There’s a stained glass window in the clubhouse at Portmarnock Golf Club that bears the motto “Be Up.”
At Mullingar on Monday, 26-year old Geoff Lenehan made sure he wouldn’t be short and came out on top for the first time in his career, gloriously holing a 25 foot birdie putt at the first extra hole to claim his maiden tournament victory in the prestigious Mullingar Electrical Scratch Trophy.
The Dubliner was beaten into joint second place by Castle’s Daniel Holland last year in what looked like the season that would see him receive a full Irish cap.
It didn’t turn out that way, however, and while he helped Munster win the Interprovincial Matches with a quality display at The Island two weeks ago, he again missed out on the green jersey.
Such disappointments might have sapped anyone’s belief but instead he heads to Scotland for the European Amateur Championship in St Andrews today with a spring in his step and hope for the future.
“When it boils down to it, there are only a few people whose opinions I care about — my parents and a couple of my pals,” he said after beating Holland and Irish Amateur Close champion John-Ross Galbraith with that slick downhill birdie putt on Mullingar’s 343-yard first — his fourth birdie on that hole in an event reduced to three rounds because of torrential rain.
“You play for yourself. It’s an individual sport and you cant get caught up worrying about teams. If you give selectors a problem, you are doing the right things. It’s a simple as that.”
Having opened with a three over 75 that meant an early start for the final 36 holes, the fair-haired Dubliner carded a second round 70 to go into the final round just two strokes behind Dundalk’s Aaron Grant on one over par.
Another 70 in the afternoon was enough to match holder Holland of Castle, who had surged from last to first with rounds of 68 and 69 — playing his final 38 holes in nine under par — to set the target at one-under par 215.
It remained to be seen if any of the overnight leaders could match or beat their total. But New Forest’s Kevin Metcalfe (73) faded down the stretch to tie for fifth with Mark Shanahan (73) and Stephen Healy (74) and after Grant (73) had failed with a long range eagle putt to tie, only Irish Amateur Close champion Galbraith looked a threat.
The man from Whitehead had shot 75 in the morning to trail Grant by six strokes but he then carded the round of the week, firing birdies at the first, third, six and seventh to go out in 31 and get back to one over par.
When he birdied the 11th, he was in with a chance of winning outright but having lipped out at the 15th, he had to lay up the 18th when an eagle three would have given him victory,
Needing a birdie to tie, Galbraith duly produced it with a super third to 10 feet and a perfect putt, for a six under 66 that gave him a spot in the playoff.
The Whitehead man’s closing effort was a thing of beauty but having won the blue riband championship at Seapoint and been called up for Ireland last Friday, he will be looking to kick on and win consistently now.
The sudden-death playoff lasted just one hole. And it was Lenehan who struck the killer blow by sticking to his aggressive game plan from the previous three rounds.
While Holland and Galbraith chose fairway clubs and hit the short grass, Lenehan pulled the driver.
His tee shot sailed 30 yards right of the fairway, but just far enough to leave him a clear shot to the elevated green.
Holland, who had narrowly missed for birdie at the 18th in regulation to get to two under, had laid well back in the fairway but hit a fine approach to no more than 15 feet above the pin.
Galbraith followed him in to around 18 feet also above the pin, which was cut near the back of the green.
Lenehan only had a lob wedge from 68 yards from the rough and it ran towards the back of the green, finishing around 25 feet away.
He faced a putt he knew, took dead aim and watched it track unerringly towards the target before diving into the hole like squirrel into its nest.
He gritted his teeth and clenched his right fist in triumph. But it wasn’t over yet.
Galbraith went first and rapped his 18 footer at the target, shaving the hole but running eight feet past with his do or die effort.
Lenehan’s fate was in Holland’s hands and with Royal Dublin’s Richard Knightly as his trusty lieutenant/caddie for the playoff, he turned away briefly as the Castle man lined up his putt to take the play-off up the ninth.
Holland’s putt was hit almost dead weight but as Lenehan turned back to see his fate, the ball missed narrowly on the left and a new name had been added to the trophy alongside those of Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Pádraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Shane Lowry, Des Smyth and so many other legends of the game here.
It was a victory that has been coming for the past 18 months and while Holland and Galbraith can feel hard done by in some sense, Lenehan knew that his consistency would pay off sooner or later.
He’d played so well for two days for little reward that it was fitting that he should finally see a putt disappear from view when it mattered most.
After mixing birdies at the first, fourth and eighth with soft bogeys at the seventh and ninth, he knew he was in the mix.
His chip-in for eagle from just off the 14th green was “a boost” and also worth the outright lead. But while he then bogeyed the 15th after a poor tee shot and lipped out for birdie with a curling six footer on the 17th and then failed to birdie the last after driving into the right hand trap, he remained positive.
“I gave myself birdie chances on the last threes holes and didn’t get them, but I was delighted to be in a play-off,” Lenehan said at the finish.
“This is my first tournament win and it’s very special to win in Mullingar because it’s one of the big ones.
“I’ve been knocking on the door but a but flat the last few months. I’ve lost first round matches and had the odd three putt that has cost me momentum. It seemed to be going that way for me for the last while, but I’ve been playing well and stuck to what I have been doing. So this means a little bit extra."
Paying tribute to his Portmarnock club mates for their support, he said: “I get a lot of help from Noel Fox and he's been very good to me and generous with his advice and help, as have James Fox and Dave Kelleher.
“We have a good band in Portmarnock, a good group of guys, and it’s no surprise to see guys like Darragh Coghlan coming through last week to make the final of the South.”
Knightly, beaten by Coghlan in the semi-finals at Lahinch, might be a Royal Dublin man but he’s also very much part of that band of Portmarnock brothers too.
“He’s almost Portmarnock by association,” added Lenehan with a grin. “It’s no surprise these guys are all playing well.”
Mullingar Electrical Scratch Trophy, Mullingar GC (Par 72)
215 Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock) 75 70 70 (Won with birdie at 1st extra hole)
215 Daniel Holland (Castle) 78 68 69, John-Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) 74 75 66
216 Aaron Grant (Dundalk) 74 69 73
218 Mark Shanahan (Castlemartyr) 73 72 73, Stephen Healy (Carton House) 73 71 74, Kevin Metcalfe (New Forest) 72 73 73
219 Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) 74 72 73, Colin Fairweather (Knock) 73 71 75, Shane McGlynn (Carton House) 71 77 71, Colm Crowley (Woodbrook) 71 75 73
220 Simon Bryan (Delgany) 77 73 70, John Hickey (Cork) 76 74 70, Joe Lyons (Galway) 76 72 72, Jack Pierse (Portmarnock) 74 72 74
221 Eoin Arthurs (Forrest Little.) 77 75 69, Shaun O'Connor (Luttrellstown Castle) 75 72 74
222 Ryan McKinstry (Cairndhu) 76 75 71, William Hanna (Kilkeel) 76 74 72, Caolan Kennedy (Forrest Little.) 75 73 74
223 Paul Reavey (Warrenpoint) 78 74 71, Stephen Brady (Co. Sligo) 76 76 71, Seamus Cullen (Slieve Russell) 76 73 74, Desmond Morgan (Mullingar) 76 72 75, Alex Gleeson (Castle) 72 78 73
224 Eanna Griffin (Waterford) 78 76 70, Alan Lowry (Esker Hills) 77 76 71, Conor O'Rourke (Naas) 74 73 77, Liam Grehan (Mullingar) 73 77 74
225 Gerard Dunne (Co. Louth) 75 74 76
226 Brian Doran (Rathsallagh) 74 78 74, Billy McGarry (Birr) 74 77 75, Richard Knightly (The Royal Dublin) 73 80 73
227 Sean Flanagan (Co. Sligo) 77 72 78
229 Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) 77 79 73, Declan Loftus (Castlebar) 75 78 76
230 David McMahon (Tralee) 76 78 76
231 David Carroll (Grange) 77 77 77, Eoghan O'Donovan (Craddockstown) 76 78 77, Ruairi O'Connor (Co. Sligo) 76 76 79, Thomas O'Connor (Athlone) 75 82 74
234 Ruairi Kennelly (Portmarnock) 77 81 76, Gerard Lawlor (Craddockstown) 75 75 84
235 John Swarbrigg (Mullingar) 77 82 76, Ronan Maher (Mullingar) 77 77 81
237 Allan Kiernan (Forrest Little.) 76 81 80, Peter Dolan (Athenry) 75 80 82
240 Patrick Egan (Esker Hills) 78 80 82
243 Daniel Murphy (Portarlington) 78 82 83.