Twelve months after being ousted in the first round in the first match on the first morning, Shandon Park’s Stuart Bleakley was the last man standing at Lahinch as he become the third player from the great Belfast club to capture the Clare Coast Hotels sponsored South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship.
The burly 19-year old proved to be the strongest man in every sense when started like a train, overcame a small wobble and then finished nervelessly on a rain-soaked afternoon to beat Portmarnock’s Darragh Coghlan 3 and 2.
That Shandon Park legends David Long and Neil Anderson captured the title in 1974 and 1984 respectively was not lost on the champion as he went in to lunch following a 3 and 2 demolition of Waterford’s Eanna Griffin in the semifinals.
"When I looked up at the board at lunch time I saw Davy Long won it in ’74 and Neil Anderson in ’84 and with this being 2014, I thought it was fitting,” he said as his caddie and father, the PGA professional Geoff Bleakley, looked on proudly.
“I was getting my picture with the trophy before the final I said to myself, 'No one is going to take this off me.”
Bleakley started par-birdie-birdie-eagle and was five under through six as he beat Griffin in the morning. And with his first title in the bag, he’s hoping to kick on now and win more.
“I’ve achieved a lot team wise — two Fed Dalys in Ulster with Balmoral before moving to Shandon 18 months ago — but not individually before today,” he said.
Smiling wryly, he added: “I knew I could do it before I finally worked out about six months ago that you have to do a lot of practice to go quite far in this game.”
He got off to another hot start in the final against Coghlan, who had come back from two down after nine to beat his close friend Richard Knightly of Royal Dublin by 2 and 1 in his semi-final.
But the solid ball-striking that was there in the morning was absent early in the decider as he bogeyed the first, conceded the second to a sensational tap in eagle by Bleakley and then lipped out for par at the third to fall three down.
"My ball striking just wasn't there," Coghlan said of his slow start. "I suppose the occasion just got to me because it was there all week. I was solid this morning so the only thing that changed was that it was the final… It was just a defensive afternoon. I just wasn't free.”
He didn't go down without a fight though and battled back to one down with nine to go before Bleakley — and a torrential back nine rain shower — ultimately proved too much.
Two down after a Bleakley’s win in par at the 10th, he got back to one down through 12 but three-putted the 13th for bogey and 14th for a double in the worst of the weather to fall three behind again.
When Bleakley converted a six foot putt for a half in par at the 15th, Coghlan needed something special to happen. But it was the Shandon Park man who produced it, splashing out to three feet at the 16th and watching Coghlan’s long range birdie try stay above ground before holing the putt for the first individual triumph of his career.
South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship
(Sponsored by Clare Coast Hotels), Lahinch GC
Stuart Bleakley (Shandon Park) bt Eanna Griffin (Waterford) 3/2
Darragh Coghlan (Portmarnock) bt Richard Knightly (The Royal Dublin) 2/1
Stuart Bleakley bt Darragh Coghlan 3/2