By Brian Keogh
Citywest’s Ger Lawlor has set his sights on a Cinderella-style West of Ireland victory after slashing his handicap from five to plus 4.1 in the space of just three years.
But the 30-year-old Dubliner, who learnt the game playing in the fields near his Tallaght home before giving it up almost entirely, has even bigger fish to fry this season.
"Depending on how the season goes, I'd like to take it up golf as a career and go to the European Tour Qualifying School in September,” said Lawlor, who is the lowest handicapper in the 120-strong field at County Sligo this week.
Thanks to victories in last year’s Castletroy and Woodenbridge Scratch Cups and a share of ninth place in the “East”, Lawlor surprisingly heads an entry list that includes a host of top internationals such as Irish Close champion Shane Lowry (plus 3.9) and County Louth’s Simon Ward.
Handicaps count for nothing at Rosses Point, where gale force winds and freezing temperatures are set to test the best to the limit in the earliest staging of the “West” in its 88-year history.
Coached by his uncle Dominic Reilly, the PGA professional at Stepaside Golf Centre in Dublin, big-hitter Lawlor revealed that he took a six-year break from the game before taking it up again in a serious way just three years ago.
And while victory by a first-time participant would be a massive shock, Lawlor feels he has every chance of pulling it off.
"I am going there to win,” said Lawlor, who reached the quarter-finals of last year’s North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush before falling to international Cian Curley. “That's always your goal. I never played Rosses Point until I went up there with my uncle a couple of Sundays ago. I shot 68 and loved the place.”
Defending champion Joe Lyons and last year’s runner-up Paul Cutler will fancy their chances of another good run now that Rory McIlroy has turned professional.
Portstewart ace Cutler took McIlroy’s scalp last term, earned international honours and reached the quarter-finals of last month’s Spanish Amateur Championship before being forced to withdraw due to food poisoning.
Radisson SAS sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship
Tee times 36-hole strokeplay qualifying: Match No. (Today/Sat)
1 (7.15/10.24) M Durcan (Co. Sligo), S Morrison (City of Derry), K McDonagh (Athlone);
2 (7.24/10.33) P Higgins (Mullingar), J Paterson (Knock), T McGowan (Strandhill);
3 (7.33/10.42) D Scully (Galway), B Galway (Cairndhu), D McNeill (Rossapenna);
4 (7.42/10.51) C O’Connor (Athlone) G Kelly (Co. Louth), T Cleary (East Clare);
5 (7.51/11.00) A Harrington (Cork), S Paul (Tandragee), C Cunningham (Carton House);
6 (8.00/11.09) K Cunnane (Woodstock), J Mulready (Castle), A Carroll (Castlewarden);
7 (8.09/11.18) A Harty (West Waterford), J McBurney (Donaghadee), A Dowling (Hermitage);
8 (8.18/11.27) R Leonard (Banbridge), S Moloney (Castletroy), B Walton (The Island);
9 (8.27/11.36) J Fox (Portmarnock), T O’Flynn (Fota Island), R McNamara (Headford);
10 (8.36/11.45) D Downie (Sutton), D O’Driscoll (Ballybunion), D McCusker (Moyola Park);
11 (8.45/11.54) K McCarthy (Kinsale), R Weldon (Luttrelstown Castle), D O’Donovan (Muskerry);
12 (8.54/12.03) S Neil (St. Andrews, UK), J Turner (Royal Portrush), R McGee (Roda, Sp);
13 (9.03/12.12) K Stack (Dungarvan/UCC), J Monaghan (The Island), G McGloin (Bundoran);
14 (9.12/12.21) S Dwyer (Newlands), C Keightley (Garforth, UK), H Boch (Ballybunion);
15 (9.21/12.30) D Kelleher (Portmarnock), G Lawlor (City West), I Winstanley (Formby, UK);
16 (9.30/12.39) M Sinclair (Knock), D Finn (Mallow), R Boal (Castle);
17 (9.39/12.48) D Crowe (Dunmurry), B Fowles (Wentworth, UK), M Horan (Birr);
18 (9.48/12.57) A McCoy (Ballymena), M Shanahan (West Waterford), E Arthurs (Forrest Little);
19 (9.57/13.06) J Lyons (Galway), J Senior (Heysham, UK), N Grant (Knock);
20 (10.06/13.15) R Maher (Nenagh), M Hammond (Moyola Park), C Drumm (Rosslare);
21 (10.24/7.15) G Paterson (Moray, UK), C Hughes (Royal Portrush), D Lally (Tuam);
22 (10.33/7.24) A Christie (Tyrrelswood, UK), G Hall (Edenderry), M Lavelle (K Club);
23 (10.42/7.33) E McAnoy (Knock), A McAllister (The International US), D Lernihan (Castle);
24 (10.51/7.42) C Selfridge (Moyola Park), G Dillon (The Heath), P Buckley (Kanturk);
25 (11.00/7.51) I Murphy (Waterford), P Purdy (Shandon Park), S Webster (Castle);
26 (11.09/8.00) B Reddan (Co. Louth), M Hemphill (Portstewart), A Moran (Tuam);
27 (11.18/8.09) D Sutton (Lockerbie, UK), S Lowry (Esker Hills), E McCormack (Galway);
28 (11.27/8.18) P Sheehy (Lahinch), B Keenan (The Heath), G Boyd (Donaghadee);
29 (11.36/8.27) J Hurst (Shawhill, UK), S Ward (Co. Louth), C Doran (Banbridge);
30 (11.45/8.36) N Kearney (Royal Dublin), A Wynne (Strandhill), B Jones (Cuddington, UK);
31 (11.54/8.45) P O’Hanlon (The Curragh), G Bohill (Co Louth), N Gorey (Lee Valley);
32 (12.03/8.54) K Thomas (Hinckley, UK), G McDermott (Co. Sligo), A Wilson (Cairndhu);
33 (12.12/9.03) A Hogan (Newlands), D Morgan (Mullingar), S Crowe (Dunmurry);
34 (12.21/9.12) E O’Sullivan (The Island), L Reilly (Galgorm Castle), M Collins (Sutton);
35 (12.30/9.21) H Diamond (Clandeboye), R Durnin (L’town & B’town), W McCully (Donaghadee);
36 (12.39/9.30) C Curley (Newlands), J. P. Hughes (Douglas), P Cutler (Portstewart);
37 (12.48/9.39) M Buggy (Castlecomer), T Neenan (Lahinch), N Boyd (Donaghadee);
38 (12.57/9.48) R McCarthy (The Island), A McCormick (Scrabo), B Cashman (Belvoir Park);
39 (13.06/9.57) R McConnell (Belvoir Park), R Cannon (L’town & B’town), G Carew (Edenderry);
40 (13.15/10.06) P McGrath (Dromoland), N O’Connor (Elm Park), G McKenna (Fortwilliam).