Philip Walton never won the West of Ireland Championship (he lost to Aurthur Pierse in the 1980 decider) but if his nephew Brendan goes on to take the title this year, the 1995 Ryder Cup hero will be justified in claiming a small share of the credit.
Renowned as one of Irish golf’s greatest wind players, the 49-year old veteran was the perfect man for 24-year old NUI Maynooth student Brendan Walton to call last weekend following confidence shattering rounds of 79 and 85 in the Lee Valley Senior Scratch Cup.
They played 18 holes together at the Island on Monday and adjourned to the range there on Tuesday and as a result, the younger Walton defeated southerly winds gusting up to 30mph to card a level par 71 that left him just a shot adrift of Kilkenny’s Craig Martin and County Sligo’s Stephen Brady in the first qualifying round at a lengthened County Sligo.
“I was hitting it all over the place so I gave the Uncle a ring on Sunday night and asked him if he could have a look at me on Monday and Tuesday,” Walton revealed after battling brilliantly against the wind on the way home.
“He showed me a few things and I was just ripping my irons against the wind all day. He told me I was too quick, especially with the driver. He said, you have to slow down and keep your left arm really straight through the shots.
“It’s fantastic just to watch his rhythm and you just learn so much. It is a different sound when he hits it. He told me, left arm, keep it smooth with a slow tempo. The good thing is I don’t have to pay him €100 a session!”
Walton bogeyed the first after a clumsy pitch ran six feet past the hole, but settled down and birdied the par-five fifth and the tough seventh, holing a swinging 25 footer with his trusty broomhandle putter there to get into red figures.
He struck it beautifully all day and parred the next eight holes, dropping his only shot of the back nine when his three iron came up short at the long, par-three 16th.
He finished in style, however, hitting with a wonder-shot to the 462-yard 17th - a 200-yard seven iron from the left rough that finished within two-putt range at the front of the green.
“I hit one of the longest seven irons I have ever hit on 17,” Walton said. “Paul (Cutler) and Nicky (Grant) were hitting three woods and coming up short. I might have got a slight flyer and had a shorter line in against the wind. But I really crunched it.”
Martin and Brady were the only players in the 150-strong field to break par with Walton tied for third with former East of Ireland champion Eoin Arthurs and the County Sligo international Barry Anderson.
The top 64 after 36 holes will qualify for tomorrow’s first matchplay round and all the title favourites are well placed to progress.
Walker Cup hopeful Paul Cutler is tied for sixth after a 72 that featured a brace of eagles threes at the fifth and seventh as well as two birdies, five bogeys and a double bogey.
“It was good matchplay golf,” grinned the Portstewart man, who ended Rory McIlroy’s bid for a title hat-trick here in 2007 before losing in the final. “A few years ago I would probably have thrown in the towel after about 12 or 13 holes. But my game and course management are a lot better now.”
Rathmore’s Alan Dunbar, the Irish Open and North of Ireland champion, limited the damage to a 74 that left him tied with the likes of bookies’ favourite Dermot McElroy.
The 17-year old from Ballymena struggled off the tee and dropped four shots over the last six holes as he battled into the wind coming home.
“I was just swinging too fast and trying to hit it too hard into the wind,” McElroy said.
If his Uncle was Philip Walton, he would have known what to do.
First qualifying round
70 S Brady (Co Sligo/NUIM), C Martin (Kilkenny).
71 E Arthurs (Forrest Little), B Anderson (Co Sligo), B Walton (The Island).
72 P Cutler (Portstewart), G Carew (Edenderry), C Campbell (Warrenpoint), D Crowe (Dunmurry), I Brennan (Greenore), S O’Hara (Co Sligo), J Dillon (Headfort).
73 J Lyons (Birr), H Diamond (Belvoir Pk), B Churchill (Galgorm Castle), S Barry (Lee Valley), M Hammond (Moyola Pk), A Dunbar (Rathmore), G Dunne (Seapoint), D Sweeney (Westmanstown), D O’Donovan (Muskerry).
74 P O’Hara (Kilkenny), N O’Hare (Castleknock), P Sheehy (Newcastle West), J Hume (Rathsallagh), D McElroy (Ballymena), G McDermott (Co Sligo).
75 E Smith (Ardee), C Doran (Banbridge), J Hopkins (Skerries), K Crowley (Lee Valley), D Coyle (Co Louth), R Twomey (Muskerry), M Buggy (Castlecomer), A Kelly (Charleville), R Cannon (Laytown & Bettystown), S McCarthy (Black Bush), D O’Neill (Carton House), A Hogan (Newlands), A Kearney (Castlerock), S Ward (Co. Louth), M Durcan (Co. Sligo), E McCormack (Galway), G Moynihan (The Island), E Stack (Ballybunion).
76 D Sutton (Lurgan), R Leonard (Banbridge), J Leacy (Dungarvan), D Downie (Sutton), R Bridges (Stackstown), M Sinclair (Knock), B Casey (Headfort), P Dunne (Greystones), S Walsh (Baltinglass/UCD), P Cullen (Royal Tara), J Greene (Carlow), N Gorey (Muskerry), S Cannon (Loughrea), K Lovelock (Hindhead, UK), R Walsh (Kilkenny), J Monaghan (R Dublin), C Boggan (Co. Meath), R O’Donovan (Lucan), D Kelleher (Portmarnock).
77 D King (Tramore), J Richardson (Royal Portrush), J Pierse (Grange), A Gleeson (Castle), N Grant (Knock), D Murray (Skerries), W Hanna (Kilkeel), S McConnell (Ballyclare), P Murray (Limerick), C Fairweather (Knock), S Miskelly (Knock), B Ronan (Co Louth), M O’Sullivan (Stow Acres, USA), W Telford (Rathmore), D Loftus (Swinford), C Daly (Castletroy), M Mcalpin (R Portrush), E Murphy (Cork), S Morrison (City of Derry), C Selfridge (Moyola Pk), S Loftus (Lahinch), D Morgan (Mullingar), J Foran (Thurles).
78 P O’Leary (Lucan), C Glynn (Carton House), S O’Connor (Skerries), P Delaney (Arklow), E O’Sullivan (The Island), B Fennelly (R Dublin/NUIM), C Molloy (Ardee), R Whitson (Mourne), D Holland (Castle), R Kenny (Woodlands/NUIM), G Bohill (Co. Louth), K Lynch (Skibbereen).
79 D Murphy (Portarlington), S Ryan (The Royal Dublin), T McLarnon (Massereene), A McCormick (Scrabo), S McGlynn (South County), G McKenna (Fortwilliam), A Wynne (Strandhill), R McNamara (Headfort), E Haugh (Castletroy), L Lennox (Moyola Pk), S Bryan (Delgany), M McGinley (Grange).
80 G Kelly (Co. Louth/UCD), A Kiernan (Forrest Little), S Barry (Laytown & Bettystown), K Nolan (Dun Laoghaire), D Barry (Mahon), S Crowe (Dunmurry), A Doran (Ardee).
81 M Ryan (Grange), G Lawlor (Newbridge), D O’Sullivan (Strandhill), T O’Connor (Athlone), C O’Sullivan (Fota Island), B Kennedy (S County), D Lally (Mullingar), D Coghlan (Royal Dublin), M O’Toole (Lucan), D Dunne (Co. Sligo).
82 K McDonagh (Athlone/NUIM), R Weldon (Killeen Castle), M Shanahan (W Waterford), K Stack (Dungarvan), K Shannon (Greenore), B Reddan (Co Louth)
83 G Collins (Rosslare), D McKenna (Foyle), B Corcoran (Roganstown), G McGrane (R Dublin).
84 N Kearns (Omagh), D O’Connor (Athlone), C Sharvin (Ardglass), A Lynch (Royal Tara), T Cleary (Dromoland), Q Carew (Edenderry), E O’Connor (Ballybunion), D Mallon (Dungannon).
85 R Durnin (Laytown & Bettystown), D Reilly (Westmanstown)
86 R McCormack (Naas)
NR C Abernethy (Dun Laoghaire)