Harry Diamond will be one of the men to beat in the Golfsure sponsored Irish Amateur Close Championship. Pictured during practice at Royal Portrush’s Dunluce links by Pat Cashman.Nine of the last 11 Irish Amateur Close champions joined the paid ranks but don’t expect Harry Diamond to take the plunge if he lifts the title at Royal Portrush on Sunday evening.

{Click here for the practice round image gallery}

While Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy went on to make the fairytale come true with that Irish Open victory for the former and back to back US Open wins for the two Ulstermen, Diamond has seen enough tour golf to know he’s simply not good enough to pay for play. Not yet anyway.

When your best friend is world No 1 and reigning US Open champion McIlroy, whatever golfing talent you possess is put firmly in context, even if you are a plus two handicapper and the reigning West of Ireland champion.

“I’ve got a good job and I know how good the pros have to be,” said the 27-year old Belvoir Park man who is one of four amateurs in today’s field invited to play in next month’s Irish Open at the stunning Dunluce Links.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Rory out on tour and I’m certainly not good enough at the minute. Unless things change massively over the next couple of years, I’ll probably just stay amateur.

“There’s a big difference between having a Challenge Tour card and making good money on the European Tour. Whenever I play with Rory he gives me two shots a side, four in total which is 16 per tournament and we’d have a good match, so there’s a massive difference there!”

Since losing to Royal Portrush’s Patrick McCrudden, another Irish Open invitee, in last year’s North of Ireland final, Diamond has continued to improve, claiming his maiden title at Rosses Point at Easter and sixth place in the recent Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin

His goal is to make his senior international debut in August’s Home Internationals but he faces stiff opposition for the ‘Close’, which became a 72-hole strokeplay efor the first time last year.

“Just playing a lot more this year, obviously played Portugal and Spain earlier on in the year which was good preparation for the West and then after that just kept playing loads of golf.

“I played okay last year, got to the final of the North, top ten in this last year, I think I’ve been playing well for a couple of years,” Diamond said when asked about his improved form in recent seasons. “Working hard on my short game over the last couple of years has been the big difference, and just playing more, having time to play more golf.

“I was down here last week, and a couple of times over the winter which has been good. The course is in good shape, the greens are a bit slow but I’m sure they will be cut and rolled this week and get them going well.”

As for his international ambitions, he said: “I haven’t heard anything, I’d be delighted to play Home Internationals at the end of the year. Unfortunatley there’s no Europeans (Team Championship) this year, it’s every other year, that would have been nice, I would have had a chance of getting on that but another good finish this week and the East next week so hopefully a couple more good finishes and I’ll get on that team.”

Reigning champion Paul Cutler has since turned professional but while Rathmore’s Walker Cup star Alan Dunbar is the bookies’ favourite ahead of Diamond, he managed just one practice hole yesterday as he struggles with ‘flu.

“I’ve a bit of flu, preparations haven’t been great”, said Dunbar who has could hit only 50 shots in practice this week.  “I know the place well, and tried to play a few holes last night and got very weak and had to come in.

“I’ve literally just played up the 18th hole this morning. I had a good week’s practice after Royal Dublin but I’ve barely played since last Friday.”

It was at Royal Portrush 12 years ago that Dunbar’s Rathmore clubmate Graeme McDowell captured the Irish Close title, and attention is undoubtedly going to be on the 2010 Walker Cup star

“If my health holds up, I’m playing well enough,” Dunbar insisted. “Hopefully I’ll be ready for the morning.”

Dunbar is one of two GUI nominations for next month’s Irish Open alongside Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy, a player fancied to sparkle as brightly as Diamond when the top 45 and ties do battle over the final 36 holes on Sunday.

Recently crowned Irish Amateur Open champion Gavin Moynihan is not in the field but there is no shortage of talent on show this week.

Castlerock’s Aaron Kearney, who finished joint second behind Cutler at Shannon last year, is one to watch along with Headfort’s Munster Strokeplay champion Brian Casey, Greystones’ US-based Paul Dunne, Mourne’s Reeve Whitson or Lucan’s East of Ireland chamoion Richard O’Donovan.

Seasoned campaigners such as Eddie McCormack and Connor Doran shouldn’t been too far from the centre of the action either on a legendary track that rewards good ball-striking.

Irish Amateur Close Championship, Royal Portrush (Dunluce Links)


Sponsored by Golfsure

Tee times (Friday/Saturday)


(7:30/11:33) T O’Leary (Wexford), J Hopkins (Skerries), N Crawford (Mourne);

(7:39/11:42) S Winsby (Whitehead), P Small (Bangor), I Moore (Dunmurry);

(7:48/11:51) P McKeever (Castle), S Coulter (Warrenpoint), C Carvill (Belvoir Park);

(7:57/12:00) J Sabir (Glasson), D O’Sullivan (Strandhill), M Welsh (Knock);

(8:06/12:09) C Molloy (Ardee), E O’Donovan (Crad’town), C Geraghty (L’town & B’town);

(8:15/12:18) C Moulds (Lisburn), D Downie (Sutton), S Cullen (Slieve Russell);

(8:24/12:27) D O’Neill (Carton House), D Coyne (Tuam), J Fox (Portmarnock);

(8:33/12:36) S McConnell (Ballyclare), S McGlynn (Carton House), R Dawson (Faithlegg);

(8:51/12:54) E McCormack (Galway), A Hogan (Newlands), S Bryan (Delgany);

(9:00/13:03) A Dunbar (Rathmore), R Cannon (Balbriggan), E Arthurs (Forrest Little);

(9:09/13:12) S Miskelly (Knock), G McDermott (Co. Sligo), N Gorey (Muskerry);

(9:18/13:21) P O’Kane (Moyola Park), N Grant (Knock), A Purdy (Ballyclare);

(9:27/13:30) N Steedman (Courtown), T McLarnon (Massereene), D McElroy (Ballymena);

(9:36/13:39) R Whitson (Mourne), M Sinclair (Knock), D Hallissey (Muskerry);

(9:45/13:48) A Thomas (Tramore), C Selfridge (Moyola Park), S Healy (Claremorris);

(9:54/13:57) C Fairweather (Knock), C Campbell (Warrenpoint), B Anderson (Co. Sligo/NUIM);

(10:12/14:06) B Walton (The Island), M Reid (Galgorm Castle), M Durcan (Co. Sligo);

(10:21/14:15) R O’Donovan (Lucan), D Holland (Castle), J Whelan (Newlands);

(10:30/14:24) R McNamara (Headfort), R McKinstry (Cairndhu), A Kearney (Castlerock);

(10:39/14:33) C Kenny (Curragh), J Hume (Rathsallagh), B Stevens (Spa);

(10:48/14:42) R Symington (Lisburn), R Leonard (Banbridge), E Cradock (Gort);

(10:57/14:51) J Pierse (Grange), G Lenehan (Portmarnock), G Hurley (West Waterford/NUIM);

(11:06/15:00) S Walsh (Portmarnock), H Diamond (Belvoir Park), S Carter (Stackstown/NUIM);

(11:15/15:09) P McCrudden (Royal Portrush), R Kenny (Naas/NUIM), B Casey (Headfort);

(11:33/7:30) J Sutherland (Galgorm Castle), E Smith (Ardee), D Barry (Mahon);

(11:42/7:39) J Richardson (Royal Portrush), A Kiernan (Forrest Little), S Dwyer (Lucan);

(11:51/7:48) S Moran (Carton House), J-R Galbraith (Whitehead), S Doherty (Ballyliffin);

(12:00/7:57) D Loftus (Castlebar), R Burke (Castle), I Brennan (Greenore);

(12:09/8:06) J Turner (Royal Portrush), K Shannon (Greenore), Q Carew (Edenderry);

(12:18/8:15) J Yates (Naas), G Mungovan (Headfort), R McConnell (Belvoir Park);

(12:27/8:24) D O’Donovan (Muskerry), M Kane (Whitehead), A Burns (Galgorm Castle);

(12:36/8:33) K Stack (Dungarvan), P McBride (The Island), J Greene (Portmarnock);

(12:54/8:51) B Martin (Killymoon), B McCormack (Castle Barna), L Mulligan (Stackstown);

(13:03/9:00) K McDonagh (Athlone), I Kettyle (Rathmore), A Stevens (Spa);

(13:12/9:09) A Grant (Dundalk), C Glynn (Carton House), C Carroll (Shandon Park);

(13:21/9:18) D Coghlan (The Royal Dublin), R O’Dwyer (Callan), B Daly (Edmondstown);

(13:30/9:27) C Sharvin (Ardglass), S Ryan (The Royal Dublin), S Watts (Cairndhu);

(13:39/9:36) A McCloy (Ballymena), M McAlpin (Royal Portrush), B Fennelly (The Royal Dublin);

(13:48/9:45) S Ward (Co. Louth), C McKenna (Mallow), G Dunne (Seapoint);

(13:57/9:54) R Weldon (Killeen Castle), M Mullen (Wexford), P Gibb (Massereene);

(14:06/10:12) B Best (Royal Portrush), K Egan (Carton House), T Coffey (Slieve Russell);

(14:15/10:21) G Walsh (Mount Juliet), I Lynch (Rosslare), J Finnegan (Royal Portrush);

(14:24/10:30) P O’Leary (Lucan), D Coyle (Co. Louth), R Bridges (Stackstown);

(14:33/10:39) M Richards (Carton House), S O’Connor (Skerries), M McKnight (Lisburn);

(14:42/10:48) J Lyons (Birr), F O’Sullivan (Tralee), S Brady (Co. Sligo);

(14:51/10:57) C McGrogan (Newbridge), S O’Hara (Co. Sligo), M Brett (Portmarnock);

(15:00/11:06) A Kelly (Muskerry), M Hammond (Moyola Park), C Doran (Banbridge);

(15:09/11:15) M Morrissey (Mount Wolseley), C Johnston (England), W Hanna (Kilkeel).