Whitehead’s John-Ross Galbraith proved that while you might drive for show, you definitely putt for dough as he claimed the AIG Irish Amateur Close title and a windfall from the bookies at magnificent Seapoint.
The Boys international (20) holed a string of clutch putts coming down the stretch to take advantage of a few unforced errors by Limerick veteran Pat Murray (42) and win the title by one hole.
With a handful of members from the Co Antrim club paying £80 for the taxi ride to the sensationally presented Termonfeckin links, Galbraith could easily have afforded to pick up the tab after netting £322.50 courtesy of Paddy Power..
“I had a fiver on myself each way at 50-1,” a beaming Galbraith said at the finish. “But I can’t believe it. It will take a while for this to sink in. I'm just delighted to win, obviously.
“I had four or five clutch putts and I holed them all. That’s what did it for me in the end.”
With a host of top internationals skipping the event to play in the clashing St Andrews Links Trophy, many fancied 2009 champion Murray to lift his third amateur major at the beguiling links designed by Des Smyth and Declan Branigan.
But having ended Warrenpoint Colm Campbell’s hopes of a rare East of Ireland-Irish Close double with a clinical 2 and 1 semi-final victory, Murray ran into a youngster who is now likely (or in serious contention at the very least) to earn a full Ireland call up for the Home Internationals later this year.
Winner of the Ulster Boys title and a quarter-finalist in the British Boys Championship in 2011, Galbraith left school four years ago to dedicate himself to the game full-time.
He spent two years at the Darren Clarke Golf School under the tutelage of coach Seamus Duffy and has ploughed a lone furrow for the past 12 months. His hard work paid off in spades yesterday as he displayed an admirable long game, great touch around the greens and a nerveless putting stroke when it really counted.
In the semi-finals, he lost a two hole lead against Stackstown left-hander Richard Bridges, who missed several short putts but birdied the 16th to draw level. But Galbraith gave fair warning that his putter was a lethal weapon when, as Bridges had lipped out from around 15 feet, he birdied the 17th from 12 feet to go one up and took advantage of a bunkered approach by Bridges at the last to win by two holes.
The Dubliner drove into the semi-rough on the right and attempting to play a high draw with a five-iron, he caught it thin and caught the face of the fairway trap 50 yards short of the green.
Galbraith bunkered his approach greenside but it hardly mattered as Bridges caught the face of the bunker with his escape and came back into the sand. His fourth shot came up just short and after failing to hole his fifth, he conceded the hole and the match to Galbraith, who had splashed out successfully.
“The lip out on the 17th was pretty gutting, even more so when he followed it in,” Bridges said. “I missed a few short putts today and never really got going. It turned around on the back nine but he rolled that one in on 17 and that was a bit of a stab in the heart. I tried to do to much with my second to 18, trying to hit a high draw with a five iron but at that stage I was a bit empty. Maybe this week has sorted out the interpros and if you play well there, it opens more doors. Hopefully if I keep knocking, it will open soon.”
Murray was impressive in his semi-final with Campbell, riding his luck at times before closing out the match at the 17th.
Campbell had two shanks early on the front nine and was three down after seven before wins in birdie at the eighth, 10th and 11th got him back to all square. The next two holes were exchanged after first Campbell and then Murray found trouble off the tee but it was the Limerick player who edged in front with a touch of fortune at the 15th.
His wedge caught the rough on the bank on the right and came down 10 feet away from where he holed superbly for birdie to go one up.
He missed a chance from 12 feet to win the 16th but hit a stellar six iron to 12 feet at the 17th and looked on as Campbell ended up between clubs, opted for a five-iron and went through the back into the rough.
Faced with a tough stance, the Warrenpoint man went through the green in two and failed to save par, conceding Murray's putt and the match.
“I just ran out of steam,” sighed the Warrenpoint man. “Pat’s an experienced player and knows what to do and you can’t give a guy like that a three-hole head start.
“A lot of eyes were on me this week so to get to the semi-final of the Irish Close after what I did last week, I’m pretty happy.
"I got a call yesterday to say that I’ve secured my Ulster place as well so that was the target this year and that’s in the bag. Whatever else comes along I’ll take it.”
In an enthralling final played in a light southerly wind in intermittent sunshine, Galbraith went round Seapoint in an estimated level par 72 to Murray’s one over with the drama played out over a back nine that appears to have been designed for mano a mano combat.
Murray was conceded the second but suffered off the tee, hitting several hooks. He lost the third, escaped with a half in bogey at the fifth but lost the sixth, conceding Galbraith’s six foot eagle putt to go one down.
He immediately won the seventh in par, where Galbraith was bunkered off the tee and then got up and down from around 90 yards for birdie at the par-five eighth.
His gutsy 10 foot putt forced Galbraith to hole for birdie from around eight feet to remain all square. But Murray was soon behind again, mishitting his tee shot at the par-three ninth, where Galbraith pitch to four feet and saved a winning par after Murray had missed from 15 feet.
Galbraith then pitched stone dead to win the par-five 10th with a four to go two up and followed that by feathering a downhill bunker shot to 12 feet at the 11th and holing the putt nervelessly for par to remain two up.
Murray could not afford another mistake and fought back, winning the 12th in birdie and the 13th in par to square the match. But after missing a 12 footer for a win in birdie the 14th after Galbraith found deep rough on the right and made double bogey, the Tipperary native opened the door with poor bogeys at the 15th and 16th, hitting poor pitches each time.
Galbraith barged through the open door to win both holes, holing a pair or clutch four footers for winning pars.
Ever the competitor, Murray bravely birdied the par-three 17th from 12 feet to go to the downwind, par-five last just one down. But while the Limerick star chose the driver, he pulled it and was forced to lay up. Galbraith hit his second shot short and left of the green, finishing on a bare lie but chipped to 20 feet after Murray had laid up and hit a fine, 100-yard third to around 12 feet.
Galbraith failed with his birdie putt for the title but Murray's do-or-die 12 footer to force extra holes didn’t break and slipped by the cup. A new champion was crowned. He'd bet on it himself, nine days earlier.
AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship, Seapoint Golf Club
John-Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) beat Pat Murray (Limerick) 1 hole.
Pat Murray (Limerick) bt Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) 2/1
John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) bt Richard Bridges (Stackstown) 2 holes