There is a shrine to Cecil Ewing in the foyer of County Sligo Golf Club but if 29-year old bank official Gary McDermott makes a silver deposit in the club’s trophy cabinet today, he will achieve the golfing equivalent of canonisation.
No representative of County Sligo has hoisted the silver trophy aloft since the great Ewing captured the last of his ten titles when he beat Brud Slattery in the 1950 final, 61 years ago.
Unfortunately for McDermott, an uncapped member of the Irish senior squad, he faces a sizeable obstacle in the shape of 22-year old Paul Cutler from Portstewart, the reigning Lytham Trophy holder and the nemesis of two County Sligo men yesterday alone.
The beaten finalist here four years ago, Cutler was just too good for Rosses Point’s Steffan O’Hara as he romped to a 4 and 3 third round win in breezy but otherwise perfect conditions.
But having moved effortlessly into a two up lead with four to play against 20-year old County Sligo international Barry Anderson in the afternoon quarter-finals, he was forced to produce a wonderful fairway bunker shot on the 19th hole to progress to the last four.
Having missed a 10-foot chance to go three up at the 15th, Cutler three putted to lose the 16th to a fine par save by Anderson and then miraculously got up and down for a half from a mound right of the 17th to go the last one up.
Anderson looked doomed when his approach to the last trickled over the back but he drew a great roar form the 1,500 strong gallery when his pitch hit the hole and miraculously stayed above ground.
Unsettled, Cutler rattled his 25 foot approach putt seven feet past and missed the return to hand his opponent a second chance in sudden-death.
But the Ulster star showed true grit at the 19th despite find the face of a fairway bunker on the right. With Anderson just off the green in two, the Walker Cup hopeful gripped down on a nine-iron and blasted a 105-yard missile to six feet.
Anderson’s putting had been suspect on the back nine and he failed to apply any pressure, leaving his 30 footer close to 10 feet short before missing his par attempt. Cutler had two from the win and gratefully took them to set up another clash with a Co Sligo man this morning.
“Three in a row,” Cutler said of his move from the frying pan to the fire. “More big crowds tomorrow morning again I’d say. I’ll just take every hole as it comes. There’s no such thing as an easy match, anyone you meet at this stage has to be playing well.”
McDermott knows that a win here would smooth his path to an appearance in a green jersey at his club when it hosts the Home International matches in August. And while he is making his first appearance in the semi-finals, he also knows he will not be lacking for support today.
Having survived a back nine comeback to beat Londoner Kieran Lovelock by one hole in the morning, he kept a bogey off his card as he eased to a comfortable 5 and 4 win over Belvoir Park’s Harry Diamond on a sun-splashed afternoon.
Expectations are a two-edged sword but McDermott is ready to take his chance.
“There’s extra pressure being from the home club but the support is great too,” McDermott said. “The crowds are always very fair and good shots will be applauded no matter who hits them. It definitely helps that’s for sure.”
In the bottom half of the draw, 31-year old Munster interprovincial Niall Gorey will face the reigning Irish Amateur Open and North of Ireland champion Alan Dunbar in the second semi-final.
A native of Rathangan in Co Kildare, golf equipment rep Gorey has been based in Cork for several years and after one hole wins over bookies’ favourite Dermot McElroy and Kilkenny’s Craig Martin he knows he has nothing to lose as he enters uncharted territory against a Walker Cup prospect.
He shaded a high quality encounter with 17-year Ballymena star McElroy when he chipped in for a birdie at the 17th to take a crucial one up lead.
And having made few errors in a tight tussle with Martin in the afternoon, he knows he has nothing to lose against Dunbar having halved his singles with the Rathmore star in last year’s interprovincial matches in Ballinrobe.
“I don’t fear anyone. I only fear myself,” said Gorey. “I did a good bit over the winter. This is the first time I’ve gone away foreign to practice. Went to Spain for 10 days to practice on my own. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that and it seems to have worked.”
Dunbar had just 19 putts in 15 holes - including a three putt at the fourth - as he beat Rathsallagh’s Jack Hume, winner of the four Boys provincial titles last season, by 4 and 3 in the third round.
He was less accurate with the blade in the afternoon but still had too much firepower for UCD scholarship student Stephen Walsh, winning 3 and 2 with a solid back nine performance.
West of Ireland Amateur Open (sponsored by Radisson Blu), Co Sligo GC.
G McDermott (Co Sligo) bt K Lovelock (Hindhead, UK) 1 hole;
H Diamond (Belvoir Park) bt P Murray (Limerick) 21st;
B Anderson (Co Sligo) bt D O’Donovan (Muskerry) 6/5;
P Cutler (Portstewart) bt S O’Hara (Co Sligo) 6/5;
N Gorey (Muskerry) bt D McElroy (Ballymena) 1 hole;
C Martin (Kilkenny) bt A Hogan (Newlands) 4/3;
A Dunbar (Rathmore) bt J Hume (Rathsallagh) 4/3;
S Walsh (Baltinglass/UCD) bt C Fairweather (Knock) 19th.
G McDermott bt H Diamond 5/4;
P Cutler bt B Anderson 19th;
N Gorey bt C Martin 1 hole;
A Dunbar bt S Walsh 3/2.
(8.0) G McDermott v P Cutler;
(8.15) N Gorey v A Dunbar.