Former stopper Jeff Hopkins has set his sights on becoming a Walker Cup swinger this season.
The Skerries star, 19, took up golf just five years ago after his cross-channel soccer dreams were smashed by injury problems.
But he tees it up at Royal Dublin today as one of the favourites for the Irish Amateur Open, believing he can become a serious contender for a place in the Walker Cup side to face the US at Royal Aberdeen in September.
A brilliant second in the prestigious Lytham Trophy last week, Hopkins said: “The plan is to push on and try and slip into the Walker Cup team.
“A lot of guys are turning pro now so there are a few spots available. I hopefully I can do well this week and maybe get a few wins this summer.”
The 6’ 3” talent won four All Ireland titles as a strapping centre half with schoolboy giants St Kevin’s Boys.
But after trials with West Brom, Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers he suffered back, knee and groin problems and gave up football for golf.
He said: “I just grew too fast and had problems with my back and Osgood Schlatter’s in my knees so that kicked me out of football altogether.”
His handicap tumbled from 24 to seven in his first year and from seven to scratch when he left school to take the game at a full time sports academy in England in 2008.
He got down to scratch two years ago, made the Irish Boys team last year and is now plus two handicapper with ambitions to turn professional.
Seven Walker Cup squad members are in the elite 120-man field at Royal Dublin - including defending champion Alan Dunbar and West of Ireland winner Paul Cutler .
Hopkins led after round one last year only to get blown away in high winds at the Dollymount links over the weekend.
But he reckons he’s a far better player this year, insisting: “You have to put yourself in the situation to learn how to handle it. Being in contention and holding myself together last week at Lytham was a good sign.”
Dunbar simply hopes his batteries will be recharged when he tees it up at Royal Dublin this morning.
The Rathmore star was beaten by Portstewart’s Paul Cutler in the West of Ireland final at Easter and was so tired after just two days rest that he missed the cut in last week’s prestigious Lytham Trophy.
But he goes back into action at the Dollymount links today believing that he has the wind game to retain the title and outgun Walker Cup hopefuls such as Cutler, Waterford Castle’s Kevin Phelan, Welsh stars Oliver Farr and Rhys Pugh, Englishman Tom Lewis and Scot Kris Nicol.
“You just have to play par golf,” said Dunbar, who was grateful that his missed cut in Lancashire last week gave him some time to rest. “Four rounds of level par won’t be far way here if the breeze stays like this.”
Newlands talent Andy Hogan believes it’s time to shake off his nearly man tag and start winning big. And the 22-year old Dubliner sees no reason why he can’t start against an elite international field.
“You could say I am due at this stage,” Hogan said. “I won the Belgian Youths a few years ago but I haven’t won a big one yet.
“I got to the semi-finals of the Irish Close in Enniscrone two years ago and I’ve been in quarter finals of tournaments so many times and had plenty of top fives and top 10s.
“Maybe this will be the week. It’s a driver’s course and I am driving it well so who knows. I will give it a real go.”
A close pal of European Tour star Shane Lowry, Hogan showed some form last week when he finished eighth in the Lytham Trophy.
Irish Amateur Open Championship, Royal Dublin
Tee times: (Today/Tomorrow)
(7:30/10:48) I Brennan (Greenore), J Dillon (Headfort), C Boggan (Co Meath);
(7:39/10:57) A Kelly (Charleville), S Brady (Co Sligo), M Downes (England);
(7:48/11:06) B McSweeney (Woodbrook), Q Carew (Edenderry), S Bryan (Delgany);
(7:57/11:15) S Ryan (Royal Dublin), G Moynihan (The Island), S Barry (L’town & B’town);
(8:06/11:33) L Nemecz (Aut), J Greene (Carlow), A Eckhardt (Fin);
(8:15/11:42) R Caron (Hol), M Sinclair (Knock), R O’Donovan (Lucan);
(8:24/11:51) R Whitson (Mourne), R Van West (Hol), S Quy (Bel);
(8:33/12:00) J Hume (Rathsallagh), G Dunne (Seapoint), P Murray (Limerick);
(8:51/12:09) R Pugh (Wal), S Larkin (Sco), A Hogan (Newlands);
(9:00/12:18) L J Bjerregaard (Den), T Lewis (Eng), D McElroy (Ballymena);
(9:09/12:27) R Kind (Hol), P Croonquist (USA), A Dunbar (Rathmore);
(9:18/12:36) F Osther (Hol), P Cutler (Portstewart), J Findlay (Sco);
(9:27/12:54) K Nicol (Sco), M Veijalainen (Fin), K Phelan (Waterford Castle);
(9:36/13:03) L Lennox (Moyola Pk), P McLean (Sco), P Dunne (Greystones);
(9:45/13:12) K Crowley (Lee Valley), C Doran (Banbridge), O Farr (Wal);
(9:54/13:21 J Hopkins (Skerries), D Huizing (Hol), P Latimer (Sco);
(10:12/13:30) J Fox (Portmarnock), R Leonard (Banbridge), G Stevenson (Sco);
(10:21/13:39) J Hord (US), R McNamara (Headfort), G McDermott (Co Sligo);
(10:30/13:48) D Murphy (Portarlington), D O’Neill (Carton Hse), T Salminen (Fin);
(10:39/13:57) E McCormack (Galway), S Crichton (Sco), Wm Hanna (Kilkeel);
(10:48/7:30) D Callister (Eng), D Murray (Skerries), S Moloney (Castletroy);
(10:57/7:39) A Kiernan (Forrest Little), R Bridges (Stackstown), E Smith (Ardee);
(11:06/7:48) T Silva (Portugal), M Buggy (Castlecomer), B Walton (The Island);
(11:15/7:57) G Lawlor (Newbridge), S O’Connor (Skerries), M O’Connor (Eng);
(11:33/8:06) J Carlota (Por), C Glynn (Carton Hse), R Fieldhouse (Wal);
(11:42/8:15) T Collins (SA), S McGlynn (S County), G McGrane (Royal Dublin);
(11:51/8:24) T Rodrigues (Por), T Ibbertson (Eng), N Grant (Knock);
(12:00/8:33) C Fairweather (Knock), J Brittain (England), J Lyons (Birr);
(12:09/8:51) F McKenna (Scotland), C Molloy (Ardee), E Arthurs (Forrest Little);
(12:18/9:00) N Hellberg (Fin), M Gaspar (Por), B Casey (Headfort);
(12:27/9:09) R Dhondt (Bel), T Speyer (Eng), M Durcan (Co Sligo);
(12:36/9:18) S Crenan (Eng), R Megens (Bel), J Monaghan (Royal Dublin);
(12:54/9:27) C O Malley (Westport), C Daly (Castletroy), W Harmston (Eng);
(13:03/9:36) C Selfridge (Moyola Pk), M Kippen (Eng), F Schulte (Ger);
(13:12/9:45) S Bolton (Eng), K McCarthy (Kinsale), P Shields (Sco);
(13:21/9:54) R Cannon (L’town & B’town), J Evans (Eng), T Gurek (Ger);
(13:30/10:12) (Charlesland), B Anderson (Co Sligo), S Borrowman (Sco);
(13:39/10:21) C Korbler (Aut), G Bohill (Co Louth), M Shanahan (W Waterford);
(13:48/10:30) A Kearney (Castlerock), S Grehan (Tullamore), DF Coghlan (Royal Dublin);
(13:57/10:39) H Beins (Ger), D Coyle (Co Louth), C Martin (Kilkenny).