O'Rourke wins Nassau Invitational with closing birdie; contemplating future

O'Rourke wins Nassau Invitational with closing birdie; contemplating future
 Conor O'Rourke (Naas) won the Nassau Invitational at Nassau Country Club on Long Island, New York on Sunday. Archive picture by  Pat Cashman

Conor O'Rourke (Naas) won the Nassau Invitational at Nassau Country Club on Long Island, New York on Sunday. Archive picture by Pat Cashman

Naas’ Conor O’Rourke brilliantly birdied the last to beat Steve Zychowski one up and become the fifth Irish winner of the Nassau Invitational in New York.

Now the 25-year old Irish international must sit down with his coach and his family and work out how best to go about his career in 2017.

Following his win in the St Andrews Links Trophy, O’Rourke is on R&A selectors’ radar for the Walker Cup at Los Angeles Country Club next September. But he could also decide to turn professional and see how far he can go in the game.

Whatever he decides, he can reflect on a superb 2016 season that saw him win his first amateur major and earn promotion to the Irish senior team that won the Home Internationals.

“I’m delighted,” said O’Rourke, who shot a one under 69 to top the qualifiers at Nassau Country Club as Massereene’s Tiarnan McLarnon missed out. “I played flawless golf all week but it was wet and windy this afternoon and I struggled a bit for a while.”

Having beaten Steve Tarulli 3 and 2 in the semi-finals, O’Rourke lost the 11th and then called a penalty shot on himself at the 12th to see his two hole lead erased.

“There was placing as I went to move a few leaves, I leaned on my club and it slipped and I knocked the ball backwards,” he explained.

“So I went from two up to all square in a few minutes and it was a bit of a shock to the system. I just hung in and won the 13th to go one up.

 Conor O'Rourke with his Nassau Invitational trophy - a replica of Bobby Jones' Calamity Jane putter

Conor O'Rourke with his Nassau Invitational trophy - a replica of Bobby Jones' Calamity Jane putter

“He birdied the 16th to level the match but I hit a nice wedge from 112 yards to six feet at the last. He had to hole a 12 footer for par and in fairness to him, he made it.

“But thankfully my putt dropped. It was a big relief because it was a bit of a struggle. 

“And it’s nice to back up the win in the St Andrews Links Trophy. Maybe I need to get out of Ireland more often because I can’t win back home.

“It was nice to come to the US, lead the qualifiers on a tough golf course and then play well in the matchplay.

“Steve was a tough opponent — he’s qualified for four US Amateurs and reached the last 16 so he knows how to play. He really put pressure on my holing a few good putts. 

“I holed a 55 footer to beat Steve Tarulli 3 and 2 in the semis and the greens were like lightning — 14.8 on the stimp. We obviously never seen anything like that back home in Ireland, where I’d say 11 is the fastest they get. 

“It takes a bit of adjusting and these guys are good players and well used to that kind of pace.”

Fast greens are guaranteed in a Walker Cup on US soil and while O’Rourke knows he’d have to produce a big 2017 season to make that team, he’s undecided about his plans.

“I am going to go home and have a chat with [coach] Gavin [Lunny] and my mum and dad and see what I’ll do. I need to speak to some people and get things clear in my head. 

“I said to my dad that I just wanted to come here and win this tournament and then we’d talk when I got back. It was nice to follow through on what I planned.

“There are loads of options but it was nice to back up the St Andrews win with a second one.”

As for becoming the fifth Irish winner of an event first played in 1897 — Darren Crowe (2004), Niall Kearney (2007), Paul Cutler (2009) and Jack Hume (2014) — he said: “It’s great. And the second winner from Naas!”