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Monday 15 October 2018

Philomena Garvey

The greatest woman golfer this country has ever produced dominated the sport for 25 years, writes Dermot Gilleece

PHILOMENA Garvey was, quite simply, the greatest woman golfer this country has produced. While planning an appearance at the 3 Irish Open, which takes place this week at her beloved Baltray, she died last Tuesday morning, aged 82.

Born on April 26, 1927, she totally dominated Irish women's golf for a period of 25 years after the Second World War, winning the Close Championship on a record 15 occasions, starting at Lahinch in 1946. This was a particularly notable occasion for the Co Louth club in that the runner-up, Clarrie Reddan, was also a member.

An indication of Philomena Garvey's dominance of the home scene is that she never lost a final, which meant the only hope her rivals had of a breakthrough was that she would be beaten unexpectedly in one of the earlier rounds. Her greatest sequence of Irish Championship triumphs was four in a row, from 1957 to 1960, though she had earlier completed hat-trick successes in 1948 and 1955.

She became a controversial figure in 1958 when informing the organisers of the biennial British and Irish Curtis Cup team that she would not wear the Union Jack emblem on her blazer. This became a serious issue, not least for the fact that she had been a member of every team from 1948 until 1956, inclusive, and had captured the British Ladies Championship in 1957.

By way of compromise, she offered to wear the old badge which incorporated the emblems of the four home countries, but the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) refused to budge on the issue. So the Union Jack was retained and Philomena Garvey didn't play. But she had made her point and when she was chosen again on the Curtis Cup side in 1960, the badge was changed.

In sharp contrast to her Irish exploits, she had to endure near-misses in the British Championship in which she lost five finals. Of these, the 1960 decider was especially memorable. Against the American Barbara McIntyre she came from eight down to cover the next six holes in a stunning 20 strokes, winning five of them before eventually losing by 4 and 2.

A lifetime member of Co Louth GC, she lived close by in Termonfeckin. She was employed for most of her working life in the sports department of Clerys in O'Connell Street, Dublin.

Though she flirted with professional ranks from 1964, she regained her amateur status in 1968 and won her last Irish Championship two years later.

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