He might have fallen in the semi-finals of the “West” but in the end a cruel westerly gust helped Newlands’ Jake Whelan make the last 16 in incredible fashion on a day when five Irish internationals made their exit in the South of Ireland Amateur Open at Lahinch.
Whelan had to go to the 25th to beat Royal Portrush’s Peter Kerr in the morning before he watched Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan, one of the title favourites, undone by the whipping wind at his back as he three-putted from two and a half feet for bogey at the 18th to hand him an unexpected one-hole win.
All square playing the par-five finishing hole, the quietly-spoken, 22-year old Dubliner chipped up to around five feet and looked on as Grehan hit a lovely lag putt from the fringe that threatened to drop for eagle before running less than a yard past.
Facing a must-make birdie putt, Whelan lipped out and took off his cap in resignation as he waited for 2015 champion Grehan to deliver the “coup de grâce.”
Sadly for the Tullamore man, one of Ireland’s leading hopes of a Walker Cup call up this year, his slick, downwind putt was hit by a gust, lipped out and ran six feet past before he again lipped out to crash out of the championship.
“It was a pity it had to end that way,” said Whelan, who now faces 2009 champion Robbie Cannon from Balbriggan.
“We were all square after 11 and halved all the way until the 18th. I think his putt was hit by a gust. He was very unlucky.”
A steady 20mph west wind, gusting well over 30mph at times, made for another gruelling day that blew away the hopes of five of the eight current internationals left in the Pierse Motors Volkswagen sponsored classic.
Defending champion Conor Purcell from Portmarnock and fellow internationals Alex Gleeson, John Ross Galbraith and Robin Dawson exited in the first round, leaving Naas’ Conor O’Rourke, Warrenpoint’s Colm Campbell and leading qualifier Rowan Lester from Hermitage as the only “big guns” remaining.
O’Rourke was out in the first match of the day and after dispatching Monkstown’s Sean Desmond 6 and 5, he beat Galway’s Joe Lyons 4 and 3 in the afternoon to set up a testing last-16 clash with 18-year old, University Oregon bound Thomas Mulligan from Laytown and Bettystown.
Mulligan reached the last 16 year, losing to Purcell but the former Great Britain and Ireland Jacques Leglise player insists he's "up for it" against O'Rourke and looking forward to finishing the Irish season well as he prepares to play in the NI Open on the Challenge Tour having finished as the leading Under 18 in the NI Amateur Open Strokeplay at Galgorm Castle recently.
While he won the St Andrews Links Trophy and the Nassau Invitational last year, 25-year old O’Rourke knows that a maiden Irish championship win this week, coupled with a strong performance in next month’s Home Internationals, might keep his chances of a Walker Cup call up alive.
"It would be nice," O'Rourke said of a Walker Cup call up. "I have a fighting chance but there are not a huge number of places left. it's a strong team with five English on it and there are not a lot of spots available. It's a fighting chance anyway, which I would have settled for at this time of year."
Keen to become a championship winner at home, he added: "It's great to see a great field here at home and we'd all love to play more but it is not always possible. But I'd love to stick my name on the trophy.
"I've played well this year. I have come up the world ranking from 480 to around 150. I haven't had one big result yet but compared to the events at home the standard is so high - it's close to tour standard. A top 10 or in and around that is a good week."
While one wonders what affect a win in Lahinch would have on the thinking of the GB&I selectors, O'Rourke would like to believe a win would count.
"It wouldn't do any harm to win it," he said.
He may have to beat recently crowned North of Ireland champion Lester in today’s quarter-finals after the Hermitage man cruised into the third round and now takes on 46-year old former champion Pat Murray.
“I've never played Pat but it will be a good game and I'm prepared for a battle because I know he will be hard to beat and I will have to play good golf to win,” Lester said after playing solid but unspectacular golf to beat Eoghan Long 5 and 4 and Mark Morrissey 7 and 5.
Portmarnock’s Purcell fell by 2 and 1 to Eanna Griffin before the Waterford man bowed out to Clandeboye’s William Russell in the afternoon.
But taking out one of the big guns appeared to inspire 20-year old Kinsale talent Cathal Butler as he followed a 3 and 1 win over Irish Close champion Gleeson from Castle by coming back from three down after nine holes to beat big-hitting Robert Brazill from Naas by one hole.
“I haven’t had a great year and I just scraped through the cut on 16 over, so I have had low expectations,” said Maynooth University student Butler, who now faces close friend and Irish Amateur Open champion Peter O’Keeffe.
“The monster man!” Butler joked. “But you have to beat the big guns at some stage. I seem to play my best when I am playing better players.”
Butler admitted he got the run of the green as he beat Gleeson, "especially early on the back nine."
But he had to play well to beat Brazil, who almost drove the ninth and went three up. Butler 10th and 11th in pars to get back to one down, then birdied the 13th and 14th to go one up.
A lost ball on the 15th left Butler all flat before Brazill sent a slick, downwind 40-footer trundling off the green at the 17th.
"Rob was very unlucky there and I was able to learn from that because I was on a similar line," added Butler who watch as Brazill missed a quick 10 footer down the hill at the last that might have extended the match.
Rosslare’s Paul Murphy (19) was superb around the greens as he beat an off-colour Galbraith 3 and 2 in the morning and then ousted Athlone’s Thomas O’Connor on the 19th to set up a last 16 meeting with West of Ireland champion Barry Anderson.
But as 2009 winner Robbie Cannon moved quietly into the third round, it was a day to forget for Tramore’s Dawson who felt he’d been “hit by a bus” by Portmarnock’s Darragh Coghlan (28), the 2014 finalist, who rattled in six birdies in a 4 and 3 first round win.
Coughlan fell late in the day to Mallow’s James Sugrue (20) who now meets Gary O’Flaherty with the winner to take on Colm Campbell or University of Louisville bound John Murphy from Kinsale.