She was in tears that her parents missed her moment of glory but Enniscrone’s Sarah Helly paid them the greatest tribute possible by using her sparking short game to clinch a shock win over Olivia Mehaffey in the Irish Women’s Amateur Close Championship over the Old Tom Morris Links at stunning Rosapenna.
Now ranked 59th in the world and set to play alongside world No 1 Leona Maguire in the Vagliano Trophy at Malone this week thanks to wins in the Irish Girls, Scottish Ladies and Welsh Ladies Strokeplay championships already this year, powerful Royal County Down Ladies’ star Mehaffey simply ran out of steam and was crushed 6 and 5 by the slight but clinical Sligo girl in the decider.
“Sarah played great,” an exhausted Mehaffey said. “I just couldn’t get the ball in the hole.”
A former girls international brought up on the pitch and putt course run by her parents, a mile from the first tee at Enniscrone, Helly gave herself a 23rd birthday present to remember forever with huge in over one of Europe’s most in-form players.
“I knew I was the underdog but I had nothing to lose and I was playing very well,” said Helly, who know looks certain to win her first senior cap in September’s Home Internationals at Royal Wimbledon.
“So I just stuck to my game plan told myself to try my best and while final was a little scrappy and nervous to start — it was our seventh round of golf since Saturday — and there were a few mental errors and tiredness crept in, we got there in the end.”
With one semester to complete at Marshall University in West Virginia before graduating with a degree in Sports Management, Helly beat another birthday girl in 17-year old title holder Mary Doyle from The Heath 2 and 1 in her semi-final as Mehaffey saw off Howth’s Laura Doherty by the same score in the other.
It promised to be a cracking final in golden sunshine on stunning Sheephaven Bay, but the tension and fatigue took their toll and there were more bogeys than that pars before Helly made a two-putt birdie four at the sixth to go one up.
Mehaffey was clearly out of sorts and Helly pounced, winning the eighth and ninth in pars to turn three up before claiming the 10th against the head with a 30 foot birdie putt.
Four down, Mehaffey tried to regain some ground with her power but after dodging a bullet when Helly missed a short putt to go five up at the 11th, she drove into trouble and then hit her second into deep rough at the 12th and conceded the hole
Five up with six to go, Helly did not allow herself to think about the score line and fired a superb pitch to three feet at the 322-yard 13th to set up a title winning chances.
Had it no been for local caddie Con Boyce — a huge ally in the final — she might not have realised she had a putt for the title after Mehaffey’s 20 footer had come up short,
“I kept telling myself match is still all square,” she said. “I didn’t know I had that putt to win until my caddie reminded me, but I tried not to think about it and made a good stroke and got it in the hole.
"I can’t get over the fact that I am Irish champion. I have always wanted an Irish Close but I didn’t think I would ever do it and I knew this year I was playing well and if I didn’t do it this year, I might not ever do it.”
Having shed a few tears that her parents couldn’t make it, she said later: “They would have given anything to be here. Mum had a check up in Dublin and dad was in Galway for a minor operation.
“I just spoken to them on the phone so to win today, I couldn’t have dreamed of a better birthday present to be honest.”
Irish Women’s Amateur Close Championship, Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort, Old Tom Morris Links
Olivia Mehaffey (Royal Co. Down Ladies) beat Laura Doherty (Howth) 2 and 1;
Sarah Helly (Enniscrone) beat Mary Doyle (The Heath) 2 and 1.
Sarah Helly beat Olivia Mehaffey 6 and 5.