When a player gets more texts and phone calls after failing to get picked for a team than he does for winning a major international championship, something doesn’t add up.
Little wonder then that Irish Amateur Open champion Robbie Cannon angrily headed for Lahinch, his sights set on more South of Ireland glory, after being controversially left out of the 11-man Ireland team for next month’s Home Internationals.
The Balbriggan player, who won the “South” in 2009 and reached the semi-finals two years ago, was bitterly disappointed not to get the nod from the selectors following his playoff win in Ireland’s blue riband international event at Royal Dublin in May.
A bewildered Cannon said: “I can’t understand how the winner of the biggest championship in the country, an international event, can’t get on the Home International team and a lot of people I have talked to, people I respect, can’t understand it either.
“Obviously I am gutted not to get picked so I’m heading for Lahinch to try and win the South. I’ve got a great record down there too so I’m looking forward to giving it a good run again.
“It just adds more fuel to my fire to win more championships and prove a few people wrong.”
The 34-year old is one of an increasingly rare breed of career amateurs at the top end of the game in Ireland, as evidenced by yet another devastated field for the start of the South of Ireland Championship this weekend due to the condensed international calendar.
Coming just days after the Interprovincial Matches, the ‘South’ has suffered terribly once more with the majority of Ireland’s elite players resting before the European Individual Amateur Championship in Catalonia (Aug 7-10) and the Home Internationals at Ganton the following weekend.
It’s certainly good news for the likes of Cannon, whose omission from the Ireland side sends a negative message to the working amateur ahead of another decaffeinated “South” where the leading championship winners in the field gave up playing regularly on domestic circuit long ago.
Yes, defending champion Pat Murray (an Irish Close champion) is joined by former winners such as Cannon, John Greene (2010), Stephen Walsh (2011), and Simon Ward (2006) with Interpros star Stuart Grehan bidding to continue his fine run of form.
But it is telling that the players in the field with the most amateur “majors” are 48-year old Eddie Power (a three-time Irish Close champion), 62-year old former Walker Cup star Arthur Pierse and 67-year old Barry Reddan, who won the South (87) as well as the East and the West.
Niall Goulding, a two-time West of Ireland winner and double Irish Close runner up more than 20 years ago, is also playing.
The rest of the big names have even bigger fish to fry and Headfort’s Brian Casey is the only member of the Home International team named yesterday who has entered the South.
In fact, of the 13 Irishmen entered for next month’s European Individual Amateur Championship (six officially and seven at their own expense), only Casey and Knock’s Nicky Grant will be in Co Clare.
With the Home International team already picked, just 13 of the 32 players who teed it up in the Interprovincial Matches at Lee Valley this week are taking part with Grant the only member of the winning Ulster side remaining in Munster for Ireland’s oldest provincial major.
Major winners Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke and Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley have had their names etched on the trophy but many of our leading players will never get that chance as the calendar and the allure of the tour, forces them to sit it out.
This is a serious situation for the “South” and the Munster Branch but the omission of Cannon from the Irish team is discouraging for the top amateurs who still have to work for a living, not to mention an indirect snub to the Irish Amateur Open as an “elite” event.
Irish team captain Pádraig Hogan defended the “difficult” decision taken by the selectors. But his reasons won’t convice those who believe that Cannon has been treated a little harshly.
The Home International side is clearly a strong one as it features Brabazon Trophy and East of Ireland runner up Casey (Headfort), East of Ireland winner and Irish Close runner up Paul Dunne (Greystones), West of Ireland champion Rory McNamara (Headfort), US Open hero Kevin Phelan (Waterford Castle), Spanish Amateur Open winner Reeve Whitson (Mourne), North of Ireland champion Chris Selfridge (Moyola Park) and Irish Close champion Cormac Sharvin (Ardglass).
Jack Hume (Naas), Gary Hurley (West Waterford), Dermot McElroy (Ballymena) and Gavin Moynihan (The Island) make up the rest of the team.
It was a largely predictable line up following some impressive performances in recent weeks by the likes of Selfridge, who won the North and five matches out of five in the Interpros. Yet Cannon’s omission stands out like a sore thumb despite the fact that his form since his win over Gavin Moynihan and Scotland’s Graham Robertson in that playoff at Royal Dublin has been mixed.
“It was an absolutely agonising decision but we feel we have the best 11 players to do a job for us in Ganton,” said Irish team captain Padraig Hogan.
“Robbie missed out and so did Harry Diamond but unfortunately we can’t accommodate 13 players. We have two new caps in Cormac Sharvin and Brian Casey, nine who have played before with Paul Dunne returning and eight of last year’s team.
“It was very difficult and I rang Robbie this morning and he is bitterly disappointed. Robbie’s unfortunate in the sense that we had a huge amount of talent to choose from. We have 15 or 16 players to look at and I also looked at the Boys and watched Robin Dawson and Paul McBride in the Boys’ Interpros. And Stuart Grehan had a fantastic Interpros winning five and a half points out of six. But we felt that we had enough players in the panel and we made a decision.”
The decision is a reflection of the changing face of Irish amateur golf with the majority of our players now playing full time, or combining golf with their studies as they tackle a global schedule that’s beyond the working man.
“When I was playing the Lytham Trophy was the highlight of your year after the Home Internationals,” Hogan said. “We have a split scene now with guys playing international golf and guys playing domestic golf. And it is really very hard to balance the difference between the two. Robbie, for instance, is a working amateur and winning the Irish Amateur Open was an incredible achievement.
“But it’s such a fine line. If he hadn’t won the Irish Amateur or been beaten in a play-off, we wouldn’t be talking as we are talking now. But he did win the Irish Amateur and we brought him into the panel and I don’t think it has gone as well as he would hoped himself for the last month or two.
“He won’t admit that. He did miss the cut at the Irish Close and in the North of Ireland, yes he went to the last 16 but got left out in one of the singles in the Interpros, which wasn’t great from his point of view that Leinster management had to leave him out of one of the sessions.
“Now that had no huge bearing on the team selection because some other players might not have played particularly well at the Interpros either. But the six-man [European] team all played quite well in the Interpros, so there were no grounds for leaving anybody out on that basis either.
“If you look at the current World Amateur Golf Ranking, you can see that the full team has come from the top 12 or 13 Irish players there. Richie O’Donovan is the only guy there who didn’t make the team.
“I am not saying that the Ranking is a yardstick to go by, but it is an indication of where the guys are in relation to tournament play during the year.”
Naturally, players with jobs get fewer opportunities to travel and accumulate world ranking points, which makes it harder for players like Cannon to make an impression.
“I agree,” Hogan said. “Entries have to be in so early that we almost have our schedule for the first three months of the season done by the West of Ireland and anyone who emerges is unlucky not to be selected and has to go on their own bat. It is tough.”
Hogan will not be at the South having selected the Irish team already due to logistical pressures. He agrees that it’s a “shame” that fixture congestion means that 10 of his 11-man team are resting for the European Individual Amateur Championship and skipping the trip to Lahinch. Gary Hurley is not playing in Lahich or Spain.
“It’s not that it [the South] doesn’t mean as much any more,” the skipper said. “It’s just that Irish Amateur golf has gone global at this stage and the fields are so strong in the Brabazon Trophy and the St Andrews Links that we have to sit up and take note of guys who do well in those, or even make the cut. And the Order of Merit is even reflecting that now.”
Cannon is actaully ranked ninth in the Order of Merit, ahead of players selected ahead of him for the Home Internationals at Ganton, such as Selfridge, Hurley or Moynihan.
Yet the head of the selectors argues that most of his points came at Royal Dublin, diminishing his case.
“If I was to say to everybody, take your best event out, you’d have a very different complexion,” Hogan said.
Applying that criteria, Moynihan and Selfridge would have lost out to the likes of Harry Diamond, Geoff Lenehan or Richard O’Donovan.
Instead, Selfridge has come with a late surge, winning 11 matchplay encounters in a row between his North of Ireland triumph and the Interpros, where he won five out of five. From no-hoper for the Homer Internationals, he is suddenly the man in top form.
He could also have terrified the field at Lahinch and added a fourth leg to the career grand slam in Irish amateur golf. Instead, he’s another victim of the congested calendar.
With the Interprovincial Matches and the Home Internationals unlikely to change date for another two to three years, there is no immediately obvious short-term cure bar moving the South to late June.
Both Lahinch and the Munster Branch are keen to find a solution but there is little appetite for moving away from the traditional date and Pat Finn, General Secretary of the Golfing Union of Ireland, admits that fixture congestion is problem that affects all the Home Unions.
“There is no obvious solution to it,” he said. “There is room in September for some golf but the question is what you put there. It is tricky with players going to the European Tour Q-School and others heading to college in America. It is not as simple as shoving an event into September because you are going to lose a lot of players for that event as well.
“The fields for the other provincial championships with exception of the West, given its date, have all been affected as has the irish Close Championship.
“The elite players are playing so much more golf overseas in individual and team championships, some of which they are going to play under their own steam, as against playing in regional and provincial events. It is the changing face of amateur golf to be honest.”
With the European Individual Championship clashing with the US Amateur, changes are afoot. The US Amateur hs changed its rules to give all players in the Top 50 in the WAGR automatic entry into the tournament proper. Rather than compete for those players, the European Golf Association appears poised to move the European Individuals closer to the British Amateur, booting both its field and that of the US Amateur at the same time.
Meanwhile, the “South” continues to battle on and has even lost out to the All Ireland Hurling Championship this year.
Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald has pulled out of today’s first round clash with Woodstock’s Kieran Cunnane due to the Banner’s All-Ireland hurling quarter-final clash against Galway tomorrow.
A win would prevent him from facing Rosslare’s Gary Collins in the second round and his place in the draw has been taken by Mullingar’s Paul Burke. Cannon will also be there, seething quietly.
The team for the Home Internationals at Ganton Golf Club from 14-16 August is : Brian Casey (Headfort), Paul Dunne (Greystones), Jack Hume (Naas), Gary Hurley (West Waterford), Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Rory McNamara (Headfort), Gavin Moynihan (The Island), Kevin Phelan (Waterford Castle), Chris Selfridge (Moyola Park), Cormac Sharvin (Ardglass), Reeve Whitson (Mourne).
The team for the Boys’ Home Internationals at Forest Pines Golf Club from 6-8 August is: David Carey (Carton House), Robin Dawson (Faithlegg), Sean Flanagan (Co. Sligo), Jordan Hood (Galgorm Castle), Gareth Lappin (Belvoir Park), Rowan Lester (Hermitage), Paul McBride (The Island), Ronan Mullarney (Galway), Alec Myles (Newlands), James Sugrue (Mallow), Jack Walsh (Castle).