O’Keeffe eyes elusive Irish cap after dream win at Royal County Down

O’Keeffe eyes elusive Irish cap after dream win at Royal County Down
 Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) winner of the 2017 Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. Pictured with (from left) John (brother), John Boylan (President, Douglas Golf Club) and Noel (father). Picture by  Pat Cashman

Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) winner of the 2017 Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. Pictured with (from left) John (brother), John Boylan (President, Douglas Golf Club) and Noel (father). Picture by Pat Cashman

There was a time when Douglas’ Peter O’Keeffe got so  angry with himself during his five-year stint in the professional ranks that he would physically rip a golf glove off his hand in frustration.

But having been reinstated in the amateur fold after completing the obligatory two-year hiatus last year and hooked up with former Challenge Tour peer and two-time Irish Amateur Open champion Noel Fox as his main coach, he clinched the first big win of his career when he cruised to a stunning three-shot win in the Flogas Irish Amateur Open at Royal County Down.

The 35-year-old, 6 feet 5 inch, gentle giant never fell out of love with the game despite losing a fraught, five-year battle to keep his emotions in check and make the grade in the professional ranks.

But he reaped the rewards of a new player-coach relationship, admitting he “didn’t miss a shot” as he closed with a two-over-par 73 to win by three strokes on two-over-par 286 from Scotland’s Christopher MacLean (75) and England’s Tom Sloman (72) at the spectacular Newcastle links.

O’Keeffe’s previous best performance in the amateur ranks was a run to the semifinals in the North of Ireland Amateur Open a decade ago. 

An Irish cap proved elusive but it is now very much a possibility as he proved to be utterly unflappable, extending his one-stroke overnight lead to five shots after 11 holes, then recovering from what could have been a hugely unsettling, four-putt double bogey six at the 15th to cruise to victory.

“I am absolutely delighted,” said O’Keeffe, who made a fine par despite driving into sand a the 16th, then parred the 17th to take a four-shot lead over Sloman to the par-five 18th and had enough with a bogey six to win by three.

“I had a feeling I was going to win something big. So I must credit Noel Fox, the guy is a super player and coach. I played together with him on the Challenge Tour and I just decided I wanted to surround myself with the best people I possibly could.

“I have them in Noel, my sports psychologist Canice Kennedy from Cork and the Munster coach Fred Twomey. They have given out the best information for me and it seems to be working so far.”

Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) reacts to a missed putt on the 8th green during the final round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club (14/05/2017). Picture by Pat Cashman

Having opened with a two-putt birdie four at the first on a sunny day marked by a southwest wind that gusted to 20mph, O’Keeffe dropped a shot at the tough, par-three fourth when he failed to two putt from the sawl left of the green.

But he then put on a ball-striking clinic for the rest of the round, reeling off a relentless barrage of superb strikes with every club in the bag.

Forced to hit driver several time, instead of his trusty three-iron, he invariably blasted it long and straight down the middle, occasional straying as far as the first cut. With Castletroy's Andrew McCormack on his bag and his brother, father and the Douglas club president cheering him on, he   parred his way to the turn in level par 35, then hit a 52 degree wedge to 12 feet at the 11th and made the putt to go five ahead on one-under par.

He could have extended his lead when he left himself no more than a wedge to the par-five 12th but three putted from 40 feet.

With MacLean falling away early with a triple bogey six at the fourth (only to sneak back inti joint second with the best final seven holes of anyone bar Conor O'Rourke or Scott Gregory), Sloman emerged as O'Keeffe's nearest rival, eventually carding a one over 72 to set the target at five-over par.

 Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) bunkered at the 16th during the final round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club (14/05/2017). Picture by  Pat Cashman

Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) bunkered at the 16th during the final round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club (14/05/2017). Picture by Pat Cashman

 Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) driving at the 18th tee during the final round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club (14/05/2017). Picture by  Pat Cashman

Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) driving at the 18th tee during the final round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club (14/05/2017). Picture by Pat Cashman

But the big Munster man was never unduly perturbed.

He had no doubt that the crucial shot came at the 13th, where he left a slippery 25 foot birdie putt some eight feet short but found the wherewithal to compose himself and dribble in the par putt to remain four in front at that stage.

“That was the key,” he said. “Under pressure, whether you show it or not, you do get flustered at times, and a more experienced person can be aware of that and say, 'Let's just settle it again', which I did on 13. I slowed down and knocked in that putt from eight feet.”

He added: “I don't get flustered on a golf course any more."

It was O’Keeffe’s professional experience that proved the difference in the end and it showed at the 15th, where he four putted from 60 feet for a six but didn’t panic.

He made a fine par four after driving into sand at the 331-yard 16th, blasting to the front of the green from the deep bunker 30 yards short) and having been initially informed he was just one ahead after he had brilliantly lagged his 50 footer dead, news filtered through that the gap was three as Sloman had made bogey, not birdie, at the 17th.

The Englishman bogeyed the 18th to boot and O’Keeffe knew he was four ahead as he stood on the 18th tee, knowing he could make a triple bogey and still win

He hit a massive drive, laid up with a long iron and then missed the green with his third. tugging and attempted cut with the wedge into a swale. He afford to take five putts from there but settled for three — the first one to 15 feet and two more for the swetest six he made all week.

 Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) winner of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club today (14/05/2017). Picture by Pat Cashman

Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) winner of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club today (14/05/2017). Picture by Pat Cashman

Now he’s contemplating adding some overseas events to his schedule and is targeting another win or two that would make him un-ignorable in the minds of the selectors. It's up to him to back up his win and leave no room for doubt that he'd been an asset in an Irish jersey.

“There was a time in my life where everything revolved around trying to make the Home Internationals team and it didn’t happen in a previous life so to speak,” O'Keeffe said.

“I’d absolutely love it obviously. They should have their eyes on younger players. But I’m more than good enough to play at that level and I’d be delighted if it came my way. 

“I’m just putting my head down and trying to keep working on my swing as best I can and hopefully pick up another few championships this year.”

While he plans to play the Close, the East, South and North, O’Keeffe may now look at entering the likes of the St Andrews Links Trophy, though it will be difficult as he works as a TPI certified coach.

“I will have a look at it tomorrow,” said O’Keeffe who is in partnership with Luke Dennehy and Steve Barry, running three gyms under the Dennehy’s Health and Fitness banner in Cork city.

“They need to pick the best team and I believe I am more than good enough to play on that [Irish] team. It would be a great honour for me and if I can put my name out there enough, we will see.” 

While on the face of things it was a disappointing week for the elite Irish players, the four Walker Cup panellists finished in the top 30 — Alex Gleeson (T10), Conor O'Rourke (T13), Robin Dawson (T16) and Colm Campbell (T30) after a nightmare 79 on day one.

Ulster golf can expect big things from Belvoir Park's Marc Norton, who made the final group and played bette than a closing 83 for tied 39th might suggest

Kilkenny's Mark Power, just 16, made a sensational debut.

Even finishing bogey-double bogey, he shot 71 and  tied for 16th on 10 over par with such accomplished campaigners as Portmarnock's Geoff Lenehan and Galway Bay's Eddie McCormack with Kinsale's youg John Murphy a shot further back despite being forced to drive to Dublin to sit an exam on Friday afternoon.

O'Keeffe was the hero of the hour and his performance is a reminder to the international squad that no-one is untouchable. 

For a working amateur — albeit a talented former professional — to claim the blue riband title is a huge achievement. The last time it happened, Robbie Cannon wasn't rewarded with a place in the Irish team.

It's up to the Douglas man now to make sure than he's not overlooked.

As he said in the moments after his triumph: "I’m just putting my head down and trying to keep working on my swing as best I can and hopefully pick up another few championships this year."

Roll on the East. 

Flogas sponsored Irish Amateur Open, Royal County Down (Par 71) 

Detailed scores

Final

286 P O'Keeffe (Douglas), 70, 70, 73, 73

289 C MacLean (Balmore ), 73, 67, 74, 75; T Sloman (Taunton & Pickeridge), 69, 74, 74, 72

290 M Waite (Filton), 76, 73, 72, 69; J Hilleard (Farrington Park), 71, 74, 73, 72; M Jordan (Royal Liverpool ), 68, 74, 73, 75

291 C Syme (Drumoig ), 74, 71, 73, 73; C Howie (Peebles), 73, 71, 72, 75; G Frimodt (Odense Eventyr ), 72, 73, 76, 70

292 T Vahlenkamp (Berliner Stolper Heide), 74, 77, 70, 71; A Gleeson  (Castle), 72, 69, 78, 73; L Johnston (Dumfries and County), 70, 74, 76, 72

293 J Glenn  (Brancepeth Castle ), 75, 70, 74, 74; S Hagestad (Deepdale ), 73, 71, 76, 73; C O'Rourke (Naas), 72, 72, 78, 71

294 M Power (Kilkenny), 75, 74, 74, 71; G Lenehan (Portmarnock), 74, 72, 76, 72; G Rank (Elmira ), 72, 71, 78, 73; A Venter (Silverlakes), 72, 71, 75, 76; E McCormack (Galway Bay), 71, 75, 75, 73; R Dawson (Tramore), 71, 75, 71, 77; E McIntosh (Turnhouse ), 71, 71, 78, 74; G Petrozzi (Trentham), 69, 75, 76, 74; S Towndrow (Southport & Ainsdale), 69, 70, 77, 78; N Poppleton (Wath), 67, 76, 77, 74

295 S Gregory (Corhampton ), 75, 75, 73, 72; J Murphy (Kinsale), 75, 66, 80, 74; D Boote (Walton Heath), 73, 72, 74, 76; C Consul (Duesseldorfer ), 72, 72, 75, 76

296 C Campbell (Warrenpoint), 79, 73, 71, 73; J Freiburghaus (Domat/Ems), 72, 73, 73, 78; C Fairweather (Knock), 71, 76, 72, 77; J Fox (Portmarnock), 70, 72, 75, 79

297 C Strickland (Ham Manor), 76, 70, 75, 76; J McMahon (Wallasey), 73, 76, 72, 76; S Bleakley (Shandon Park), 73, 76, 70, 78; R Geissler (St. Leon-Rot), 72, 78, 73, 74; L Shepherd (Rye ), 71, 75, 75, 76

298 T Gandy  (Rowany ), 76, 74, 72, 76; C Long (Burton ), 75, 74, 74, 75; M Norton (Belvoir Park), 72, 68, 75, 83; H Bernard (Laval Sur-le-Lac), 71, 71, 75, 81; G Bloor (Cavendish), 71, 70, 79, 78

299 S Broholt Lind (Odder Gol), 72, 74, 76, 77

300 M Schmitt (Rheinhessen), 74, 68, 77, 81; J Bolton (Ogbourne Downs), 73, 73, 73, 81; K McClatchie (Serengeti ), 68, 71, 80, 81

301 D Dougan (Drumpelier ), 74, 76, 72, 79; R Brazill (Naas), 74, 71, 77, 79

302 M Schmid (Herzogenaurach), 75, 73, 74, 80

308 J Nicholas (Westchester Country Club), 74, 75, 74, 85

Non-qualifiers

224 B Jones (Northamptonshire county ) 77, 74, 73; N Crawford (Mourne) 76, 73, 75; T Randolph (Arcola) 73, 70, 81; J Skov Olesen (Naestved) 72, 76, 76; L Brown (Muriwai ) 72, 73, 79; T Plumb (Sherborne ) 71, 76, 77

225 J Sundborg (Shanklin & Sandown ) 78, 76, 71; G McDermott (Carton House) 77, 73, 75; M Saulez (Durban) 76, 70, 79; J Pierse (Portmarnock) 74, 74, 77; T Harris (Castletown) 73, 78, 74; J Galbraith (Whitehead) 73, 75, 77; J Wilson (Balmore ) 72, 76, 77; O Percy-Smith (Furesø) 72, 75, 78; J Lyons (Galway) 70, 79, 76; B Gill (Lindrick ) 70, 74, 81

226 S Carter (The Royal Dublin) 75, 74, 77; S Coulter (Warrenpoint) 75, 73, 78; T Mulligan (Laytown & Bettystown) 75, 72, 79; G Lappin (Belvoir Park) 73, 75, 78; C Ross (Kirkhill ) 73, 72, 81; L Matthews (Southerndown ) 72, 76, 78; C Raymond (Newlands) 72, 72, 82; J McDonnell (Forrest Little) 69, 79, 78

227 T Dolan (Heswall ) 80, 79, 68; E Leonard (Wentworth) 79, 70, 78; M Ryan (New Ross) 78, 72, 77; R Pierse (Grange) 77, 75, 75; B Chamberlain (Padeswood and Buckley ) 76, 78, 73; A McCormack (Castletroy) 76, 73, 78; E Griffith (Conwy) 74, 71, 82; C Thornton () 73, 79, 75; H Young-alls (Notts ) 73, 79, 75

228 R Dutton (Tandragee) 77, 77, 74; H Goddard (Hanbury Manor) 76, 72, 80; C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown) 75, 78, 75; L Donnelly (Kilkenny) 74, 78, 76; I O'Rourke (The Royal Dublin) 74, 75, 79; M Nolan (Delgany)  74, 74, 80; D Goldstein (Noyac )  73, 78, 77; C Rafferty (Dundalk)  72, 74, 82; H Byers (Walton Heath )  71, 74, 83; R Foley (Lausanne  )  70, 77, 81      

229 A Harper (Bolton OldLinks ) 76, 73, 80; P Coughlan (Moate) 75, 75, 79; A Hickey (Ballyhaunis) 73, 78, 78; M Morrissey (Co. Sligo) 71, 81, 77

230 T Beasley (Hunstanton) 79, 74, 77; A Grant (Dundalk) 78, 73, 79; J Hapgood (Southerndown) 77, 80, 73; M Zillekens (Niederrheinischer) 77, 76, 77; G Collins (Rosslare) 76, 79, 75; J Stokes (La Moye) 76, 77, 77; C Farr (Priors Hall) 73, 73, 84; T O'Connor (Athlone) 72, 73, 85

231 S Hamilton (Notts) 80, 74, 77; B Dietzel (Essen-Heidhausen) 80, 73, 78; R Haije (Goyer ) 76, 82, 73; K LeBlanc (The Island) 75, 75, 81; C Unger (St. Leon-Rot) 73, 75, 83; A James (Laval Sur-le-Lac) 71, 72, 88

232 J Sugrue (Mallow) 80, 75, 77; R Neergaard-Petersen (Furesø) 80, 71, 81; J Brady (Rosslare) 77, 82, 73; M Howard (The Royal Birkdale ) 76, 77, 79

233 J Seaman (Wrag Barn) 76, 78, 79; J Long (Lansdown) 76, 76, 81; J Burnage (Saunton ) 75, 84, 74; C Boon (Oubaai) 75, 78, 80; W Small (Tandragee) 75, 72, 86; M Harris (St Mellons) 72, 81, 80

234 G Dunne (Co. Louth) 77, 77, 80; T Collins (Dun Laoghaire) 76, 78, 80

235 B Komline (Black Oak ) 82, 76, 77; J Whelan (Newlands) 80, 75, 80; A McDougall (Elderslie ) 79, 74, 82; K Harman (Southerndown ) 77, 76, 82

236 N Bachem (Marienburger) 78, 70, 88; D Foy (Laytown & Bettystown) 77, 78, 81; T Cline (The Tuxedo) 76, 77, 83

237 M Hutson (Muriwai ) 80, 76, 81; C Butler (Kinsale) 77, 77, 83

238 H Foley (The Royal Dublin) 81, 73, 84; R Moran (Castle) 80, 79, 79; T McLarnon (Massereene) 79, 79, 80; M Reid (Galgorm Castle) 78, 84, 76

241 T Junak (GC Main-Taunus) 81, 78, 82

243 J Trinder (Pymble ) 82, 80, 81

WD W Russell (Clandeboye) 76, WD; B Best (Rathmore) 77, WD

NS D Brophy (Castleknock) 78, 83

WD M Boegel (St. Leon- Rot) 79, WD

DQ S Ryan (The Royal Dublin)