It’s a long way from Kazakhstan and Kansas to Baltray but former European Tour professional Stephen Browne and US collegiate star Paul Dunne have travelled very different routes to tee it up in the East of Ireland Amateur Open at County Louth today.
Defending champion Dunne (21) has just completed his second year at Graeme McDowell’s alma mater, the University of Birmingham Alabama, winning twice this season before finishing just a shot behind world amateur No 1 Patrick Rodgers in 19th spot in this week’s NCAA individual championship in Hutchinson, Kansas.
But for Browne (40), it’s been nearly six years since he last played a 72-hole tournament, saying goodbye to the professional ranks after he missed the cut in the 2008 Kazakhstan Open, scene of his biggest pro success back in 2005.
Now re-instated as an amateur, the Hermitage man hasn’t played in the “East” since he finished fourth behind Ken Kearney in 2001 — a performance that truly launched him on the road to a professional career that brought him two Challenge Tour wins and a spell on the main European Tour.
There were several high but the tour lows eventually took their toll and Browne, who is now happily selling financial planning software and awaiting the arrival of his third child with his wife Elaine in August.
“Kazakhstan was wild but Baltray is the furthest East I'll be playing golf this year," Browne said with a laugh. "I said I’ve had a dart at it for old time's sake.”
His decision to return is a knee-jerk reaction to having 39 pts in Hermitage recently and getting cut to plus one, which just enough to qualify for Baltray for what he insists will be a one-off championship appearance.
“We have two kids and were having another one in August so I said I’d probably not get the chance to do it next year,” said the Dubliner, who is a member of the Senior Cup and Barton Shield teams at Hermitage this year. “The East is only up the road, it’s only three days and I love Baltray. It’s where it all started for me anyway.”
Finishing fourth in the 2001 “East” propelled Browne onto the Irish team alongside the likes of Graeme McDowell and Michael Hoey. They reached the final of the European Team Championship in Sweden that year and Browne went on to win the European Individual Amateur in Denmark and reach the final of the South before turning professional.
Can he win?
“I don't think so,” he said, before adding: “If you get the old feelings back, you never know. But no. I am so long from competitive golf now. I am so far from sharp. I haven't played in anything for five years.”
Professional course management could make up for a lot but while Browne is hoping to rediscover some of the old magic, Dunne is also praying that the billiard table Baltray greens will work wonders for his putting.
“To be honest for the last five or six months I have been struggling on the greens,” said Dunne, Ireland’s top ranked player at 48th in the world. “But I’ve always liked the greens at Baltray."
Internationals Reeve Whitson, Dermot McElroy, Cormac Sharvin, Rory McNamara, Jack Hume, Gavin Moynihan and Richard O'Donovan have decided to chase bigger world ranking points in the clashing Scottish Amateur Open, but there are plenty of title contenders with West Waterford’s Gary Hurley, Balbriggan’s Robbie Cannon and 2012 champion Chris Selfridge, the reigning North of Ireland champion, back from University in Toledo to chase the coveted title again.
East of Ireland Amateur Open, Co Louth GC
1st tee, 10th tee
(0730/1227) C Fairweather (Knock), D Coyle (Co Louth), C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown)
(0739/1236) K Purcell (Dun Laoghaire), C Doran (Banbridge), T Mulligan (Laytown & Bettystown)
(0748/1245) S O'Connor (Luttrellstown Castle), S Walsh (Portmarnock), S Brady (Co Sligo)
(0757/1254) D Coghlan (Portmarnock), J Lyons (Galway), E Farrell (Ardee)
(0806/1303) N Gorey (Palmerstown Stud), P Reavey (Warrenpoint), A Kiernan (Forrest Little)
(0815/1312) A Thomas (Dungarvan), G Dunne (Co Louth), R O'Reilly (Headfort)
(0824/1321) G Collins (Rosslare), M Sinclair (Knock), L Harnett (Milltown)
(0833/1330) M Shanahan (Castlemartyr), D Loftus (Castlebar), M Kane (Whitehead)
(0842/1339) E Smith (Ardee), R Symington (Lisburn), G Lawlor (Rathsallagh)
(0851/1348) G Lenehan (Portmarnock), J Greene (Portmarnock), J Pierse (Portmarnock)
(0900/1357) H Diamond (Belvoir Park), J Richardson (Royal Portrush), S Ryan (Royal Dublin)
(0909/1406) G O'Flaherty (Cork), Q Carew (Edenderry), R Kennelly (Portmarnock)
(0918/1415) P Dunne (Greystones), R Lester (Hermitage), R Pierse (Grange)
(1227/0730) E Griffin (Waterford), E O'Connor (Elm Park), M Wylie (Portugal)
(1236/0739) C Rafferty (Dundalk), P Connolly (Killeen Castle), D Foy (Laytown & Bettystown)
(1245/0748) R Connolly (Palmerstown Stud), M Mullen (Wexford), P Burke (Mullingar)
(1254/0757) JR Galbraith (Whitehead), D Brady (Co Sligo), I Lynch (Rosslare)
(1303/0806) C O'Rourke (Naas), R Knightly (Royal Dublin), J Lindsay (North West)
(1312/0815) B Anderson (Royal Dublin), J Sutherland (Galgorm Castle), M O'Rourke (Royal Tara)
(1321/0824) J Fox (Portmarnock), S McCarthy (Black Bush), L Hutchinson (Royal Dublin)
(1330/0833) S Bryan (Delgany), B Best (Rathmore), A Lowry (Esker Hills)
(1339/0842) T O'Connor (Athlone), S Maloney (Dunmurry Springs), L McMillan (Craddockstown)
(1348/0851) S Healy (Claremorris), S Barry (Fota Island), J Monaghan (Royal Dublin)
(1357/0900) S Hogan (Nenagh), A Gleeson (Castle), A Dowling (Hermitage)
(1406/0909) S Grehan (Tullamore), T Coffey (Slieve Russell), P O'Brien (Co Louth)
(1415/0918) G McDermott (Carton House), C Carroll (Shandon Park), K Stack (Dungarvan)
10th tee, 1st tee
(0730/1227) S Carter (Stackstown), J McGinn (Laytown & Bettystown), T Kennedy (Woodbrook)
(0739/1236) K Crowley (Fota Island), M Morrissey (Mount Wolseley), A Carrick (Douglas Park)
(0748/1245) S Coulter (Warrenpoint), E Ryan (Lucan), B McSweeney (Royal Dublin)
(0757/1254) D Holland (Castle), P Coughlan (Moate), E O'Donovan (Craddockstown)
(0806/1303) E Arthurs (Forrest Little), G Mungovan (Headfort), D Reddan (Nenagh)
(0815/1312) G Bohill (Co Louth), P Flynn (Tramore), B O'Reilly (Athenry)
(0824/1321) S O'Hara (Co Sligo), K McDonagh (Royal Dublin), Harry McHugh (Skerries)
(0833/1330) C Campbell (Warrenpoint), A Wilson (Portmarnock), D Reidy (Co Sligo)
(0842/1339) K Le Blanc (The Island), C Melvin (Corrstown), N Goulding (Portmarnock)
(0851/1348) E McCormack (Galway), W Hanna (Kilkeel), C Tormey (Corballis Links)
(0900/1357) Pat Murray (Limerick), R McKinstry (Cairndhu), M Lancaster (Canada)
(0909/1406) G McKenna (Fortwilliam), S Browne (Hermitage), A Myles (Newlands)
(0918/1415) C Selfridge (Moyola Park), G Lappin (Belvoir Park), J Yates (Naas),
(1227/0730) J Carvill (Banbridge), D McCusker (Moyola Park), L Ashby (Naas)
(1236/0739) S Egan (Castle Barna), T O'Leary (Wexford), C Maclean (Balmore Ltd)
(1245/0748) J Sugrue (Mallow), S Cullen (Slieve Russell), K Cummings (Elm Park)
(1254/0757) M McClean (Balmoral), P Purdy (Shandon Park), M O'Toole (Lucan)
(1303/0806) J Hopkins (Royal Dublin), J Hickey (Cork), G Carew (Edenderry)
(1312/0815) K Egan (Carton House), R Mullarney (Galway), M Boucher (Carton House)
(1321/0824) R Bridges (Stackstown), N Crawford (Mourne), E O'Keeffe (Corrstown)
(1330/0833) I O'Rourke (Royal Dublin), W Russell (Clandeboye), N Foley (The Island)
(1339/0842) D Morgan (Mullingar), D Lally (Mullingar), R O'Dwyer (Callan)
(1348/0851) T McLarnon (Massereene), N Steedman (Courtown), J Gourley (Shandon Park)
(1357/0900) S McGlynn (Carton House), D Carey (Carton House), K McGarry (Castlemartyr)
(1406/0909) R Cannon (Balbriggan), A Grant (Dundalk), A Purdy (Ballyclare)
(1415/0918) G Hurley (West Waterford), D O'Neill (Carton House), D Brennan (Shannon).