Castle’s Alex Gleeson shrugged off some late resistance from Whitehead’s John-Ross Galbraith to capture the AIG Irish Amateur Close title by 3 and 1 on the majestic Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin.
The 22-year old Dubliner had to dig deep in the morning semi-finals to beat 18-year old Peter Kerr from Royal Portrush, hitting a stunning 154-yard eight iron to four feet at the 18th to set up a one-hole win.
But while it looked for a long time that he would cruise to a comfortable victory over his Ireland team mate having built a four up lead with five holes to play, Galbraith showed the fighting qualities that made him Irish Close champion two years ago and took the match to the 17th as heavy rain late in the contest failed to dampen the excitement.
The 22-year old Co Antrim star had beaten Newlands’ Jake Whelan 3 and 1 in the morning semi-finals but he admitted that a loose shot on sixth hole of the final caused him to lose focus and by the time he recovered his composure, it was too late.
“It would have been the dream week but it wasn’t to be,” said Galbraith, who was bidding to become the first player since Cormac Sharvin in 2013 to win the silver medal for the leading qualifier and the title.
“I took an extra putt on the fifth green and rushed up onto the sixth tee and didn’t really think about what shot to hit and just took three wood, spun up into the wind.”
Gleeson won the hole with a conceded birdie, birdied the par-three seventh from 12 feet and then took advantage of what Galbraith described as a “semi-shank” on the eighth to win that hole in par and go three up.
The Dubliner then got up and down from 50 yard for a half in par at the ninth to remain three up, then went four up with six holes to go when Galbraith missed the green at the 12th and bogeyed.
The Ulsterman didn’t win his first hole of the day until he birdied the par-five 13th from 12 feet.
He the dug deep to scramble for halves at the 14th and 15th, holing six footers each time before ramming in a 25 footer for a winning birdie in torrential rain at the 16th to be just two down with two holes to go after watching Gleeson miss a 10 footer for the title.
“That’s JR. He is so clutch,” Gleeson said. “That’s why he is put down in the clutch positions in the Home Internationals. He’s so good down the stretch so having a lead on him coming down the last four or five holes was massive. I felt I really needed that.”
In the end, Galbraith couldn’t find the birdie he needed at the par-five 17th to extended the match, overhitting his third and two putting from 35 feet for par.
“He made a brilliant birdie on 16,” Gleeson said. “Walking up the fairway I said to Sean Flanagan, he’s holing this. I knew I had to hole mine and I hit good putt but I misread it.
“On the 17th, he didn’t hit his best pitch and once I had two putts from 20 feet I was just going to cosy it up there.”
Gleeson lagged his first putt dead and Galbraith was considered to be conceding the hole and the match when he removed his hat to shake hands, hence the 3 and 1 results.
For Gleeson, his maiden “major” win may now give him the impetus to push on next year and possibly challenge for a Walker Cup spot.
As for Galbraith, he was wondering what might have been.
“The sixth hole really annoyed me and it took four holes to get over it, which was really annoying,” the Co Antrim man said after what has been a draining fortnight. “He was three up by the time I started to settle and plug away and it was too much in the end.
“He is a solid player and he didn’t hand me anything. Alex is the deserved winner. He played really solid today. He didn’t even make a bogey.”
Having lost to Tiarnan McLarnon in last year’s final, Gleeson was understandably overjoyed to add the Irish Close title to an Irish Youths and two Irish Intervarsity titles.
The keys to his win all came on the front nine — a six fooer for par the first, an up and down from 90-yards from deep rough at the second and another up and down for a half from 50 yards at the ninth,
“There are a lot of really good names on that trophy,” said Gleeson, who had to beat internationals Robin Dawson and Colin Fairweather along the way.
“I’ve won two Irish Intervarsities, the Irish Youths and the Boyd Quaich at St Andrews so the next step up was to win a Championship,” said Gleeson, who paid tribute to coach John Langan and sports psychologist Kate Kirby.
“I came close last year in this championship but lost to Tiarnan [McLarnon]. So I really wanted a championship this year and felt all year I hadn’t the cutting edge to win even though I had played really consistently.
“So I am absolutely over the moon. I can’t put into words how happy I am to win the Irish Close. Once I got into the final, I had my eye on the prize.”
AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship, Ballyliffin GC (Glashedy Links)
John-Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) bt Jake Whelan (Newlands) 3&1;
Alex Gleeson (Castle) bt Peter Kerr (Royal Portrush) 1 hole.
Alex Gleeson bt John-Ross Galbraith 3/1.