.

At the end of the year, tot up your money and see where you finished in the Order of Merit and hope for improvement next year. That's the order of business for a Tour player.

It's questionable whether a player has any business turning pro if they haven't proved their worth in the GUI championships or in international events under the amateur banner.

Walker Cup selection is another level, and significantly, the Major winners -- McIlroy, Clarke, Harrington, McDowell -- all played for GB and Ireland.

There are also former GUI event winners plying their trade in the Challenge and EuroPro Tours, all hoping to gain playing rights on the full Tour.

Among the aspiring full Tour players are Niall Kearney (Walker Cup player, South of Ireland and Brabazon Trophy winner) and Colm Moriarty (Walker Cup player, South of Ireland winner). Both are on the Challenge Tour.

Success is well rewarded. Last year Rory McIlroy won €6.2m on course and earned a whopping €10.6m in off-course income.

Seven years ago he came to Rosses Point as a 15-year-old intent on winning the West of Ireland championship -- and he did just that, becoming the youngest player to have his name engraved on the trophy.

main amateur titles won by

our top Tour players

Rory McIlroy: West of Ireland 2005, 2006; Irish Close 2005, 2006; European individual 2006.

Darren Clarke: East of Ireland 1989; Irish Close 1990; North of Ireland 1990; South of Ireland 1990.

Graeme McDowell: Irish Close 2000; South of Ireland 2000.

Padraig Harrington: West of Ireland 1994; Irish Close 1995.

Michael Hoey: Irish Amateur Open 1998; British Amateur 2001.

Shane Lowry: Irish Close 2007; West of Ireland 2008; North of Ireland 2008.

Peter Lawrie: Irish Close 1996.

Gareth Maybin: North of Ireland 2002.

Damien McGrane: No amateur wins.

Irish Independent