Richard Kilpatrick has the bit between his teeth after an opening 67 put him in the mix in the Volopa Irish Challenge.
The Banbridge man, 33, has been a professional for seven years and while he’s dividing his time between the horses and cows on his parents’ farm, the third tied Europro Tour and the PGA Irish circuit, he’s hoping to grab his chance with both hands at Mount Wolseley this week and gallop to victory.
Locked in a four-way tied for second, two shots behind lead Robert Coles of England on five under, the former East of Ireland winner refuses to give up on his tour dream despite years of struggles.
“The Europro depressed me a wee bit last year,” said Kilpatrick, who is through to next month’s Second Stage of the European Tour Qualifying School. “Finishing seventh in a field of 120 and clearing a hundred quid is hard to take.
“But I believe I am still good enough to make it and I still enjoy it so I am playing just the Europro events I like this year and the big Pro-Ams on the Irish circuit.
“I have joined the PGA so I can start my PGA qualifications at Banbridge next year and fast track it over two years because I have a degree.
“A week like this is win or bust for me so I will be more aggressive than the other guys and see what happens. And I love the course — I was seventh here when they had the Europro Tour event last year.”
Leader Coles (43), who won the last edition of the Irish Challenge held at Moyvalley six years ago, made eight birdies in a seven under 65 to lead by two strokes from Kilpatrick, Welshman Stuart Manley, British Amateur champion Romain Langasque of France and American Daniel Im.
While Headfort's Rory McNamara (a very late inclusion in the field), Simon Thornton, Alan Dunbar, Michael McGeady and Walker Cup player Gavin Moynihan all signed for three under 69s worth a share of 16th and Chris Selfridge and Ruaidhri McGee posted 70s despite not playing their best,, Walker Cup players Jack Hume, Cormac Sharvin and Gary Hurley all had very mixed days.
Hume battled to a 72 as Sharvin took 75 but they are not under as much pressure to perform as Hurley, who appeared to simply ran out of gas after his professional debut in the Alfred Dunhill Links last week, posting a seven over 79.
As for leader Coles, he reckons his good form in Ireland might have something to do with his Irish roots.
“My mother is from Cork and I have a Corkman caddying for me this week,” said Coles, who could be considered the defending champion following his win in the last edition of the Irish Challenge — a playoff win over Nicolas Colsaerts at Moyvalley six years ago.
“I am quite proud of my Irish roots. My mum lives in west Cork and all of my in-laws are Irish. And I’m married to a girl called Sinéad too so there’s a strong connection there. I am proud of that!”
Moynihan was happy with his 69, despite a double bogey at his 12th hole. But he admitted that he'd like to be a little more aggressive on the greens.
I played really well and missed a good few chances," Moynihan said. "I made a bad double on my 12th hole, got a mud ball and it just went way right so I could only chop out. I was annoyed because I had played so well but I made a good birdie on the fifth, hit it to a foot after a lay up and then missed a six footer on eight and walked away a bit annoyed so it was nice to birdie the ninth.
"My driving has really come back and I a,m hitting the ball nicely. I am just missing a few putts and need to get a bit more aggressive. I have always had that problem. When I have good rounds, I obviously hole a nice few putts but at the moment and if I don't it’s two under rather than seven under. But it’s all good so I have nothing to complain about. I am hitting the ball well and I was very chilled out there."
Asked how it felt to see players in action who've been plying their trade for years, Moynihan added: "It just shows how tough it is There are only 110 spots on the tour and you just have to time a good week. There are many different ways of getting on the European Tour so we'll see. I am playing well enough but the greens here are tough with a lot of break."
Alan Dunbar was a Walker Cup hero in 2009 but he admitted after his 69 that last season was a real trial as he struggled for motivation.
"If I was starting again I'd probably do the same things even though I've made mistakes and learned from them," said Dunbar, who has a chance to get his Challenge Tour card via the Q-School or the Europro Tour Grand Final. "I was struggling for a few weeks there but I am back again.
"The professional game is not easy. It was a tough year last year. It was more mental than anything. I struggled a lot with that but I am happier this year. Some people deal with it better but it took me a while.
"The hard part is being away from home. It's more the travel for me. I don't miss home but living out of a suitcase was hard and it was affecting me on the course. If your mind is not there, you don't do anything when it comes to practice. you just lie in your room for however long. It can be hard to motivate yourself to go out and practice. But I'm better this year. A lot happier.
"I say a guy from home at the start of the year and he's helped me. He's not in golf at all, he works with people who are recovering from illnesses in hospital. It helps. He's a neighbour of my coach Seamus Duffy."
McNamara only got the call to ask him if he wanted to play on Monday as he practiced his putting at his Spanish base,
"I was on the putting green in La Cala," the Headfort man explained. "It was €310 for a one way flight here. It's expensive but it will be worth it. I am used to the travel and getting used to being more independent."
Through to next month's Second Stage of Q-School, McNamara added: "I just want to get to Final Stage and get some sort of card. This tour or European Tour. If not, back to the drawing board to decide whether I got to Asia, or South Africa or China. There are plenty of options.
"This course for me is quite long but I am playing well. They hit it a bit further than me — I'm hitting it 275 in this weather, which is not bad. But Reggie Kilpatrick was hitting it 290 in practice and he was 15 or 20 yards past me. He hits it good. I was quite impressed. But look, there are other ways to play the game — look at Zach Johnson."
Thornton was upset he left so many chances out on the course but as he battles back to full fitness from tennis elbow, he was quietly pleased to find some form as he builds up the Q-School again.
McGeady is also feeling confident after cruising through First Stage last week and while a fluffed bunker shot cost him a double, he recovered well to post a 69.
The two Irish players with most to gain from a good week are Ruaidhri McGee, 21st in the Challenge Tour's Road to Oman standings that awards to the Top 15 money winners in three weeks' time.
A 70 was not quite what he wanted but the Rosapenna man knows how to be patient.
As for Selfridge, his record of 10 cheques from 10 starts since he turned pro in May has been huge impressive. That he shot 70 without playing well is a testament to his talent and confidence but he still only 57th in the Road to Oman and needs a good finish to get into the last few events.
The four Walker Cup winners in action had very different days.
As Jimmy Mullen posted a four under 68, amateurs Hume and Sharvin signed for rounds of 72 and 75 respectively while West Waterford’s Gary Hurley crashed to a seven over 79 in his second tour event as a professional.
Running on empty after coming following the Walker Cup win with the rigours of the First Stage of Q-School and his professional debut in last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links, the Maynooth University man was one under after seven holes but walked off looking shell-shocked after dropping eight shots in his next seven holes.
It was even tougher for Hurley’s former university team mate Robin Dawson from Tramore and Faithlegg, who crashed to a 10 over 82 that left him alongside Reeve Whitson
Volopa Irish Challenge hosted by Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort (Par 72)
65 R Coles (Eng),
67 Richard Kilpatrick (Nir), S Manley (Wal), D Im (USA), R Langasque (am) (Fra),
68 T Linard (Fra), J Mullen (Eng), A Gee (Eng), P Widegren (Swe), M Southgate (Eng), J Sjöholm (Swe), D Law (Sco), R Evans (Eng), M Schneider (Ger), N Bertasio (Ita),
69 D Stewart (Sco), S Heisele (Ger), Rory McNamara (Irl), J Dantorp (Swe), V Riu (Fra), A Saddier (Fra), S Tiley (Eng), A Dunbar (Nir), Simon Thornton (Irl), S Wakefield (Eng), Mick McGeady (Irl), Gavin Moynihan (Irl), P Archer (Eng), T Murray (Eng), L Gagli (Ita), S Walker (Eng),
70 A Ahokas (Fin), J Stalter (Fra), C Hanson (Eng), G Porteous (Eng), H Porteous (RSA), Ruaidhri McGee (Irl), P Whiteford (Sco), J Hansen (Den), S Griffiths (Eng), M Keyser (RSA), Chris Selfridge (Nir), M Søgaard (Den), J Guerrier (Fra), M Orrin (Eng), N Geyger (Chi), J Heath (Eng),
71 G Murray (Sco), S Arnold (Aus), J Winther (Den), Brian Casey (Irl), R O'Donovan (Irl), M Delpodio (Ita), T Sluiter (Ned), C Ford (Eng), A Marshall (Eng), J Fahrbring (Swe), B Åkesson (Swe), P Relecom (Bel), G Boyd (Eng), S Henry (Sco), A McArthur (Sco), J Hahn (USA), A Bernadet (Fra), R Santos (Por),
72 S Brown (Eng), Jonny Caldwell (Nir), F Calmels (Fra), R Davies (Wal), A Björk (Swe), S Soderberg (Swe), D Coupland (Eng), B Stone (RSA), S Jeppesen (Swe), J Huldahl (Den), M Lafeber (Ned), J Gonnet (Fra), N Quintarelli (Ita), C Sordet (Fra), P Dwyer (Eng), D Huizing (Ned), Jack Hume (am) (Irl), Dermot McElroy (am) (Nir),
73 A Korinek (Cze), C Gloet (Den), C Shinkwin (Eng), J Rask (Swe), J Doherty (Sco), C Aguilar (Esp), J Robinson (Eng), D Foos (Ger), E Cuartero Blanco (Esp), J McLeary (Sco), H Joannes (Bel), F Andersson Hed (Swe),
74 Gareth Shaw (Nir), L Tintera (Cze), B Virto Astudillo (Esp),
75 J Lima (Por), N Ravano (Ita), Tim Rice (Irl), B Ritthammer (Ger), S Fallon (Eng), Danny Sugrue (Irl), Cormac Sharvin (am) (Nir),
76 W Harrold (Eng), A Hartø (Den), J Makitalo (Fin), J Glennemo (Swe), Ted Higgins Jnr (Irl), S Einhaus (Ger),
77 J Senior (Eng), R McGowan (Eng),
78 D Burmester (RSA), J Walters (RSA), P Maddy (Eng),
79 Gary Hurley (Irl),
81 E Dubois (Fra),
82 Reeve Whitson (Nir), Robin Dawson (am) (Irl).