By Brian Keogh
Ulsterman Richard Kilpatrick shook off his nearly man tag in spectacular style and opened the doors to Walker Cup selection with a closing eagle three and a massive eight-shot victory in the East of Ireland Championship at Co Louth.
The 25-year-old from Banbridge, who spent the working at Lake Nona and practicing with the likes of major champion Ben Curtis and tour winners such as Graeme McDowell and Trevor Immelman, fired carried a four-iron 210 yards over a bunker from the rough and beamed as the ball nestled just 18 inches from the flag.
His tap-in eagle gave him a closing 68, a 13 under par total of 275 and the biggest winning margin in the ‘East’ since Garth McGimpsey finished eight shots clear of Paul Rayfus in 1988.
So often the runner-up, Kilpatrick beamed: “I was just glad to get a monkey off my back - I was due one.
“Since I made the international team four years ago, I have had a lot of semi-finals, second and third places. I just haven’t had the breakthrough but now that I have I hope it will lead on to better things.
“If Walker Cup comes along, it comes along. But my goal at the end of the year is Q-School and I’m trying to get ready for that. Walker Cup would be brilliant but you have to take it one week at a time.”
Only Bernie Scannell, who was 14 shots clear in 1955, and JB Carr who won by ten strokes a year later, have taken the title by a more comfortable margin.
But Kilpatrick's winning aggregate of 275 was two lower than the previous 15 under par record of 277 set up Ken Kearney in 1999, when the course was a par 73.
Kilpatrick is now firmly in the sights of the Walker Cup selectors for the matches against the United States at Royal County Down next September.
Former Irish team captain Mark Gannon, now an R&A selector, confirmed as much yesterday as he watched Kilpatrick’s processional final round.
Having seen the Banbridge man finish second in the Irish Amateur Open and then share sixth place in the Brabazon Trophy last month, Gannon and his fellow selectors will be keeping a close eye on his progress in the British Amateur and the European Team Championships, if selected.
Gannon said: “He obviously came to the attention of the selectors in the Irish Amateur and when he was in serious contention at the Brabazon Trophy, I sent the selectors out to have a look at him.
“He was on every team I was captain of for three years and he’s a better player now than he was then. He has obviously matured a lot and they were very impressed with him.
“He is very calm, he has a very good attitude, he's a good team player. So he's certainly very much a player we will be watching for the next while. We will be keeping a close eye on him.”
Baltray’s Simon Ward, another Walker Cup hopeful, was second on five under par with Esker Hills’ Shane Lowry a shot further back, both closing with fine rounds of 69.
But they were made to look positively pedestrian by Kilpatrick, who led by six strokes after a sensational 66 on Sunday and extended his advantage to seven shots with a third round 71 before cruising over the finish line.
Having watched Kilpatrick’s second round 66 at close quarters, 20-year-old Ward knew that he was going to have to get to at least eight under par to have any chance of victory.
“I knew he wasn't going to be shaken but I thought if I could get to eight under, shoot two 68s maybe it would have put pressure on him,” Ward said. “But I still couldn't see him shooting any more than 71 today.”
Kilpatrick fed off the positive energy he has picked up working as a caddie-shack attendant at Lake Nona in Florida and taken advantage of free practice facilities and practice rounds with players of the calibre of Curtis, McDowell, Immelman and Maarten Lafeber to boost his confidence.
He added: “Those guys are not that far ahead of us but they do things much better from 100 yards in and that’s the only difference. You learn from that.
“You realise they’re not that much better and if you work hard you get the rewards. It gives you a real good sense of confidence.”
His first major win and came just a month after he was pipped for the Irish Amateur Open title at Royal Dublin.
And while he dropped three shots in his final round, he knew that it was going to be hard to blow a seven-shot lead.
While he bogeyed the first and looked on as Ward birdied the second and eagle the third to reduce his advantage to just three shots.
But he stormed ahead again by chipping in for an eagle three at the third and added three birdies and two bogeys after that to go to the last six ahead.
His closing eagle put the finish gloss on a memorable week and he now hopes he can go on and make it as a professional with a trip to the Qualifying School in September.
He added: “My goal at the start of the year was Q school, get a Challenge Tour card and if anything else came along, great.
“I’m just going to try and peak at tour school. But winning is a vital experience, any win at all.”
East of Ireland Amateur (Par 72)
275 R Kilpatrick (Banbridge) 70 66 71 68
283 S Ward (Co Louth) 70 74 70 69
284 S Lowry (Esker Hills) 71 71 73 69
286 N Grant (Knock) 71 72 75 68
288 J Caldwell (Clandeboye) 73 74 68 73, D Lernihan (Castle) 73 71 73 71
290 G McDermott (Co. Sligo) 77 74 71 68, S Grant (Birr) 76 71 70 73
292 M Sinclair (The Knock) 76 74 70 72, R Boal (Scrabo) 76 73 71 72, G Lawlor (Citywest) 74 76 73 69, D Sutton (Lockerbie) 74 73 74 71, S Crowe (Dunmurry) 72 73 78 69
293 E Arthurs (Forrest Little) 78 72 72 71, D Rawluk (The Island) 75 76 72 70, P Murray (Limerick) 69 73 77 74
294 C Curley (Newlands) 75 74 76 69, G Carew (Edenderry) 73 72 73 76
295 F Rafferty (Dungannon) 80 68 71 76
296 M Lavelle (K Club) 77 73 75 71, A Dunbar (Rathmore) 76 72 79 69, G Bohill (Co Louth) 76 72 72 76, N O'Connor (Elm Park) 72 74 73 77
297 D Morgan (Mullingar) 78 74 74 71, A Pitcher (The Island) 74 72 77 74
298 A Hogan (Newlands/UCD) 79 71 74 74, D O'Brien (L & B) 78 73 77 70, C Doran (Banbridge) 76 73 76 73, E O'Sullivan (The Island) 75 75 76 72, N Kearney (Royal Dublin) 74 74 75 75, A Glynn (Porters Park) 73 76 74 75, E McCormack (Galway) 71 76 77 74, D Finn (Mallow) 69 79 77 73
299 H Diamond (Holywood) 79 72 74 74, G McGrane (Royal Dublin) 77 74 74 74, A McCloy (Ballymena) 75 75 74 75, D O'Donovan (Muskerry) 74 77 71 77, C Martin (Kilkenny) 73 76 75 75
301 R Cannon (Laytown & Battystown) 76 76 76 73, M Brett (Portmarnock) 75 74 77 75, G Reid (Spa) 75 72 77 77, A McCormick (Scrabo) 71 76 76 78
302 S Loftus (Ennis) 80 72 76 74, T Cleary (Cork) 77 74 76 75, D McInerney (Lahinch) 75 76 77 74
303 A O'Callaghan (Douglas) 76 74 79 74
305 E McAnoy (Knock) 79 73 75 78
310 D Coyne (Tuam) 75 76 80 79
311 S Shaw (Lisburn) 77 75 80 79
312 D Joyce (Curragh) 77 75 82 78