Royal County Down an inviting prospect for Whitson, Phelan and Moynihan

Reeve Whitson splashes out of a bunker in the 2012 Interpros at Royal County Down. Picture by Pat Cashman

He's shot rounds a 63 and a 66 around his home course but Reeve Whitson is still trying to keep his expectations in check at Royal County Down this week.

Like Mount Juliet's Kevin Phelan, another player who is keen to turn his love of the course to his advantage on the back of a tournament invitation, Whitson knows this is a golden opportunity to make headway on tour after a challenging start to his pro career on the EPD Tour in Germany.


But he's also well aware of the challenges posed by one of the world's great courses and he's prepared to do what it takes to play it the right way.

"It’s much firmer and the fairways are much faster than normal," Whitson says after a practice round. "The greens, I wouldn't say they are fast, but they are playing fast because they are so firm to play to. All round the course is playing faster and shorter.

"I am trying to just enjoy the week but I understand it is a great opportunity for myself. I’ll be trying to put in a good performance and just enjoy it. 

"There were far fewer drivers than normal and even in practice on Monday I hit a couple of clubs that went too far off the tee. 

“I hit three wood where I would normally hit driver - on five, 18, 16, 15, 13, 12, 11, 8. If it’s breezy I’d say eight or nine under par could be the winning score. Otherwise, it could be anything."

It appears that there is plenty of wind on the way and Whitson knows he'll have to be more consistent than he's been on the EPD Tour — the German equivalent of the Europro Tour — where he is 50th on the Order of Merit ater 10 starts.

“I’ve been a bit inconsistent,” Whitson confessed. “I have been going through a run where I am not doing anything wrong but I am losing golf balls in the middle of rounds and making doubles and triples and turning level or one under into two or three over and missing cuts.

“I’ve really looked at what I could maybe improve on and I’m just hoping I am going through a little spell and I can play through it. It’s my first year and I am loving it.”

As for Royal County Down, he said: "You’ve got to keep the ball in play. Don’t attack the golf course, you’ve got to respect it. Hit the fairways with whatever club you can, play for the front of greens.

“It’s not the kind of golf course you are going to have seven or eight birdies on. Putting from the front of most greens, it is fairly straightforward. It’s when you take on greens or back pins that it gets tough."

Whitson played well for Ulster in the 2012 Interpros at Royal County Down but not as well as Phelan, who was the star of the show for champions Munster that year.

"This is probably my favourite links and I got six rounds in three days when we won here, so I am very familiar with it," said Phelan, who is a 150-1 shot this week despite the fact that he is 77th in the Race to Dubai having had just eight starts after losing his card at the end of 2014.

"I just like hard courses and this is really hard. I like it when you can just plot your way around and if get out of position you can just hit to the middle of the greens and take it from there.

"You have to be patient around here more than most place an it’s really hard to be patient here. If you miss and you are short-sided downwind it is really, really tough so you have to pay attention to that. But links, middle of the green is pretty good, especially when it is windy."

Phelan won five of his six matches that week and his ISM stablemate Darren Clarke is tipping him to make it.

"He's dedicated and knows exactly where he's going," Clarke said.

But the Ryder Cup captain also expects big things from another youngster in 20-year old Gavin Moynihan, who won the Irish Amateur Open for the second time earlier this month.

“He was very impressive this morning — a very, very talented kid," Clarke said of his pratice round with the youngster from The Island.  "He's got wonderful control of his wedges, both left to right and right to left. 

“I tried to help him this morning and point him in the right direction of what he needs to do and he's certainly very, very receptive as to my ideas and suggestions for him to get better and improve.  

“He’s a great player now but he's got a huge amount of talent and he's got a big future ahead of him in the game.”