A vintage year
Rory McIlroy — the man of the year — with the Claret Jug. Picture Fran Caffrey,  www.golffile.ie

Rory McIlroy — the man of the year — with the Claret Jug. Picture Fran Caffrey, www.golffile.ie

The golfing year brought many highlights starting with Willie Gill Order of Merit winner Jack Hume's victory in the West (he also won the Nassau Invitational) right through to Seamus Power's triumphant march to the Web.com Tour. In between it was indubitably Rory McIlroy's year with those two magnificent Major wins and that barnstorming Ryder Cup performance under the amazing leadership of Paul McGinley. But there was more, much more. Here are my Top-20 moments.

20 — The West

Robbie Cannon plays to the 12th in the 2014 West of Ireland final

Robbie Cannon plays to the 12th in the 2014 West of Ireland final

Robbie Cannon's great run to the final, where he fell to an impressive Jack Hume, was a triumph of sorts for the working amateur. But as usual, the star of the show was County Sligo and the wondrous beauty of the challenging links at Rosses Point. Pat Ruddy is already making significant changes to the course and while many are anxious about what this will mean for Harry Colt's legacy, we're happy to give one of County Sligo's biggest admirers a vote of confidence. 

19 — Mullingar Scratch Trophy

Few have worked harder over the last few years to improve, which is why Geoff Lenehan's playoff victory over John-Ross Galbraith and Daniel Holland was well-deserved. The 27-year old Portmarnock man's nonchalant drive that easily carried all the trouble on the first play-off hole, set up the winning birdie in an event that epitomises the spirit of Irish amateur golf in time of great change.

18 — Muskerry win Barton Shield

Muskerry's David O'Donovan celebrates. Picture by Pat Cashman

Muskerry's David O'Donovan celebrates. Picture by Pat Cashman

The AIG Cups and Shields finals at Carton House brought many memorable moment but Pat Cashman's picture of Muskerry's Dave O'Donovan celebrating the club's first Barton Shield win for 61 years summed up the week.

17 — Annabel Wilson

There were some outstanding performances in women's and girl's golf in 2014 with Paula Grant the outstanding performer all round alongside Chloe Ryan, Olivia Mehaffey, Maria Dunne, Emma O'Driscoll, Irish Close champion Mary Doyle, Niamh McSherry, Ciara Casey and seniors Sheena McElroy and Gertie McMullen to name just a handful. But there was something special about the performances of 13-year old Annabel Wilson from Lurgan, when she won the Leinster, Ulster and Irish Girls Close titles in the space of 23 days. That she beat Irish Women's Amateur Close champion Mary Doyle from The Heath by 4 and 3 in the final made it all the more memorable and she went on to win three points out of four on her debut in the Girls Home Internationals at Donabate.

16 — Niall Kearney

It was a great year for Royal Dublin's Niall Kearney, He won the Irish PGA at Adare Manor,  topped the Order of Merit and then claimed the Titleist PGA Play-offs in Turkey to earn his spot in the PGA Cup team and the BMW PGA at Wentworth. 

15 — Rowan Lester and Tommy O"Driscoll

Rowan Lester's run to the final of the British Boys was one of the highlights of the golfing year as deservedly topped the Boys' Order of Merit and claimed the Tom Montgomery Award. But it was also an outstanding year for Killarney's Tommy O'Driscoll who won the Ulster Boys and produced a series of top performances throughout the summer.

14 — Kevin Le Blanc wins Junior Open

The 15-year old Dubliner — winner of back to back Irish Under 15 titles — carded a two over 74 at West Lancashire to become just the second Irish winner of the Junior Open.  He edged out Italy's Teodoro Soldati and Belgium's Diane Bailleaux by a shot on five over par and went on to represent Ireland in the at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympics in China.

13 — Hazel Kavanagh wins Irish Club Professional title

In June, Hazel Kavanagh birdied four of her last five holes in a sensational five under 64 to become the first woman to win a PGA Irish Region event in capturing the PGA Irish Club Professional Tournament in association with The Down Syndrome Centre at Arklow Golf Links. 

12 — Royal Portrush members vote "Yes" to The Open

All bar two of the 237 members of Royal Portrush who attended a Special General Meeting at the Magherabuoy House Hotel voted "yes" to accepting the R&A's invitation to rejoin The Open rota and the proposed course changes which will see two new holes built on the Dunluce Links for a potential 2019 staging.

11 — Seapoint's Irish Close

John-Ross Galbraith claimed the blue riband of Irish amateur golf by beating former champion Pat Murray in the final. But the 2014 Irish Close will also be remembered for the brilliance of the venue. Seapoint might be one of Ireland's newest links but the Des Smyth - Declan Branigan creation proved itself to be a great test and will surely host more major events.

10 — Gary Hurley at Fota Island

Irish amateurs have frequently excelled in the Irish Open — who could forget Shane Lowry winning in 2009 — but Gary Hurley's performance at Fota Island still deserves special mention.  He finished 73rd in the end but the 66 he shot on Friday added hugely to the carnival atmosphere at the Cork venue and hinted a future days of glory.

9 — Chris Selfridge retains the North

Chris Selfrige has quietly racked up four championship wins since 2012 but retaining the North of Ireland Championship put the 22-year old from Moyola Park in some illustrious company. 

8 — Paul Dunne qualifies for The Open

He may well go on to play in many more Open Championships but whatever the future holds for Greystones' Paul Dunne, he will never forget the summer of 2014. 

7 — Shane Lowry makes world Top-50

His runner up finish to Rory McIlroy at Wentworth and his Top 10 in the Open Championship at Hoylake were just two of the highlights of a season that began so slowly that Shane Lowry was wondering how he would keep his card. After two years of inner turmoil he finally broke into the big time and secured his Masters debut with a share of fifth in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. He then got engaged the following week and has big plans for 2015.

6 — Ulstermen to the fore

Chris Selfridge might have retained the North as John-Ross Galbraith took the Close but there were also memorable wins for Ulster golfers in the East of Ireland and the South of Ireland at Lahinch. Colm Campbell's win at Baltray was an emotional one as he had his uncle, the great Paddy Gribben on the bag as he all but sealed his place the Irish team. But there was also heart-warming triumph at Lahinch as Shandon Park's Stuart Bleakley came through the draw from the first round to beat Portmarnock's Darragh Coghlan in the final with his father, PGA professional Geoff Bleakley proudly pulling his bag.

5 — Triple Crown for Ireland

Ireland win the 2014 Men's Home Internationals

Ireland win the 2014 Men's Home Internationals

It was fitting that European Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley was on hand to see Ireland win the Home Internationals for the first time since 2008 at Southerndown in Wales. "He just said a few words but they were very telling and very important for the lads  — a great gee up for them," said team captain Pádraig Hogan. "He was out for about two and a half hours in the afternoon and made a point of watching everybody, which was fantastic."

4 — Stephanie Meadow

What matter that she missed out on a full LPGA Tour card after a marathon 11-hole playoff, Stephanie Meadow won many hearts in June when she finished third on her professional debut in the US Women's Open at Pinehurst No 2. As one veteran US golf correspondent told me: "That smile just lit up Pinehurst." Without question, a future star was born that week.

3 — Pádraig Harrington wins again

Pádraig Harrington en route to victory in Indonesia. PICTURE: KHALID REDZA /  ASIAN TOUR 

Pádraig Harrington en route to victory in Indonesia. PICTURE: KHALID REDZA / ASIAN TOUR 

The warmth of the reaction to Pádraig Harrington's first win for four years said it all about his stature in the game and the esteem in which he is held. A narrow win in the Bank BRI Indonesia Open may not have come with many world ranking points but the 43-year old Dubliner proved that he's not yet spent as a golfer. Perhaps more glory lies ahead.

2 — Captain Paul McGinley

There will always be debate over the significance of the role played by Ryder Cup captains but those who declare it to be the most over-rated role in golf might look to Paul McGinley's captaincy of the European team at Gleneagles and think again. To a man, the European team hailed the Dubliner as the architect of their triumph over Tom Watson's USA. He goes on now to lead Ireland's golfers into the 2016 Olympics and given his Midas touch, one wouldn't bet their medal hopes.

1 — Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy kisses the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool. Picture Fran Caffrey  www.golffile.ie

Rory McIlroy kisses the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool. Picture Fran Caffrey www.golffile.ie

The 25-year old Ulsterman came of age in 2014, winning his third and fourth majors and his first WGC and BMW PGA titles. He is now destined to go down as one of the all time greats, even if he never wins again. Right now, that looks highly unlikely given his position as the world's No 1 golfer. Of all his wins, The Open at Hoylake stood out even more than the back nine comeback that gave him the US PGA. His declaration for Ireland for the 2016 Olympics, his charitable giving and his efforts to put the Irish Open back on the map are signs that this is a man with real sense of his place in the greater scheme of things. It's time to savour a special player and enjoy going part of the way with him on his journey to golfing immortality. Whether he wins another dozen majors or not is immaterial. On the evidence of Hoylake alone, just watching him try will be worth it.