Power without control means nothing but Naas’ Jonathan Yates combined the strength of a prize-fighter with the nerveless touch of a surgeon to capture the Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open at County Sligo.
The pristine links was at its beautiful best with Ben Bulben, black and menacing one minute, swathed in wispy cloud the next, giving a hard-fought final a classic context as the 22 year old UCD student beat Castle’s Daniel Holland 2 and 1 in a bloody contest, playing the 17 holes in one over par to the Dubliner’s five over.
“Dan was always going to be tough,” said Yates, who took a huge step towards the title and an Irish cap when he came back from two down after nine holes to beat the holder Dermot McElroy one up.
“He is so gritty and hits it so straight and he is such a good putter that he is not going to give you anything. But for the first 12 or 13 holes I knew that my ball striking could be the deciding factor and it worked out that way. I hit a lot more fairways and a lot more greens than him but got a little wayward towards the end. But my short game saved me and I holed out well."
The tenacious Holland, 26, had also caused a semi-final upset by beating an out-of-sorts Colm Campbell 5 and 4.
But he was outmatched from tee to green in the final and had it not been for a win against the head at the eighth and brave saves at the ninth and 10th, he might have fallen earlier.
With Jack Hume winning the title two years ago and Conor O’Rourke improving, Naas golf is now flying with the help of club professional Gavin Lunny.
“Since Jack won here, things have really switched on in the club,” Yates explained. “He has taught us how to win and I I had a great chat with him last night. He told me just to turn my phone off and forget everything and go and play.”
Yates didn’t quite follow Hume’s advice to the letter, confessing he made the mistake of checking the odds on Paddy Power, who had McElroy as odds on favourite for their match and the title.
“I knew this morning would be tough against Dermot, the guy in form,” he said. “But I knew if I could get past Dermot, I had a really good chance to win.”
Two down after nine to McElroy in the morning, Yates, holed long birdie putts at the 10th and 12th to level the match, then forged ahead when the Ballymena man missed short putts at the 14th and 16th to fall behind.
While a win in par at the 17th earned him a stay of execution, the Naas man won one-up and then slowly dismantled Holland with strong tee to green play coupled with steady putting in the final.
Holland birdied the first from three feet to draw first blood but three putted the fourth and then threw away the fifth and sixth with further bogeys to go from one up to one down.
Another bogey to Yates birdie at the seventh,where he overshot the green, left him two down until Yates missed a shot par putt at the eighth to fall back to just one up.
When he lipped out for birdie at the ninth and Holland got up and down from sand to halve there and then halved the 10th, it was anyone’s game.
But Yates birdied the long 12th from nine feet to two up again, then cleaned up nervelessly for halves in pars at the 13th and 14th and again at the 15th, where Holland left a golden chance from around 12 feet well short.
A bogey in the midst of a rain squall at the par-three 16th gave Holland a win and a chink of light but Yates slammed the door shut at the fearsome 17th with a stellar three-iron finding the fringe pin high and setting up a winning par.
The Dubliner missed the green right and failed to save par from 15 feet after a weak pitch and Yates two putted from the left fringe for a winning par, holing a four footer for the title.
"There was something nice about going out and winning it rather than Dan doing something to lose,” Yates said. "It was a nice way to finish. I’ve hit that putt a lot of times, inside left, nice and firm. I just didn't think it would be for this.”
“That was a seriously good shot under pressure,” said Holland on Yates approach o the 17th. “I just got a bit tight in and around the middle. I steered a few shots and didn’t let the club go. I didn't swing properly at all. I just got tight, I steered a few shots and I paid for it. In fairness to Jonny, he played well. I tried to stick in with him but I steered a few shots.
"The turning point? He made a good birdie on 12 to go two up and I knew from there I had to make birdies. But he knows what he is doing and that par golf would put pressure on me and he did it."
As for the significance of week for his own game, Holland hopes he can return to the Leinster team for the Interpros and contend for that elusive championship win at some stage soon.
"Considering I haven't been playing and I am in the middle of a Masters, it’s brilliant," he said. "I am absolutely delighted to get this far. Pity not to win. I won't stop trying to win one of these. I missed the interprets last year. I hope I can get back. This is a nice start, so hopefully this will get me on the team again. I will get confidence from this.
“Jonny is a good player, he’s been working hard and I know this means an awful lot to him and that he wants a spot on that Irish team. He deserves it now. I will have to try again.”
Yates always believed his ball-striking would prove the difference and he’s hoping now to win his first Irish cap.
"I had a bit of an ultimatum coming here," said Yates, who confessed that adrenaline stopped an aching back from becoming a problem. "The Irish captain Tony Goode told me I was close to the Senior panel and said I needed a good result this week to have a chance. So hopefully this does what I want."
West of Ireland Amateur Open, Co Sligo GC (in association with Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa)
- Daniel Holland (Castle) bt Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) 5/4;
- Jonathan Yates (Naas) bt Dermot McElroy (Ballymena) 1 up.
- Yates bt Holland 2/1.