He might be nearly 4,000 miles away in Akron, but Padraig Harrington’s presence was still clearly felt in the €150,000 Challenge of Ireland as Stackstown’s Michael McDermott opened with an impressive, eight-under par 64 to claim a one stroke lead at Glasson Golf Hotel and Country Club near Athlone.
Winner of the West of Ireland title seven years ago, 28-year-old McDermott carded nine birdies and just one bogey at the spectacular Christy O’Connor Jnr. lay-out on the shores of Lough Ree and revealed that fellow clubman Harrington has been an inspiration to him in his battle to establish himself as a tour player.
“When I was a kid, Padraig was the top amateur in the country,” said McDermott, who had Harrington’s brother Tadhg on his bag at last year’s European Tour Qualifying School. “He gave me lots of little bits of advice. He was a bit of an inspiration when we were kids. It’s great to see what he’s done.”
A professional since 2004, McDermott won an event on the third tier Europro Tour last year but failed to make it through the second stage of the Q-School in Spain, despite the Harrington presence on his bag.
“I’ve take a very different route to Padraig, who got his card at the first attempt and then won early in his career,” said McDermott, who received a €10,000 grant from the Team Ireland Golf Trust this season. “I’m still working on my game and trying to progress to the tour.
“I’ve spent the last two winters over in America on the Gateway Tour. They’ve had fundraisers for me in Stackstown through the Paddy Harrington Memorial Classic for the last two years and it’s a huge help. The previous years I worked all the way through the winters to finance my golf but most guys are playing full time. If you are not, you are at a big disadvantage.”
One of the early starters, McDermott took advantage of the best of the weather at Glasson, where torrential afternoon rain delayed play by around 50 minutes.
Forced to hole just one putt beyond 15 feet, he birdied the first four holes, lipped out for another birdie at the fifth and then birdied the sixth and seventh to turn in six-under par 30.
“Shooting a 59 did cross my mind after the seventh,” McDermott explained. “But there was an awful long way to go. I went close on the eighth and thought I’d love to go through on 29.”
Seven under after another birdie at the 10th, his hopes of breaking 60 ended when he bogeyed the 12th. But he still birdied the two par fives coming home to lead by a shot from the promising 20 year old Argentinian Estanislao Goya with Waterville’s David Higgins coming through two afternoon rain delays to card seven birdies in a six-under par 66 for a share of third place with Scotland’s Richie Ramsay.
Glasson touring professional Colm Moriarty birdied his last two holes, the eighth and ninth, for a 67 that left him in a nine-way tied for fifth place on five-under par with Ulsterman Gareth Shaw and Woodbrook’s Paul McDonald the next best of the 32-strong Irish contingent on three-under after rounds of 67.