He’s only 20 but Tramore’s Robin Dawson feels like a veteran and believes the time is ripe to strike and lift his first major title in this week’s AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship at Ballyliffin in stunning Co Donegal.
The Maynooth University star showed he's got nerves of steel when he holed a crucial birdie putt on the 18th at Nairn on Saturday to help Ireland beat England and clinch a hat-trick of Home International victories.
But while he won the World Universities Championship earluer this year, a coveted domestic “major” has eluded him so far and he reckons he’s in the form to put that right over Ballyliffin’s pristine Glashedy Links.
³My game has come on a huge amount,” said Dawson of development since he was beaten by eventual runner up Alex Gleeson of Castle on the 19th in last year’s semi-finals at his home club.
“I feel I¹m a different player. I started working with Noel Fox last October and that¹s gone really, really well and I¹ve had some nice finishes this year.
"Hopefully I can close out with a win this week and go a couple of steps further than last year.”
Beaten in the final of the 2014 North of Ireland by Chris Selfridge, Dawson is a far more confident player now, especially after his seven foot birdie putt on the 18th in the penultimate singles at Nairn kept Ireland’s hopes alive before team mate Colm Campbell completed a nail-biting win over England in the anchor role.
“I¹m quite confident and being in that pressure situation last week and holing that putt on the 18th, it¹s given me a lot of confidence,” said Dawson, who played in the winning Home Internationals team for the last three wins. “So hopefully if I can get through the stroke play and win a couple of matches. If I can get a bit of momentum, we¹ll see how we go.”
The first of two strokeplay qualifying rounds begins today (Tues) with a field of 144 bidding for just 64 places in Thursday’s first round of matchplay combat and the run to Saturday’s final.
Dawson is one of just six available members of the winning Home Internationals team alongside Gleeson, 2014 Irish Close winner John-Ross Galbraith, St Andrews Links Trophy winner Conor O’Rourke, Flogas Irish Amateur Open winner Campbell and defending champion Tiarnan McLarnon from Massereene.
Waterford native Dawson is certainly looking forward to the challenge having played the course for the first time yesterday.
“Class!” Dawson said of the links. “That's the only word really. It's so enjoyable. Everything is in pristine condition, the greens are rolling really nicely.
“It's very demanding off the tee so driver is not really necessary this week. The bunkers are really well placed, I'm really impressed with the place.”
Designed by Pat Ruddy and the late Tom Craddock and home to the Ladies Irish Open in 1998 and the North West of Ireland Open in 2002, the last major amateur event to visit Glashedy was the Interprovincial Championship 10 years ago when star-studded Ulster team featuring Rory McIlroy romped to victory on home soil.
McIlroy had successfully defended the Irish Close title at another Ruddy design, the European Club and 24-year old McLarnon has a chance to follow in his footsteps this week having just made a dream Ireland debut in the Home Internationals.
The 64th and last player to survive the cut on his way to victory last year, McLarnon will be aware that McIlroy was the first player since Joe Carr to complete back-to-back Close wins in 41 years.
Of course, the field is so deep that as many as 20 players are capable of winning the blue riband of Irish amateur golf.
Jack Pierse is in a rich vein of form while West of Ireland champion Jonny Yates will be keen to ease the "pain" of his omission from the Home International team with another championship win.
Ronan Mullarney's Mullingar Electrical Scratch Cup win was no fluke and while he might need fast running conditions to be dangerous at Ballyliffin, he's a man to avoid in matchplay so sharp is his short game.
A winner from outside the big six — Home International winners Campbell, Dawson, Gleeson, Galbraith, McLarnon or O'Rourke — is not just likely, it's probably given their fatigue.
Colin Fairweather, Jake Whelan and Gary Collins will all be dangerous while former South of Ireland and Irish Amateur Open winner Robbie Cannon, leading qualifier in Tramore, is another thoroughbred capable of coming up on the rails under pressure.
AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship, Ballyliffin (Glashedy Links)
(1st tee/10th tee)
- (0800/1254) M Reid (Galgorm Castle), E Griffin (Waterford) G Lenehan (Portmarnock);
- (0810/1304) J Pierse (Portmarnock), A Claffey (Elm Park), E McCormack (Galway) Bay);
- (0821/1315) W Russell (Clandeboye), G Lappin Belvoir Park , G Fitzmaurice (Balcarrick);
- (0831/1325) A Lowry (Esker Hills), A McCormack (Castletroy), S Kinch (Hollystown);
- (0842/1336) G Dunne (Co Louth), J McDonnell (Forrest Little), M Sinclair (Knock);
- (0852/1346) D Vaughan (Ardglass), L Grehan (Mullingar), R Pierse (Grange);
- (0903/1357) T Cleary (Woodstock), M Morrissey (Mount Wolseley), K McCarron (North West);
- (0913/1407) C Woodroofe (Blainroe), D Reddan Jnr (Nenagh), C Butler (Kinsale);
- (0924/1418) C Nolan (Galway), G Mallon (North West), R Knightly (The Royal Dublin);
- (0934/1428) W Small (Tandragee), E Farrell (Ardee), P Murphy (Rosslare);
- (0945/1439) J McVicker (Knock), M Norton (Belvoir Park), R O’Callaghan (Mannan Castle);
- (0955/1449) P McGuigan (Foyle), C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown), R Brazill (Naas);
- (1254/0800) J McCarthy (Stackstown), A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire), D Foy (Laytown & Bettystown);
- (1304/0810) J Blake (The Island), T Collins (Dun Laoghaire), C Crowley (Woodbrook);
- (1315/0821) J Fletcher (Warrenpoint), M McCormack (Ashbourne), M Young (Ring Of Kerry);
- (1325/0831) A Magee (Powerscourt), D O’Connor (Athlone), P McKeever (Castle);
- (1336/0842) M Dallat (Galgorm Castle), K Quigg (North West), R O’Connor (Co Sligo);
- (1346/0852) S Barker (Mourne), A McDaid (Palmerstown Stud), D O’Connor (Fota Island);
- (1357/0903) J Maginn (Mourne), A Hickey (Ballyhaunis), R Tighe (Elm Park);
- (1407/0913) I Lynch ((Rosslare) ), E Kennedy (Woodbrook), P Hasson (City of Derry);
- (1418/0924) R Moran (Castle), C McGoldrick (Enniscrone), P Kelly (Co Armagh);
- (1428/0934) A Gaynor (Co Sligo), C Hughes (Galway), L O’Dwyer (Forrest Little);
- (1439/0945) S Broe (Forrest Little), F Kennedy (The Island), C Kenny (Portmarnock);
- (1449/0955) J Cleary (Elm Park), Patrick Dallat (Galgorm Castle), A Kiernan (Forrest Little)
10th tee/1st tee
- (0800/1254) M Timmins (Coollattin), S O’Connor (Castlebar), O Crooks (Bushfoot);
- (0810/1304) A Grant (Dundalk), J Hood (Galgorm Castle), M Ryan (New Ross);
- (0821/1315) J Murphy (Kinsale), C Ryan (Dun Laoghaire), S Bleakley (Shandon Park);
- (0831/1325) P Kerr (Royal Portrush), S Lindsay (Bangor), C Rafferty (Dundalk);
- (0842/1336) C Campbell Jnr (Warrenpoint), G Collins (Rosslare), J Yates (Naas);
- (0852/1346) R Dawson (Tramore), T McLarnon (Massereene), A McQuillan (Cushendall);
- (0903/1357) C Fairweather (Knock), C O’Rourke (Naas), A Gleeson (Castle);
- (0913/1407) A Kearney (Castlerock), E Smith (Ardee), B Best (Rathmore);
- (0924/1418) R Mullarney (Galway), J-R Galbraith (Whitehead), J Whelan (Newlands);
- (0934/1428) R Dutton (Tandragee), T Mulligan (Co Louth), D Conlon (Athenry);
- (0945/1439) B Murray (Waterford Castle), L Bradley (North West), R Steedman (Courtown);
- (0955/1449) S Greenberg (Tandragee), M Nolan (Delgany), R Williamson (Holywood);
- (1254/0800) J Lyons (Galway), B Murray (Waterford Castle), M Fitzsimons (Ardglass);
- (1304/0810) A Myles (Newlands), N Conway (Grange), J Conway (Donegal);
- (1315/0821) C Kennedy (Forrest Little), S O’Hara (Co Sligo), J Kelly (Elm Park);
- (1325/0831) H Foley (The Royal Dublin), G Ward (Kinsale), J Logue (Hilton Templepatrick);
- (1336/0842) K McCormack (Portarlington), M McKinstry (Cairndhu), A Doherty (Corrstown);
- (1346/0852) P Kane (Ashbourne), R Cannon (Balbriggan), A Mulhall (Ardglass);
- (1357/0903) N McKinstry (Cairndhu), R O’Doherty (Enniscrone), D Brady (Co Sligo);
- (1407/0913) H Gillivan (Westport), J Walsh (Castle), N O’Reilly (Clonmel);
- (1418/0924) P Cummins (Lurgan), E O’Brien (Clontarf), K Lynch (Skibbereen);
- (1428/0934) P Tobin (Cork), TJ Ford (Co Sligo), S Crilly (Co Louth);
- (1439/0945) J Hickey (Cork), G Arthur (Carrickfergus), C Feeney (Co Sligo)
- (1449/0955) B Devlin (Ballyliffin), J Sugrue (Mallow), G Mann (Tullamore).