Brian Keogh at Lahinch
The Corinthian spirit was alive and well at Lahinch yesterday as three complete part-timers and one dedicated amateur cruised into the semi-finals of the McNamara sponsored South of Ireland championship.
The only numbers that truly matter to Joe Lyons, Stephen Moloney and Darren Crowe these days are 9 to 5 but they showed that they can still play a bit when they swap the office for the golf course as they joined Royal Dublin teenager Niall Kearney in the last four of Munster golf's blue riband event.
West of Ireland champion Lyons, a 35-year-old social worker with the Health Service Executive in Galway, erased a season of disappointments since his triumph at Rosses Point when he ousted defending champion Simon Ward 2&1 before surviving a couple of aberrations with the putter to defeat surprise packet Shane Horgan of Monkstown by one hole.
Set to face 34-year-old Castletroy man Moloney - a full-time employee of the Bank of Scotland in Limerick - Lyons confessed that his ‘West’ victory has made him put too much pressure on himself to perform this season.
But the thrived in the hole-by-hole cauldron of matchplay combat to rack up two impressive victories on the pristine fairways of Lahinch on another sun-kissed Clare afternoon.
"My game wasn't all that bad during the year but I was losing the head on the course,” Lyons confessed. “In matchplay things seem to be going well. But I have put a lot of pressure on myself after winning the West. I can handle one or two bogeys but they were running into five or six on the trot. It seems to be easier to focus in matchplay."
Lyons twice missed shot putts to edge ahead of Monkstown man Horgan - the lowlight coming at the 15th, where he three-putted from four feet to be pegged back to all square - before a seven-iron to 10 feet at the 16th gave him a definitive edge.
Today he faces a local hero in Moloney, a father of two who has entering uncharted territory by reaching the last four in his 18th consecutive ‘South’ thanks to an impressive 4&3 destruction of 2004 champion Cian McNamara.
But the eventual champion could well come from the top half of the draw, where a rejuvenated Crowe is enjoying his golf more than ever since he gave up playing the game full-time two years ago to work in his father’s construction business.
After seeing off a dogged Brendan Walton 3&2, Crowe explained: “Working full time takes the pressure off. Every match you win means another day off work now.
“When you are playing full time you are putting pressure on yourself to win titles and make Walker Cup teams. But I am just enjoying it now and it makes it a bit easier.”
A beaten finalist for the past two years, former North of Ireland champion Crowe has set himself the task of winning all four provincial crowns but he knows that he faces a tough task against 19-year-old international Kearney, who is seeking a maiden senior title to go with his 2005 Irish Boys crown.
A prodigious striker of the ball, Kearney struggled to close out Peter McGibney by 2&1 in the morning but looked totally at ease with his surroundings as he defeated Westport’s Cathal O’Malley 3&2 in the afternoon.
Having decided not to continue with a golf scholarship at East Tennessee State (ETSU) last year, Kearney is looking at a future in the professional game, though not before earning Walker Cup honours in 2009.
He said: "I've been beaten early in all the championships this year and I haven’t been able to get any momentum going. So it is nice to be playing solidly."
South of Ireland Amateur Open (sponsored by McNamara & Co), Lahinch
D Crowe (Dunmurry) bt B Tracy (National Golf Links) 6/5;
B Walton (The Island/UCD) bt P O’Hanlon (The Curragh) 4/2;
N Kearney (Royal Dublin) bt P McGibney (Elm Park) 2/1;
C O’Malley (Westport) bt RJ Cannon (Laytown & Bettystown) 4/3;
J Lyons (Galway) bt S Ward (Co Louth) 2/1;
S Horgan (Monkstown) bt D Rawluk (The Island) 19th;
S Moloney (Castletroy) bt D O’Driscoll (Ballybunion) 2/1;
C McNamara (Limerick) bt G Shaw (Lurgan) 2/1.
D Crowe (Dunmurry) bt B Walton (The Island/UCD) 3/2;
N Kearney (Royal Dublin) bt C O’Malley (Westport) 3/2;
J Lyons (Galway) bt S Horgan (Monkstown) 1h;
S Moloney (Castletroy) bt C McNamara (Limerick) 4/3.
(8.30) D Crowe (Dunmurry) v N Kearney (Royal Dublin);
(9.00) J Lyons (Galway) v S Moloney (Castletroy).