Balbriggan’s Robbie Cannon proved the golf is sometimes a case of the survival of the fittest when he came through two gruelling rounds and four play-off holes to win a thrilling Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin.
“If I had been beaten in a playoff I would have had no comeback,” said the Dubliner, who is a much sought-after strength and conditioning coach. “All the training I have done over the last five years and this winter has really paid off.”
The 34-year old was a more than worthy winner after a fascinating day that began for him more than an hour before his 9.05 tee time and ended at 8.35pm as he tapped in from less than a foot as the sun died on the horizon to defeat Scotland’s Graeme Robertson and add the blue riband strokeplay title of Irish amateur golf to his 2009 South of Ireland matchplay success.
In truth, Cannon had all the bases covered, both mentally and physically, to win this particular 40-hole marathon. The rest were left to reflect on what might have been both in terms of their golf and their approach to fitness and conditioning.
Tied for the 36-hole lead with Scotland’s Conor O’Neil, Rathsallagh’s Jack Hume and Castlerock’s Aaron Kearney, Cannon was four over through the turn in the morning but dug deep to cover the back nine in one under - he made eight pars and a birdie at the 15th - and post a third round 75.
That left him a shot behind Hume (74) and tied with England’s Matt Kippen on four over par entering a final round that had more twists and turns than a Blackpool rollercoaster.
Just five strokes covered the top 23 players and for most of a day that featured a steady west wind that gusted up to 30 mph, it was 19-year Hume who headed the field.
With Walker Cup selectors Mick Burns and Jonathan Plaxton taking notes, the winner of all four Boys provincial titles in 2010 plotted his way through the front nine in two over par, standing on the 10th tee with three strokes to spare over the clubhouse leaders at five over par.
Finn Teemu Bakker was the first to set that target and was joined by Scotland’s Ewan Scott, who holed a four-iron from 182 yards for an eagle two to join him.
There were still 27 players left on the course and Robertson, who had aced the 12th in a first round 69 to take the lead before following with an 81, added Sunday rounds of 72 and 73 to get into the clubhouse on seven over 295.
Lucan’s Richie O’Donovan, who had rallied to be just three back with 18 holes to go, needed two closing pars to beat that total but missed the green left at both the 17th and 18th and bogeyed both to finish eight over.
All eyes were on the last five groups now and it fell to The Island’s Gavin Moynihan, the 18 year old title holder, to match Robertson’s seven over total with a 73.
Only Cannon would join them from the dozen players on the course as he birdied the 15th and 16th to get to six over but bogeyed the 17th and then made a solid par at the last for a seven over total to join Robertson and Moynihan.
“It was all about attitude and visualisation of winning. Even on the back nine when I bogeyed the 11th and 12th to go eight over, I said to my caddie Dave Noone that my goal was to make a couple of birdies coming in, which I did. I was unfortunate to get a bad lie on 17 and make bogey. But I got another shot at it and I was lucky enough to take it.”
The biggest victim of the late afternoon was Hume.
Two shots clear on five over with two holes to play, he bogeyed the 17th by missing the green left but stood on the 18th tee in the final group needing a par to win the title and a five for a play-off and took a sickening, double bogey six after finding sand off the tee and then duffing his greenside pitch.
The play-off over the 16th, 17th and 18th was a gripping affair. But it wasn’t enough to identify a winner.
Robertson three putted the 16th for bogey before Moynihan double bogeyed the 17th, hitting a tired looking drive into the drain on the right and a weak third that only just carried the greenside bunker, finishing in the grassy upslope.
Cannon also bogeyed the 17th, missing the green left, to go to the last tied with Robertson on one over.
The Balbriggan man, winner of the South of Ireland for his only success in 2009, drove into a juicy patch of rough near the bunker on the 18th but then hit the shot of the week - a 205 yard fade with a five iron that finished 40 feet away, setting up a closing par.
“That was the shot of my life, the shot of my dreams,” he said afterwards.
Both Cannon and Robertson two putted for pars to finish on one over as 18-year old schoolboy Moynihan failed to make birdie and was eliminated after a brilliant but ultimately fruitless final day display.
It meant a trip back to the 18th for sudden death and Cannon would not be denied.
After finding the heart of the green again, he looked on as Robertson pushed his approach into the right-hand trap and failed to get up and down, missing from 12 feet for par after the Dubliner had lagged up stone dead from around 40 feet.
“It was a mental challenge today but I just visualised myself winning last night and spoke to my friend, the pro John Kelly about it,” a delighted Cannon said.
“It was all about attitude and visualisation of winning. Even on the back nine when I bogeyed the 11th and 12th, I said to my caddie Dave Noone that my goal was to make a couple of birdies coming in, which I did at 15 and 16.
“I was unfortunate to get a bad lie on 17 and make bogey. But I got another shot at it and I was lucky enough to take it.”
A return to the Irish team now looks on the cards for the new champion, but he’s not without ambition.
“I won the South in 2009 and set a goal of winning a strokeplay tournament and wrote that down as a goal a few weeks ago,” he said.
“I will have to re-evaluate my goals now but it’s always been an ambition of mine to win the East of Ireland. My mum is from Termonfeckin and Baltray is the home of Irish golf for me - Magnolia Lane.”
On Sunday, Cannon was the master of every aspect of the game. Knowing you can hit the shots is one thing, being mentally and physically ready at the end of a long day is another.
Irish Amateur Open Championship, The Royal Dublin Golf Club
After 72 Holes:
295 R Cannon (Balbriggan) 70 75 75 75; G Moynihan (The Island) 76 73 73 73; G Robertson (Scotland) 69 81 72 73
Cannon won with a par at first sudden death hole (18th) after 3-hole aggregate play-off (16-17th-18th) finished Cannon par-bogey-par, Robertson bogey-par-par, Moynihan par-double bogey-par.)
296 D McElroy (Ballymena) 76 73 75 72, R O’Donovan (Lucan) 76 73 73 74, G Lenehan (Portmarnock) 76 73 72 75, T Bakker (Finland) 75 77 71 73, E Scott (Scotland) 75 76 72 73, J Hume (Rathsallagh) 71 74 74 77
297 R McNamara (Headfort) 73 74 75 75, C Campbell (Warrenpoint) 72 76 73 76
298 R Dawson (Faithlegg) 72 75 74 77, J Rutherford (England) 71 75 78 74
299 N Kimsey (England) 76 75 73 75, M Kippen (England) 72 75 73 79, P Murray (Limerick) 71 78 73 77
300 S Borrowman (Scotland) 78 71 76 75, C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown) 76 75 73 76, H Diamond (Belvoir Park) 76 73 75 76, M McAlpin (Royal Portrush) 75 77 77 71, T McLarnon (Massereene) 74 77 75 74, S Binning (Scotland) 74 76 73 77, R Bridges (Stackstown) 73 79 75 73
301 R Arnorsson (Iceland) 76 76 73 76
302 C Sharvin (Ardglass) 72 77 77 76, S Healy (Claremorris) 71 78 76 77, A Kearney (Castlerock) 70 75 78 79
303 J Fox (Portmarnock) 71 78 75 79
304 M Morrissey (Mount Wolseley) 75 73 78 78, J McDonald (Scotland) 72 80 76 76, C O’Neill (Scotland) 72 73 79 80, N Grant (Knock) 71 81 75 77
305 J Greene (Carlow) 76 76 74 79, S O’Hara (Co. Sligo) 74 76 73 82
307 W Jones (Wales) 75 77 79 76
308 D O’Donovan (Muskerry) 79 72 78 79, S Flanagan (Co. Sligo) 79 72 75 82, R Connolly (Rathsallagh) 75 77 74 82, P McBride (The Island) 74 76 81 77
309 K Le Blanc (The Island) 73 76 80 80
312 S Moran (Carton House) 73 79 80 80
317 J Shufflebotham (Wales) 77 75 81 84, G McGrane (The Royal Dublin) 76 76 83 82