Irish Tour Pro Shootout: Kearney wins Royal Dublin; Hoey gives back as group grows stronger

Pictured at The Royal Dublin on 22 March 2016: (L-R) Damien McGrane, Michael Hoey, Royal Dublin manager Eoin O'Sullivan, Brian Casey, Noel Murray, Niall Kearney, David Carey, Jeff Hopkins, Declan Loftus, Joe Dillon, Ger Hall and David Rawluk. (Click to enlarge)

When the Team Ireland Golf Trust hands out its annual grants it’s a sign that Irish sport cares about its golfers.

And while support and facilities are part of the deal, as welcome as the cash that the athletes receive every few months, it’s not always easy to take advantage of it.

Having the funds to enter an event or knowing that you can use the National Academy or consult with professionals — “physiologists, sports psychologists, biomechanists, physiotherapists and doctors.,, coordinated by the Institute of Sport at Abbotstown” —  is a source of comfort. 

But it’s not always easy to use these resources or find time to use them when you are frequently on the road.

Golfers need support from golfers and, just as importantly, a way of gauging their level or progress beyond the week to week scores they post on whatever feeder tour they are playing.

Whether they are PGA trained professionals looking to make it to the European Tour, Challenge Tour or mini tour players hoping to step up, it’s important they get to play against European Tour regulars and see how their game stacks up.

The Irish Tour Pro Shootout Series designed to give these young players the chance to compete against these senior figures and pick their brains on a weekly basis and the second outing of what is a fledgling band of brothers was held at The Royal Dublin on Tuesday.

European Tour professional Damien McGrane is surprised how well the group has come together so far and having attracted Shane Lowry to Carton House last week, the 11-man outing that teed it up for a €100-a-head, winner-takes-all, €1,100 payout at the Bull Island links this week included five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey.

“The boys who played were delighted to see Michael Hoey joins us today and the club and the members of Royal Dublin — which incidentally was in superb condition — they were delighted to see us around the clubhouse afterwards.”

Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney, who retained the Irish Professional Championship last year, won the outing with a four under par 68 edging out another rookie Royal Dublin professional, Jeff Hopkins (69) by a shot.

Hoey played in a four ball with Sunshine Tour player Hopkins, 19-year old Alps Tour player David Carey (third with 71) and last week’s joint winner, the Irish Assistants champion Joe Dillon from Headfort.

McGrane played with Kearney, who was an impressive, five under par after six holes before following a mid-round wobble with a strong finish on a day that saw Europro Tour regulars Brian Casey and David Rawluk, Edenderry’s Ger Hall, talented Massereene professional Noel Murray and former Maynooth University scholarship golfer Declan Loftus also play for the cash.

“Royal Dublin did a magnificent job for us with freshly cut greens and new holes for us and we had a great chat afterwards and Kate Gleeson, a nutritionist representing Wyldsson, came to give us a talk about nutrition and hydration which we all learned something from.”

What’s more important from McGrane’s point of view is that players were able to tee it up with others who are at a higher level and see exactly where they stand and what they need to do to improve.

Fresh faces have already been lined up for next Tuesday’s third Shootout at The Island and while the identity of the European Tour star has yet to be revealed, McGrane is pleased with the positive reaction his idea.

“The boys who played today are keen and highly motivated,” Damien says. “I was very impressed by how much they want to learn and how seriously they take their golf

“One of the lads is getting up a four in the morning and driving from the west of Ireland. But the main thing is that everyone knows why they are there.

“Everyone need to understand where they are at and where they are with their golf. The only way they can realise it is by playing with the likes of Shane (Lowry) and Michael (Hoey). There is no other point in turning up with these people. Play with a good player and make up their own mind and see the standard first.

“We have a lot of interest from clubs and people who’d like to get involved but it takes a bit of organising so hopefully, as our pool of Tour Pros grows, a committee of sort will form to make that aspect easier to organise these Shootouts, which are about quality competition and communication between a small, 12-man group every week. 

“It’s not a golf society. It’s for guys like Michael Hoey or Shane Lowry and others who will come along to be able to give back the next generation of guys coming through. It’s there to give the younger guys some regular, top professional competition on a weekly basis during the off season and a chance to pick the brains of others and get a slap on the back and some encouragement.”

Next Irish Tour Pro Shootout Series event: The Island, March29, (800-830am).