Moynihan - Irish golf's next big thing?
Gavin Moynihan during the Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin last May, Picture: Thos Caffrey www.golffile.ie

Gavin Moynihan during the Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin last May, Picture: Thos Caffrey www.golffile.ie

Gavin Moynihan plays alongside Pádraig Harrington with the Hilary Golf Society at Sutton GC earlier this year. Photo Jenny Matthews/www.golffile.ie

Gavin Moynihan plays alongside Pádraig Harrington with the Hilary Golf Society at Sutton GC earlier this year. Photo Jenny Matthews/www.golffile.ie

Gavin Moynihan salutes his followers during the second round of Irish Open at Carton House. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

Gavin Moynihan salutes his followers during the second round of Irish Open at Carton House. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

Gavin Moynihan (GB&I) watches his tee shot on the sixth hole during the foursomes match at the 2013 Walker Cup at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y. on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)  

Gavin Moynihan (GB&I) watches his tee shot on the sixth hole during the foursomes match at the 2013 Walker Cup at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y. on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)
 

We’re only guessing here but one suspects that Dr Bob Rotella, the world renowned mental guru, would love Gavin Moynihan.

“Golf is a game of mistakes and unpredictable fortune,” the Doc wrote in Golf Digest back on 2004. “Golfers who understand and love the game accept it rather than fight it. They realise the essence of golf is reacting well to inevitable mistakes and misfortunes.”

I’ve yet to see Moynihan, the youngest Irish Walker Cup player since Rory McIlroy, play with anything other than a grin on his freckled face. Having turned 19 on September 17, he is living the dream as a freshman at the University of Alabama, arguably the greatest hotbed of amateur golfing talent in the United States.

Not only is the women’s golf team, where Stephanie Meadow is the standout star, ranked amongst the top three in the US, the men’s team was voted the No. 1 team in the country in a preseason poll of coaches.

In June, the men’s team won the NCAA Championship for the first time, which meant sweet redemption for the Crimson Tide, as they are known, as they beat Illinois 4-1 in the final just 12 months after their painful defeat to a Texas side led by Jordan Spieth.

Speith is now a PGA Tour winner and one of golf’s biggest young stars and Moynihan has a few more hotshots in his team in the shape of Justin Thomas (20), Cory Whitsett (21) and Bobby Wyatt (21), who were all on the USA Walker Cup side that faced his Great Britain and Ireland side at the National Golf Links of America at the start of September.

Whitsett, the 2007 US Junior Amateur champion, captured this year’s prestigious Northeast Amateur when he closed with a 63, the lowest final-round score by a winner in the tournament’s 52 year history. 

Thomas won both the 2012 Fred Haskins Award and the 2012 Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top collegiate golfer, as well as the 2012 Phil Mickelson Award, for the outstanding freshman in Division I men’s golf. He also made the cut in the Travelers Championship, finishing tied for 30th, five shots ahead of Padraig Harrington and six better than Lee Westwood. As for Wyatt, his claim to fame is that he shot a 57 at the 2010 Alabama State Junior Championship. 

“Yeah,” Moynihan says with a chuckle, “we’ve some serious players on the team. There was plenty of banter before the Walker Cup.”

The banter included some competitive action around the team’s practice chipping green at the Ol’ Colony Golf Complex, close to the college’s Tuscaloosa campus. In fact, when it comes to getting the most out of his game, the Donabate youngster has a lot in common with another Irishman who triumphed in the state of Alabama - Graeme McDowell.

The 2010 US Open champion went to the rival University of Alabama, Birmingham and broke scoring records set by the likes of Tiger Woods and Luke Donald en route to becoming the top collegiate player in the US. Moynihan, naturally enough, regards him as a hero to rival his father Michael, who introduced him to the game.

“He doesn’t hit it miles, he just plots his way around,” the Dubliner says of McDowell, though he could easily be describing his own game. “He’s got a great short game and he’s a good putter, so he’s definitely one that I look up to. Shane [Lowry] is another one. His short game is so good and he doesn’t try to overpower a golf course. He just plays to his strengths all the time.”

Moynihan’s father brought him to Donabate Golf Club when he was seven. Soon he was having lessons with the great Hugh Jackson, a man who once finished eighth behind the legendary Jack Nicklaus in the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews.

A former assistant to 1947 Open champion Fred Daly at Balmoral, “Jacko” as Moynihan likes to call him, is a highly respected tournament winner, a World Cup player as well as a former winner of the Irish Championship in strokeplay and matchplay format.

“I’ve been teaching him since he started, he’s a great little player,” the 73-year old says, three years after his retirement from Donabate after 31 years in the job. “And I still teach him. When he won the Irish Amateur Open last year, I told him he’d make the Walker Cup team and he did. He’s a smashing player.

"He was only a little fella when he was seven, obviously and couldn’t hit the ball 100 yards. Everyone around the club said, ‘Ahh. he’ll never be any good, he doesn’t hit it far.’ But once he filled out, he was great.'

"His short game is just brilliant. I reckon he will go right to the top because has a great golfing brain. When he played at the Darren Clarke Foundation weekend at Portmarnock last year, I asked Darren what he thought and Darren said, ‘He’s a proper player.’ He was just impressed with the way Gavin thought and conducted himself on the golf course - he never got rattled. He’s probably the best student I’ve ever had.”  

Moynihan moved from Donabate to The Island three years ago but while he never won a Boys title, his CV is impressive. In 2011 he matched Rory McIlroy by winning the Nick Faldo Junior Series Grand Final in Europe.

Then last year he became the youngest home winner of the Irish Amateur Open at the age of 17, joined Lee Westwood and Justin Rose on the list of winners of the prestigious Peter McEvoy Trophy for under 18’s at Copt Heath and then top scored for Europe in the Junior Ryder Cup at Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago. 

His 2013 season did not really begin until he had finished his Leaving Certificate, yet he still managed to defend his Irish Amateur Open title at Royal Dublin in May, making a playoff, before going on to seal his Walker Cup place with top drawer performances in the European Individual Championship and the Home Internationals.

GUI national coach Neil Manchip is impressed by his ability to score, a skills that’s all but unteachable.

“There were always guys who were bigger than him or hit it further but he always had the ability to get it around the course in as few shots as he could,” Manchip says. “His short game is great and he’s very creative around the greens. Getting it around and scoring is completely innate.

“Some younger lads might grow up being great ball-strikers and might not be great at making a score and can learn to do that later, but he’s definitely one of he ones who always had it and always got the best out of himself. 

“He’s always had great determination and great creativity and took to golf very easily. He’s very good at managing himself and very honest with his own game and self-reliant. That will stand to him in the US. 

“Comparisons are futile but he’s very similar to Shane in that wherever he is on the course, he is never out of a hole, he is always capable of coming back from a few down and will always fight to the end. He won’t always get the best out of himself but he will give it his best shot. They are both very self-reliant and do the best they can.

“He is one of the few guys I have ever seen that all the English players kind of look at and admire and respect. We rarely have players like that, that they would really look up to and he is certainly one of those.”

Moynihan can’t wait to get going in the US, a far cry from those early days on the range at Donabate.

“I just went out of a game with my dad and just caddied for him and walked round. Then Hugh had lessons every Saturday morning so I went to them and got my handicap down and went from there. 

“I started off with 36 when I was 11 and in the first year I was down 12 or 13 shots. Then when I was 14 I was off about five and at 16 I was a plus handicap. Now I’m off plus four.”

The strength of Moynihan’s game is that he knows his strengths and plays to them rather than trying to keep up with the bombers.

“Sometimes I can hit it absolutely terrible and shoot a 74 or 73,” He says. “That’s my strength. I don’t really let a score get away from me and grind away to get something out of it. I love it at The Island now, it’s a fantastic place and I’ve got great support there now and great facilities. I’m not one to hit the range for hours, I just love to work on my short game and go out and play.”

The future looks bright for a player who has big plans for the future but prefers to keep his feet on the ground for now.

“Hopefully I will do well here in Alabama,” he says. “If I get on good run in a year or two I will probably think about doing the same as Kev [team mate Kevin Phelan], finish college and go pro then.  

“I have a great bunch of lads here in Alabama. Corey, Bobby and a few guys from the Walker Cup. It’s great. Just fantastic here. I just can’t wait.”