Kelan McDonagh confessed that golf has been put firmly in perspective by his girlfriend’s brave battle with cancer after he opened with a grinding 72 to keep the leaders in his sights in the Irish Amateur Open at a weather-challenged Royal Dublin.
The 22-year old Athlone man, who graduated from NUI Maynooth through the Paddy Harrington Golf Scholarship scheme last year, set the early pace before finishing the day alone in fifth place, just two shots behind joint leaders Simon Ward from County Louth and Massereene’s Tiarnan McLarnon.
McDonagh’s girlfriend, 22-year old Claire Condron, is in the Dublin hospital recovering from a recent bone marrow transplant after being diagnosed with cancer in January.
And her illness means that the former Irish Youths and Mullingar Scratch Cup winner no longer gets as frustrated by his poor golf as he once did.
In fact, now that he’s moved from Athlone to Kilcock to make it easier to be by her bedside in the evenings, he works on his game and his fitness during the day and has such a structured daily routine that he has inadvertently improved his game.
Asked if what had happened to Claire had put golf in perspective, McDonagh said: “Big time. Over the years I’d throw away a few shots here and there just by getting annoyed but now it doesn’t really matter where the ball goes as long as I can find it again. It puts everything in perspective.
“She had her bone marrow transplant two weeks ago so she’s looking pretty good for coming out the other end.
“I’m living in Kilcock at the moment, so that’s kind of got me in a routine every day. I joined Carton House, I’m playing there in the mornings, go into the gym in the afternoon and then go in to her in the evenings.
“It’s a kind of built-in rigid routine every week and it’s kind of helping my golf. You just get on with it, whether you make par, birdie or bogey, it doesn’t matter. You just walk to the next tee anyway.”
McDonagh’s ambition is to regain his place on the Irish team and he’s targeting a good week at Royal Dublin and strong performances in the Irish Close and East of Ireland championships over the coming weeks.
“My plan is to play fulltime amateur this year, see how far I can get. I’d like to get back into the Irish team. I got into the panel in 2009 and was there in 2010 and ‘11 but was dropped off it at the end of last year. I want to prove a bit of a point, more to myself than anyone else, that I’m as good as the rest of the boys here.
“I can dedicate as much time to practice as I want to. I’ve had a pretty strict regime over the last three or four months. Looking forward to getting going now. This is pretty much the first of three weeks in a row – the Close in 10 days’ time and the East is soon after that. Hopefully I can keep the ball rolling – keep getting it in the hole.
“Even to be in with a shout on Sunday will be great. I’ve got off to a good solid start today but it’ll be a whole new game when I stand up on the first tee tomorrow. One shot at a time and see what it adds up to tomorrow evening.”
Ward is no stranger to the business end of a championship, winning the South of Ireland in 2006 just a few weeks after losing to Rory McIlroy in the Irish Close final at the European Club. He finished second to Richard Kilpatrick in the 2007 East of Ireland strokeplay and helped Ireland win the European Amateur Team Championship at Westwern Gailes the following month.
Currently working in the golf retail business in Belfast and set to play interclub competition for Belvoir Park, Ward joined University of Ulster student McLarnan in a share of the lead on two under after the 20-year old from Massereene holed a monster, 60-foot birdie putt at the 18th for a 70 to post the clubhouse target.
Ballymena’s 18-year old international star Dermot McElroy and 20-year old New Yorker Mike Miller finish the day just a shot off the pace after 71’s.
McElroy was happy to hole some good putts for the first time this year after changing putter recently
“I played okay in Australia but I was putting horrendously and three-putting nearly every green,” McElroy said. “I couldn’t get the ball in the hole from four feet.
“It was the same story in Spanish Amateur, where I averaged 39 putts per round. At the ‘West’ I putted horrendously bad, changed putter [from a blade to a mallet] last week before Lyham [he was 15th] and I was playing good golf and shooting 5 over. I was trying everything but I couldn’t get it in the hole.”
European Amateur Open champion Manuel Trappel of Portugal is tied for sixth with a host of Irish stars after a 73 while last week’s Lytham Trophy winner, world No 7 Daan Huizing of the Netherlands, is lurking just four shots off the pace after a two over 74.
Irish Amateur Open
First Round (CSS: 77)
70 S Ward (Co. Louth), T McLarnon (Massereene)
71 D McElroy (Ballymena), M Miller (USA)
72 K McDonagh (Athlone)
73 C Doran (Banbridge), G McGrane (The Royal Dublin), R Kind (Netherlands), H Diamond (Belvoir Park), M Trappel (Austria), S McConnell (Ballyclare)
74 R Burke (Castle), H Beins (Germany), D Huizing (Netherlands), J White (Scotland), C Campbell (Warrenpoint), G Moynihan (The Island), R Whitson (Mourne), J Evans (England), P Shields (Scotland), R O’Donovan (Lucan)
75 N Gorey (Muskerry), G Lenehan (Portmarnock), K Reints (Netherlands), J De Poyen (France), M Durcan (Co. Sligo), S Ryan (The Royal Dublin), E Smith (Ardee), E Arthurs (Forrest Little), C McKenna (Mallow), R Bridges (Stackstown), M Shanahan (Castlemartyr), A Dunbar (Rathmore)
76 J Hume (Rathsallagh), M Sinclair (Knock), P Mazier (France), S Grehan (Tullamore), S Binning (Scotland), T Grava (France), C
Fairweather (Knock), M McAlpin (Royal Portrush), A Kearney (Castlerock), J Carvill (Banbridge), A Hogan (Newlands), A Kelly (Muskerry), R McNamara (Headfort)
77 J Hopkins (Skerries), L Lespinasse (France), P O’Kane (Moyola Park), A Kiernan (Forrest Little), B Walton (The Island), G O’Flaherty (Cork), E McCormack (Galway), J Pierse (Grange), S Bryan (Delgany), Q Carew (Edenderry)
78 D Byrne (Athenry), A Cooper (Australia), J Hassler (France), B McSweeney (Woodbrook), R Connolly (Rathsallagh), G Bohill (Co. Louth), S O’Hara (Co. Sligo), K McCarthy (Kinsale), C Selfridge (Moyola Park), G McDermott (Co. Sligo), G Mungovan (Headfort), J Hendrick (Scotland), G Stevenson (Scotland), T Le Berre (France), J Greene (Portmarnock)
79 M Wolf (Germany), R Arnorsson (Iceland), A Thomas (Tramore), K Ritchie (USA), J Fox (Portmarnock), M Brett (Portmarnock), S Moloney (Castletroy), D Holland (Castle)
80 C Molloy (Ardee), I O’Rourke (Cork), C O’Neil (Scotland), S Borrowman (Scotland), D Loftus (Castlebar), I Brennan (Greenore), G Walsh (Mount Juliet), D Morgan (Mullingar), E Joris (France), S Larkin (Scotland), K Egan (Carton House), B Casey (Headfort), J Lyons (Birr), G Lawlor (Newbridge)
81 D O’Donovan (Muskerry), W Hanna (Kilkeel), M Hausweiler (Germany), C Morizio (France), D Coyle (Co. Louth), R Cannon (Balbriggan), R Knightly (The Royal Dublin), M Kippen (England)
82 J Carney (England), F Schulte (Germany), B Daly (Edmondstown), G Collins (Rosslare), S O’Connor (Skerries), M Buggy (Castlecomer)
83 S Healy (Claremorris), N Tacher (France), G McKenna (Fortwilliam), P McCrudden (Royal Portrush)
84 S Moran (Carton House), D Downie (Sutton), N Steedman (Courtown)
85 M Robb (Scotland), J Marot (France)
87 S McGlynn (Carton House), S Walsh (Portmarnock)
88 S Flanagan (Co. Sligo)
92 A Bogoni (Italy)
NS R Pickard (England)
07:30: Ciaran Molloy (Ardee), Frederik Schulte (Germany), Sean Moran (Carton House)
07:39: Shaun O’Connor (Skerries), Ciaran McKenna (Mallow), Greg Mungovan (Headfort)
07:48: Hendrik Beins (Germany), Jim Carvill (Banbridge), Thomas Le Berre (France)
07:57: Jeff Hopkins (Skerries), Brian Casey (Headfort), Robert Cannon (Balbriggan)
08:06: Joe Lyons (Birr), Manuel Trappel (Austria), Eugene Smith (Ardee)
08:15: Gordon Stevenson (Scotland), Pierre Mazier (France), Stephen Healy (Claremorris)
08:24: Jamie Carney (England), Roy Connolly (Rathsallagh), Gavin McKenna (Fortwilliam)
08:33: Chris Selfridge (Moyola Park), Desmond Morgan (Mullingar), Julien De Poyen (France)
08:51: Josh Evans (England), Scott Borrowman (Scotland), Mark Shanahan (Castlemartyr)
09:00: Tiarnan McLarnon (Massereene), Moritz Hausweiler (Germany), Gerard Lawlor (Newbridge)
09:09: Leo Lespinasse (France), Matt Kippen (England), Ronan Burke (Castle)
09:18: Richard Pickard (England), Kieran McCarthy (Kinsale), Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint)
09:27: Simon McConnell (Ballyclare), Michael Sinclair (Knock), Alan Thomas (Tramore)
09:36: Michael Wolf (Germany), William Hanna (Kilkeel): Richard Bridges (Stackstown)
09:45: James Hendrick (Scotland), Simon Ward (Co. Louth), Gary O’Flaherty (Cork)
09:54: Brendan Walton (The Island), Barry Daly (Edmondstown), Ian Brennan (Greenore)
10:12: Gareth Bohill (Co. Louth), Simon Bryan (Delgany), David Byrne (Athenry)
10:21: Gary Collins (Rosslare), Stephen Moloney (Castletroy), Allan Kiernan (Forrest Little)
10:30: Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock), Jack Pierse (Grange), Michael Durcan (Co. Sligo)
10:39: Declan Loftus (Castlebar), Daniel Holland (Castle), Shane McGlynn (Carton House)
10:48: Gavin Moynihan (The Island), Keith Egan (Carton House), Michael Buggy (Castlecomer)
10:57: Quentin Carew (Edenderry), Steffan O’Hara (Co. Sligo), Kelan McDonagh (Athlone)
11:06: Dave O’Donovan (Muskerry), Sean Ryan (The Royal Dublin): Sean Flanagan (Co. Sligo)
11:15: John Greene (Portmarnock), Matthew McAlpin (Ryl Portrush): Gary McGrane (The Royal Dublin)
11:33: Andrew Kelly (Charleville), Stephen Walsh (Portmarnock), Stuart Grehan (Tullamore)
11:42: Joseph Hassler (France), Daniel Coyle (Co Louth): Paul O’Kane (Moyola Park)
11:51: Patrick McCrudden (Ryl Portrush), Etlin Joris (France), Jack Hume (Rathsallagh)
12:00: Bryan McSweeney (Woodbrook), Gary Walsh (Mount Juliet), Alessandro Bogoni (Italy)
12:09: Michael Brett (Portmarnock), James White (Scotland), Charles Morizio (France)
12:18: Ian O’Rourke (Cork), Paul Shields (Scotland), James Fox (Portmarnock)
12:27: Thomas Grava (France), Neville Steedman (Courtown): Reeve Whitson (Mourne)
12:36: Conor O’Neil (Scotland), Richard O’Donovan (Lucan), Robin Kind (Netherlands)
12:54: Runar Arnorsson (Iceland), Kyle Ritchie (USA), Sam Binning (Scotland)
13:03: Eoin Arthurs (Forrest Little), Nicolas Tacher (France), Daan Huizing (Netherlands)
13:12: Mike Miller (USA), Colin Fairweather (Knock), Aaron Kearney (Castlerock)
13:21: Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Scott Larkin (Scotland), Michael Robb (Scotland)
13:30: Conor Doran (Banbridge), Andrew Hogan (Newlands), Andrew Cooper (Australia)
13:39: Alan Dunbar (Rathmore), Julien Marot (France), Eddie McCormack (Galway)
13:48: Gary McDermott (Co. Sligo), Kevin Reints (Netherlands), Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park)
13:57: Richard Knightly (Royal Dublin), Niall Gorey (Muskerry), Rory McNamara (Headfort)