Brian Keogh at Lahinch
They old golfing adage that a man who can putt is a match for anyone rang true once more in the McNamara sponsored South of Ireland Championship at weather-lashed Lahinch.
After three days of relative calm, a southwest wind roared across the Co Clare links with a vengeance from midday, bringing with it a series of squally showers that pushed the surviving quarter-finalists to the limit.
But it the weather hardly appeared to bother recently crowned Irish Close champion Paul O’Hanlon from The Curragh as he overcame a spirited fightback from 43-year-old Kilkenny man Eddie Power to prevail on the 21st and set up a clash with Lee Valley’s Niall Gorey, the conqueror of title favourite Shane Lowry, in the first of today’s semi-finals.
As Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney and Aaron O’Callaghan of Douglas were towelling themselves off after making it through to the other semi-final, O’Hanlon came to the 18th with a one-hole lead but looked on in dismay as the gritty Power forced extra holes when he got up and down from 40 yards short of the 18th green for a winning par five.
A member of Ireland's European Team Championship winning side in Turin earlier this month, O’Hanlon holed from 15 feet at the 19th to extend the match and repeated the trick at the par-five 20th, where Power lost a contact lens in the driving rain before going on.
Another 15 footer by O’Hanlon at the 21st yielded a par and a notable victory over one of Ireland’s great amateur players of the last 20 years. But he faces a totally different challenge against the relatively inexperienced Gorey in the first of this morning’s semi-finals.
A native of Rathangan in Co Kildare, Gorey ended Lowry’s bid to add the South of Ireland title to his wins in the North and West with an accomplished 3 and 2 fifth round victory before defeating 18-year-old Kelan McDonagh from Athlone in the quarter-finals.
While he has won the Munster Strokeplay title for the past two years, the 28-year-old had never been past the last 16 in any senior championship and he credits the upturn in his fortunes in the amateur game to his decision to move to Cork, where he has been running Ballincollig Golf Centre with his wife Valerie for the past two years.
"Before I moved to Cork I was away two or three nights a week with my job and I wasn’t able to play as much and compete against the young kids,” said Gorey, who has yet to trail in any of his matches. “A couple of years ago, if I had played a guy like Shane, I would have had no chance."
A winner of five points out of five in last year's Interprovincial matches, Gorey knows that a Championship victory would pave the way to international honours. But he refused to get ahead of himself, explaining: "I am not here to get a cap. Like everyone else, I have come here to win. Simple as that.”
Considering the appalling weather, it is no surprise that all four semi-finalists are young men with 22-year-old O’Callaghan coming through a marathon 12-hour day to clinch a clash with 20-year-old Kearney.
Resuming his weather delayed fourth round clash with Ballybunion's John D Guiney on the 13th tee at 7 am, the Southeastern Louisiana student closed out a 4 and 2 win before hammering Cork's Fergal Deasy 6 and 5.
But it was a war of attrition against 18-year-old Californian visitor Austin Graham in the wind and rain lashed afternoon quarter-finals, where he needed two drivers to reach the 461 yard 14th and eventually came through to win by one hole.
Kearney, 20, came back from two down after nine holes to beat Knock's Nicky Grant 2 and 1 and hopes to go on and earn his first senior championship title.
Now a full-time amateur, he said: "The best I have played this year was in the Brabazon Trophy, where I was sixth. I used to think I was better in strokeplay but I think I am a better match player now than I used to be."
South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship
Fourth round (carried over from Mon):
E Haugh (Castletroy) bt G Dunne (Seapoint) 3/2;
S Ward (Co Louth) bt R McNamara (Headfort) 4/3;
A Graham (Pacific G&CC) bt D McInerney (Lahinch) 2/1;
A O'Callaghan (Douglas) bt JD Guiney (Baybunion) 4/2;
F Deasy (Cork) bt T Neenan (Lahinch) 3/2.
K McDonagh (Athlone/NUIM) bt P Murray (Limerick) 1 hole;
N Gorey (Lee Valley) bt S Lowry (Esker Hills) 3/2;
E Power (Kilkenny) bt K Canty (Douglas) 6/5;
P O'Hanlon (The Curragh) bt A Hogan (Newlands) 3/2;
N Grant (Knock) bt A Condren (Greystones) 3/2;
N Kearney (Royal Dublin) bt E Haugh (Castletroy) 6/5;
A Graham (Pacific G&CC) bt S Ward (Co Louth) 1 hole;
A O'Callaghan (Douglas) bt F Deasy (Cork) 6/5.
N Gorey bt K McDonagh 2/1;
P O'Hanlon bt E Power 21st;
N Kearney bt N Grant 2/1;
A O'Callaghan bt A Graham 1 hole.
(8.30) N Gorey v P O'Hanlon;
(9.00) N Kearney v A O'Callaghan.