When you’re grateful to see a ball blown into the cup for a rare par or even a birdie— ask Declan O’Neill after his 92 or Michael Sinclair after his 83 — it’s fair to say that the weather and the links won the opening round in the Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open at Rosses Point.
Not one player in the 132 strong field matched par in southerly winds that gusted close to 50mph though County Sligo’s own Sean Flanagan posted an heroic, two over par 73 to take the first round lead by a stroke from The Island’s Kevin Le Blanc.
It could have been an even more impressive opening rounds for Flanagan, who bogeyed his 17th and 18th holes. But in the end he was more than happy and rightfully so. At this stage of the game, it's all about qualifying among the leading 64.
“It’s a five-club wind,” said Rosses Point native and former professional tour caddie Jude O’Reilly, who worked up to 50 yards into his calculations as he toted the bag for 17-year old Leaving Certificate student LeBlanc.
His work was certainly appreciated by LeBlanc, who shot a three over 74 with bogeys at his last two holes, the downwind first and second, taking only a little gloss off a fine performance.
“Massive,” LeBlanc said when asked how much difference it made having a caddie like O’Reilly, who has worked for Henrik Stenson and Shigeki Maruyama. “All I had to do was hit the ball and take in the information. Jude did everything else."
Local knowledge was crucial and home favourite Flanagan proved as much as he made three birdies and five bogeys in a two over 73 that was 10 shots better than the average score.
The 20-year old County Sligo man, a Paddy Harrington scholarship student of business and accounting at Maynooth University, was mildly disappointed to bogey the seventh and eighth to finish his day.
And while was clearly delighted in the end to see he is on course for his second successive leading qualifier’s silver medal, he’s gunning for a title that has eluded a home player for 65 years.
Twelve months ago he lost in the semi-finals to eventual champion Dermot McElroy from Ballymena, who played well in the afternoon but still shot a 79 to an 80 by playing partner Stuart Grehan, who is trying to hold the East, South and West titles at the same time and follow in the footsteps of JB Carr in 1948.
Embracing the pressure of expectation to bring the trophy home for the first time since Cecil Ewing’s final triumph in 1950, Flanagan said: “I like the expectations. I wouldn’t say it is pressure to play well. I feel like it’s a confidence booster for me and I use it that way rather than play cagey golf.”
Nobody knows more about the pressure of home expectations than Co Sligo’s Gary McDermott, who opened with an 84.
“That’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen it here wind-wise,” McDermott said. “It was really gusting. It was ferocious. There was no easy hole.”
With just the top 64 to qualify for the matchplay — the mark was 11 over par after round one — the cut be the highest since 16 over made it in 2008.
Internationals such as Colm Campbell shot 79 with Grehan and Alex Gleeson carding 80s and John Ross Galbraith an 81.
Jack Hume might be absent but clubmate Jonathan Yates flew the flag for Naas with a best of the afternoon 75 leaving him tied for third with the improving Shaun Carter, who was a Barton Shield winner with Royal Dublin last year.
Daniel Holland didn't seem too pleased with his 76 as he finished but it turned out to be the joint fifth best score of the day alongside James Fox, Gary Collins, Stephen Coulter, Liam Grehan, Jamie Fletcher and Stuart Bleakley.
Grehan got off to a terrible start and had to birdied the fifth with his second ball after driving out of bounds, just to be four over after five. He was seven over with five to play which made his nine over effort acceptable.
While most players were struggling to hit greens in regulation, he reduced the 17th to a drive and a three-iron, hitting his approach straight over the flag to around 20 feet.
McElroy topped his second to the 17th but saved bogey and he looks to be swinging well enough to make a successful defence, providing his putter behaves.
Putting proved particularly testing in strong winds with the exposed fourth particularly trying.
But the wind also helped at times with O'Neill's ball blown into the hole for par at the seventh and Sinclair's for birdie at the 11th.
As for the downwind second, Carlow native John Greene unsheathed his driver and launched a rocket that sailed over the stone wall at the uphill par-four, turned left on the wind and finished 12 feet from the stick, leaving him a putt he duly canned for an eagle two en route to a very respectable 77.
West of Ireland Amateur Open, in association with Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Co Sligo GC (Par 71)
73 Sean Flanagan (Co. Sligo)
74 Kevin Le Blanc (Island)
75 Jonathan Yates (Naas), Shaun Carter (The Royal Dublin)
76 Daniel Holland (Castle), James Fox (Portmarnock), Gary Collins (Rosslare), Stephen Coulter (Warrenpoint), Liam Grehan (Mullingar), Jamie Fletcher (Warrenpoint), Stuart Bleakley (Shandon Park)
77 Aaron Grant (Dundalk), Gerard Dunne (Co. Louth), Harry Duggan (Kilkenny), Ben Best (Rathmore), Sean Ryan (The Royal Dublin), John Greene (Portmarnock), Stephen Brady (Co. Sligo)
78 Niall Gorey (Palmerstown Stud), Gavin Fitzmaurice (Balcarrick), William Russell (Clandeboye), Eddie McCormack (Galway Bay), Conor O'Rourke (Naas), Des Morgan (New Forest)
79 Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint), Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk), Barry Daly (Edmondstown), Alan Lowry (Esker Hills), Thomas Hackett (The Royal Dublin), Ian O'Rourke (The Royal Dublin)
80 Stuart Grehan (Tullamore), Tiarnan McLarnon (Massereene), Alex Gleeson (Castle), Seamus Cullen (Slieve Russell), Theo Coffey (Slieve Russell), Colm Crowley (Woodbrook), Jack Pierse (Portmarnock), Stephen Healy (Carton House)
81 Brian Kelly, Alan Gaynor (Co. Sligo), William Hanna (Kilkeel), Matthew Kane (Whitehead), Paul Coughlan (Moate), Barry Anderson (The Royal Dublin), Roy Connolly (Carton House), John-Ross Galbraith (Whitehead), Neil McKinstry (Cairndhu), Richard Knightly (The Royal Dublin), Mark Shanahan (Castlemartyr), Cian O'Donnell (Castletroy)
82 Cian Feeney (Co. Sligo), Andrew Morris (Belvoir Park), Kevin Stack (Dungarvan), Cathal Butler (Kinsale), Shane O'Connor (Castlebar), Ronan Mullarney (Galway), Dwayne Mallon (Dungannon), Tony Cleary (Woodstock), Matt Wylie, Eanna Griffin (Waterford), Declan Reidy (Co. Sligo), Stephen Kinch (Hollystown), Sean Barry (Fota Island)
83 Michael Sinclair (Knock), Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock), Cian Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown), Cian Dullaghan (Greenore), Gavin McKenna (Fortwilliam), Andrew McCormack (Newcastle West), Pat Murray (Limerick), Marc McKinstry (Cairndhu), Ross Dutton (Tandragee), Robert Brazill (Naas), Ben Murray (Waterford Castle), Alec Myles (Newlands), Eoghan O'Donovan (Craddockstown), Peter Kerr (Royal Portrush), David Reddan (Nenagh), Conor Purcell (Portmarnock), Kyle McCarron (North West), Dylan Brophy (Castleknock)
84 Gary McDermott (Carton House), Fergal Kennedy (Island), Paul McCarthy (Mallow), Edward Stack (Ballybunion), Alan Fahy (Bray), Dave Lowry (Corballis Links), Robin Dawson (Tramore), Karl McCormack (Portarlington), Shane Hogan (Nenagh), John Conroy (Bray), Rory Williamson (Holywood), Steffan O'Hara (Co. Sligo), John Hickey (Cork), Thomas O'Connor (Athlone), Jamie Sutherland (Galgorm Castle), David Brady (Co. Sligo)
85 Claudio Consul, Devin Morley (Oughterard), Robbie Hynes (The Royal Dublin), Eugene Smith (Ardee), Joe Lyons (Galway)
86 Peter Sheehan (Ballybunion), Daniel Murphy (Portarlington), Peter Kane (Ashbourne), Mark Morrissey (Mount Wolseley), Jason O'Leary (Dromoland), Colm Hughes (Galway)
87 John McCarthy (Stackstown), Shane McGlynn (Portmarnock), Michael Dallat (Ballycastle), Robert Neville (The Links Portmarnock), Noel Crawford (Mourne)
88 Ted Collins (Dun Laoghaire), Jake Whelan (Newlands), Colin Woodroofe (Blainroe), Darragh Coghlan (Portmarnock), Michael Reid (Galgorm Castle)
89 Jack McDonnell (Forrest Little.), Mark Power (Kilkenny)
90 Darragh Flynn (Carton House), Patrick Neville (Bearna)
91 Gavin Young (Nenagh), Conor McCaughey (Dungannon), Patrick McCarville (Clones), Thomas Mulligan (Co. Louth)
92 Declan O'Neill (Carton House), Michael Reddan (Limerick)
94 Brian Doran (Palmerstown Stud)
96 John Hadnett (Castletroy), Ross Steedman (Courtown)