Pat Murray banished forever the demons of seven semi-final defeats and embraced sweet victory at last when he battled through the pain barrier to clinch a long overdue victory in the South of Ireland Championship at a windswept Lahinch.
The 41-year old Tipperary veteran broke his ‘major’ duck when he won the Irish Close Championship at Enniscrone three years ago.
But the South has always been his Holy Grail and having finally cleared the dreaded semi-final hurdle with a 3 and 1 victory over Ardee’s Eugene Smith in the morning, the Limerick Golf Club secretary-manager overcame niggling self-doubt, a sore leg and westerly winds gusting up to 30 mph to beat 22-year old Stephen Healy of Claremorris by two holes after lunch.
Both men would admit that it was not a classic encounter from a scoring viewpoint. Yet it was high on drama and emotion as Murray gave his vast Limerick support the victory they had come out in their droves to see.
“Delighted. Thrilled,” Murray said at the finish. “The support was phenomenal. It’s just relief, joy and tiredness, the whole lot. I’m absolutely exhausted.”
Having helped Munster to victory in last week’s Interprovincial Matches at Royal County Down, Murray revealed that he was struggling with a leg injury - he severed his Achilles tendon playing football just a few days before Christmas and spent the next four months in plaster - as he battled to smash his semi-final hoodoo.
He led Smith - the winner in 25 holes over former champion Simon Ward in Tuesday’s quarter-finals - from the second hole and was never headed at any stage.
Even though he was struggling with his leg as he successfully closed out a Lahinch semi-final at the eighth attempt, wild horses could not have stopped him coming out for the decider against Healy, who also suffered defeat in the West of Ireland final at Easter.
Murray and Healy met on the opening day of the Interpros in Newcastle last week. But while the Mayo man emerged the victor by one hole that day, he could not repeat the form he showed in his comprehensive 5 and 4 semi-final win over Knock’s Colin Fairweather when the silverware was on the line in the afternoon.
With a stiff breeze blowing in off the grey Atlantic Ocean, Murray won the first two holes in par-birdie and while he lost the par-five fourth to Healy’s four, he chipped to three feet to save a fine par three at the Dell to go two up again.
Bogeys at the seventh and eighth saw his lead disappear in a flash but while Healy missed from inside three feet for par at the 12th to hand Murray a crucial advantage, there were more twists and turns to come.
The eventual champion played the shot of the final when he brilliantly chipped dead from behind the 13th to save a half in par. He lost the 14th after being bunkered in two before both men conceded each other’s six footers at the 15th to head down the last three holes with the match all square.
However, Healy pulled his tee shot into thick rough at the 16th and after two failed attempts to escape, conceded the hole.
The Claremorris man then missed from less than two feet for what would have been a winning par at the 17th to leave Murray one up playing the par-five 18th.
With the glittering prize tantalisingly within his grasp, Murray hit a perfect drive and a two iron to the edge of the green as Healy pulled his second out of bounds on the crosswind.
He had another go from the fairway but conceded the hole and the match when his fourth shot sailed well right of the green.
Mobbed by his supporters at the home hole, including his emotional father Mick, Murray could not disguise his delight.
“This is the pinnacle for me,” the champion said. “It’s the one I always wanted. I’ve put myself under a lot of pressure year in, year out, to try and qualify for the final.
“Maybe I was trying to hard for a while. Sometimes it was a case of being unlucky and many times I got beaten by better players on the day. I can’t even remember them all - Simon Ward… Jody Fanagan on the 19th, Ken Kearney at the 21st… so many.
“To be honest I felt I was under more pressure this morning to get out of the semi-final than in the final itself. I didn’t want to make it eight defeats.
“Sometimes I wondered if I was ever going to win one. In fact, it crossed my mind last night. ‘It’s another semi, how many more chances am I going to get? Thankfully, I can forget about all that now.”
His win was a triumph for the old fashioned amateur - the working man with a passion for the game.
While he has no dreams of turning professional, he has joined the likes of major winners Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell and three time Ryder Cup winner Paul McGinley on the roll of champions. In truth he has more in common with the likes of the great Lahinch favourite Jack Burke.
With a taste for victory now, who knows what the future holds for the man the young brigade call “Pat Mustard.”
Murray had his immediate future clear in his mind.
With a grin he said: “There might be a drink or two tonight!”
And with that he was off to don his green jacket and savour “the big one.”
South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship (sponsored by Clare Coast Hotels), Lahinch GC
Pat Murray (Limerick) beat Eugene Smith (Ardee) 3/1
Stephen Healy (Claremorris) beat Colin Fairweather (Knock) 5/4.
Pat Murray beat Stephen Healy 2 holes.
(Please click here for full results of all matches)