Former Walker Cup star Arthur Pierse joined the chorus on voices calling on the Golfing Union to do something to improve the field at the South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship as he went down 4 and 3 to Knock’s Nicky Grant in the fourth round at Lahinch.
On a day when defending champion Pat Murray was beaten in the 19th by Royal Dublin’s Bryan McSweeney, the 62-year old Tipperary man called on the Irish selectors to delay the naming of the team for the Home Internationals until the conclusion of Ireland’s oldest provincial championship if it is not to fade into oblivion.
“There was a time when you dare not skip the South because you wouldn’t make the Home Internationals,” the former Walker Cup player said, gesturing to the odd lone spectator. “Now the team is picked already and I believe they need to pick it after the South. The Union needs to act.
“On a day like today, there was a time when you could have a couple of thousand people here. With nobody playing, it’s sad for the guy who wins it because it doesn’t mean as much. If you haven’t got the players coming here, people won’t come to watch.”
Winning the South certainly won’t feel sad for 26-year old Grant, who won his first Irish cap last year but still dreams of winning his maiden amateur “major.”
He came close to breaking his duck last year when he lost to Chris Selfridge in a play-off for the East of Ireland Championship at Baltray.
But after beating Killeen Castle’s Stephen McCarthy 5 and 3, he ended the Lahinch dream of 62-year old veteran Pierse in perfect though blustery afternoon conditions to set up a last 16 clash with Carton House’s Colin Cunningham
“You could see he is a class act,” Grant said of Pierse, who only went to Lahinch to hone his game before he heads to Royal Aberdeen for next week’se British Seniors Open Amateur Championship, a title he won in 2007. “If I hadn’t played at all decently, I would have been hammered.
“I just want to win a senior tournament and while the field is not as strong as it normally is I’d still love to win it. It’s definitely a monkey I’d like to get off my back.”
Pierse beat West Waterford’s Philip Spratt 8 and 6 in the morning not just because he missed just one green in regulation but because his opponent discovered he had 15 clubs in the bag on the third tee and incurred the loss of the first two holes.
But it was more of a struggle for one of Ireland’s most laurelled amateurs (North 1987, East 1979, West 1980 & 82), who played Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool in 1983 and took the British Open Seniors Amateur title at Nairn in 2007.
But he had no answer to Grant’s putting prowess in the afternoon, three-putting the Klondyke and the Dell to find himself three down.
“He was nine feet away in two and my ball moved at address as I was about to chip,” Pierse explained. “Then I three-putted to lose the hole to a five.”
But while he won the next three holes to get back to all square, the former Walker Cup player lost five of the next six as Grant holed a series of 15 footers to close out victory on the 15th.
As for the future of the South, Pierse cast his eyes around a semi-deserted Lahinch and said: “On a day like today, there was a time when you could have a couple of thousand people here. For a final there could be four or five thousand.”
Those days are long gone and 2006 champion Simon Ward, who plans to turn professional later this year, is the only senior championship winner remaining in the last 16.
Irish Amateur Open winner Robbie Cannon was beaten 4 and 3 by Mallow’s Paul McCarthy in the third round but the Corkman’s moment of glory was short-lived as he lost by 5 and 3 to Kilkenny’s Paul O’Hara in the afternoon.
O’Hara now faces 20-year old Stephen Coulter, a member of the Warrenpoint Senior Cup team that has come up short in the last two All Ireland finals.
Coulter had to dig deep to beat Carton House’s Shane McGlynn with a chip and putt birdie at the 20th and if he wins again this morning he will face the winner of Grant and Carton House’s Colin Cunningham.
The top of that bracket sees Cairndhu youngster Ryan McKinstry take on 26-year old Sean Ryan of Royal Dublin, who took one of the biggest scalps of the day when he beat Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan, unbeaten in the interpros last week, by 4 and 3.
Ben Best, bidding to become the first Rathmore winner since Graeme McDowell in 2000, takes on the talented and promising young Ardee man Eugene Smith, who was a semi-finalist last year.
Alex Gleeson, a Boys international who was a member of Castle’s All Ireland winning Senior Cup team last year, is one of the big dangermen left in the draw and now meets Shannon’s Ed Hickey with the winner taking on Curragh’s Jamie Rothwell or McSweeney, the vanquisher of defending champion Murray.
The 33-year old former Woodbrook player, who turns 34 on Thursday, joined Royal Dublin this year to boost their Senior Cup squad and knows that another win here could secure his place in the Dollymount club’s side for the quarter-finals at the end of August.
His match with Murray drew one of the few galleries of the day as they came down the 18th all square. Murray had a nine footer for birdie to win the match but misread it and missed the left-to right putt on the low side before bowing out with a frustrating three-putt bogey at the 19th.
“I’m ecstatic,” said McSweeney, whose biggest achievement at championship level until yesterday was a top 20 finish in the East of Ireland Championship.
“I beat Daniel Holland this morning but when I saw I had Pat Murray in the fourth round I knew I was in for a tough match. In fact, he’s probably my father’s golfing hero.”
County Louth’s Simon Ward, the 2006 champion, made five birdies and just one bogey in a 6 and 5 demolition of Royal Dublin based Sigo man Barry Anderson and announced that he will be turning professional in the autumn.
“I just feel like I need a fresh challenge,” the 26-year old explained. “I’ve really enjoyed amateur golf but I’ve played so much matchplay and so many links courses in wind and rain that it would be nice to try it and see how I do.
“I played in the EuroPro event at Concra Wood last week because it’s near my home and I really enjoyed it so I’d like to give it a go and see if I can improve my game.”
Ward will play Galgorm Castle’s Jamie Sutherland, who had to go to the 21st in fading light to end a stern challenge from Elm Park’s Eoin O’Connor.
Minutes earlier, the in-form Stackstown left-hander Richard Bridges beat former champion John Greene 2 and 1 but now faces another tough match in last year’s beaten finalist Stephen Healy.
The Claremorris man, who also reached last year’s West of Ireland final, overcame some early problems to beat Grange man Mark Ryan, a winner at Rosses Point 10 years ago, by 3 and 2.
South of Ireland Amateur Open, Lahinch GC (Sponsored by Clare Coast Hotels)
Fifth round (Tuesday)
(8:00) Ryan McKinstry (Cairndhu) v Sean Ryan (Royal Dublin),
(8:15) Ben Best (Rathmore) v Eugene Smith (Ardee),
(8:30) Paul O’Hara (Kilkenny) v Stephen Coulter (Warrenpoint),
(8:45) Colin Cunningham (Carton House) v Nicky Grant (Knock),
(9:00) Alex Gleeson (Castle) v Ed Hickey (Shannon)
(9:15) Jamie Rothwell (Curragh) v Bryan McSweeney (Royal Dublin)
(9:30) Simon Ward (Co Louth) v Jamie Sutherland (Galgorm Castle)
(9:45) Richard Bridges (Stackstown) v Stephen Healy Claremorris).
Ryan McKinstry (Cairndhu) bt Shaun O’Connor (Luttrellstown Castle) 19th,
Sean Ryan (Royal Dublin) bt Stuart Grehan (Tullamore) 4/3,
Ben Best (Rathmore) bt Tony O’Leary (Wexford) 3/1,
Eugene Smith (Ardee) bt Ross Kenny (Naas) 6/5,
Paul O’Hara (Kilkenny) bt Paul McCarthy (Mallow) 5/3,
Stephen Coulter (Warrenpoint) bt Shane McGlynn (Carton House) 20th,
Colin Cunningham (Carton House) bt David Foy (Laytown & Bettystown) 1H,
Nicky Grant (Knock) bt Arthur Pierse (Tipperary) 4/3,
Alex Gleeson (Castle) bt Gareth Bohill (Co Louth) 2/1,
Ed Hickey (Shannon) bt Jack Leacy (Dungarvan) 2/1,
Jamie Rothwell (Curragh) bt Simon Bryan (Delgany) 1up,
Bryan McSweeney (Royal Dublin) bt Pat Murray (Limerick) 19th,
Simon Ward (Co. Louth) bt Barry Anderson (Royal Dublin) 6/5,
Jamie Sutherland (Galgorm Castle) bt Eoin O’Connor (Elm Park) 21st,
Richard Bridges (Stackstown) bt John Greene (Portmarnock) 2/1,
Stephen Healy Claremorris) bt Mark Ryan (Grange) 3/2.
Ryan McKinstry (Cairndhu) bt Evan Farrell (Ardee) 2/1,
Shaun O’Connor (Luttrellstown Castle) bt Ian Brennan (Greenore) 4/2,
Stuart Grehan (Tullamore) bt John Conroy (Bray) 19th,
Sean Ryan (Royal Dublin) bt Eoin O’Sullivan (The Island) 2/1,
Tony O’Leary (Wexford) bt Kelan McDonagh (Athlone) 5/4,
Ben Best (Rathmore) bt Joe Lyons (Galway) 3/2,
Eugene Smith (Ardee) bt Gary McGrane (Royal Dublin) 4/3,
Ross Kenny (Naas) bt Chris Tormey (Mullingar) 5/4,
Paul McCarthy (Mallow) bt Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) 4/3,
Paul O’Hara (Kilkenny) bt Paul Reavey (Warrenpoint) 2/1,
Shane McGlynn (Carton House) bt Shaun Carter (Stackstown/NUIM) 2h,
Stephen Coulter (Warrenpoint) bt Ryan O’Dwyer (Callan) 4/3,
Colin Cunningham (Carton House) bt Ian O’Flynn (Cork) 2/1,
David Foy (Laytown & Bettystown) bt John Hickey (Cork) 2/1,
Arthur Pierse (Tipperary) bt Philip Spratt (West Waterford) 8/6,
Nicky Grant (Knock) bt Stephen McCarthy (Killeen Castle) 5/3,
Alex Gleeson (Castle) bt Tom Cleary (Dromoland Castle) 2/1,
Gareth Bohill (Co Louth) bt Declan Reidy (Co Sligo) 2/1,
Ed Hickey (Shannon) bt Thomas O’Connor (Athlone) 4/2,
Jack Leacy (Dungarvan) bt Shane Hogan (Nenagh) 2/1,
Jamie Rothwell (Curragh) bt Matthew McClean (Balmoral) 2/1,
Simon Bryan (Delgany) bt James McLaughlin (Portumna) 3/2,
Bryan McSweeney (Royal Dublin) bt Daniel Holland (Castle) 4/3,
Pat Murray (Limerick) bt William Hanna (Kilkeel/Warrenpoint) 3/2,
Simon Ward (Co. Louth) bt Billy McGarry (Birr) 2H,
Barry Anderson (Royal Dublin) bt Gary Collins (Rosslare) 2/1,
Jamie Sutherland (Galgorm Castle) bt Gary O’Flaherty (Cork) 4/3,
Eoin O’Connor (Elm Park) bt Mark Mullen (Wexford) 2/1,
John Greene (Portmarnock) bt Eamonn Haugh (Castletroy) 5/4,
Richard Bridges (Stackstown) bt Dave O’Donovan (Muskerry) 5/4,
Mark Ryan (Grange) bt John Kavanagh (Castletroy) 1H,
Stephen Healy Claremorris) bt Aidan Kelly (The Heritage) 3/2.