Thriller in store at The European Club
 Robert Cannon (Balbriggan) driving at the 8th tee during the quarter-final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Robert Cannon (Balbriggan) driving at the 8th tee during the quarter-final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

Four players still have a chance to write their names into the annals of Irish amateur golf at The European Club, and all four have compelling reasons to believe their name is on the famous old trophy.

For Castle's Alex Gleeson, his semi-final with Balbriggan's Robbie Cannon represents an opportunity to give himself a chance to join the likes of Rory McIlroy, Declan Branigan, Martin O’Brien, Ray Kane or Michael Edwards as a two-time winner.

He came of age at Ballyliffin two years ago, when he claimed the title 12 months after losing in the final at Tramore. And after clinching hard-fought one-hole wins over championship winners Rowan Lester and Peter O'Keeffe yesterday, he knows that experience will be crucial when he faces two-time "major" winner Cannon for the right to face Wentworth and Killiney's Eoin Leonard or Portmarnock's Conor Purcell in the final.

 Alex Gleeson (Castle) plays from a bush at the 7th hole during the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Alex Gleeson (Castle) plays from a bush at the 7th hole during the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

“On the final day everybody is kind of tired, so if you can be solid, and take your chances when they come, that’s very good a lot of the time," said Gleeson, who holed an 18 footer for birdie at the 18th to beat Lester.

"The main thing is, when your opponent is in trouble, you stay out of trouble. It doesn’t really take a bad shot to be in trouble. I’ll try to make as many pars as possible.

“I’ve had a final and a win in this tournament. It helps that I’ve been there before and I know how I’m going to feel. I think if I can just go out and do exactly what I’ve been doing then I’ll be in good shape."

O'Keeffe beat Castle's Jack Walsh 3&2 in the morning, but there was nothing in it against international team-mate Gleeson, who got up and down from just left of the 18th green for par before the Cork man three-putted

“We were trading holes at the start," Gleeson said. "I won the first, he won the second, I won the third, he won the fourth, I won the fifth, the first half was on the sixth.
 
“My loose shots I kind of rescued well. Any time I put myself in trouble I saved myself with my short game which I’ve kind of been doing all week. It hasn’t been the best ball-striking week for me but I’ve been getting up and down when I need to and making pars around here is key because it’s very rare that someone is going to go around here bogey-free and not make any mistakes.
 
“It’s strange. I have freedom with my long game because I know my short game is good at the moment. I’d like not to have to use it as much and hit a few more greens. I’ve been hitting it better as the week’s gone on."

 Conor Purcell (Portmarnock) driving at the 8th tee during the quarter final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Conor Purcell (Portmarnock) driving at the 8th tee during the quarter final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

“You know if you go in a bunker, especially off the tee, it’s bogey. The ball plugs quite easily. You can find yourself 200 yards out trying to get up and down for par a lot of the time. The course is set up fair, but if you miss it, you’re in trouble, which is what it should be.

“I made bogey on 16 and lost that hole. We halved 17 in par. Up 18, I had 162 yards for my second shot, and I was right in between 7-iron and 8-iron, I tried to go with a softer cut seven, and the thing didn’t cut. The ball just pitched left of the green, and thankfully it stayed above ground. It actually wasn’t that hard an up and down because the ball was on an upslope, so I just had to plop her up and let it feed down.

“I felt like I had a lot of chances to take control of the game and Peter will feel the same, we both made mistakes and left the door open for the other person, and neither of us were walking through it, we were dancing around it. I was lucky at the end that the ball stayed up but then I made a lovely up and down."

Gleeson's win means he will finish the season at the top of the inaugural Bridgestone Order of Merit but whether that's enough to clinch one of two available places alongside Robin Dawson on the Ireland team for the Eisenhower Trophy next month remains to be seen.

He faces a tough semi-final against 39-year old former Irish Amateur Open and South of Ireland champion Cannon, who holed a sand wedge from 105 yards for an eagle two at the first, then birdied the second, third, seventh and 10th to set up a 7&6 win over Rosslare's Gary Collins in the morning before beating Castleknock's Dylan Brophy 4&2 in the afternoon.

“I played really well today," said Cannon, who knows that a 'Close' win would put him halfway to the domestic 'Grand Slam'. 

"I had two tough opponents, but I’m on top of my game. I’m delighted to get through.

“I’m playing well. I like this golf course, I always have. I know it’s a ball strikers course. I was looking forward to it, and I was quietly confident of doing well.

“Since the 'North' I’ve been practising a lot. I was five over after two on Saturday, so I think I showed great resilience to battle through and qualify. Once you’re in the match play then if you know you’re playing well you have a great chance."

 A lone spectator had a magnificent private seat in the dunes above the 8th hole to enjoy the day's golf at the AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship. Picture © Gerry Ruddy

A lone spectator had a magnificent private seat in the dunes above the 8th hole to enjoy the day's golf at the AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship. Picture © Gerry Ruddy

One of just eight survivors from the 2006 Irish Close, where he lost to Darren Crowe in the last 16, and Rory McIlroy went on to win, he's been looking forward to returning to The European Club.

"It’s a great test of golf," he said. "If you look at the calibre of players that did well in 2006 you’re looking at Rory, Simon Ward, Jonny Caldwell, Connor Doran, Darren Crowe – great ball strikers. That gives you an indication that a good ball striker is going to do well here.

"It’s a second shot golf course. It’s all about position off the tee, to give yourself a chance of going at the pin."

He knows he can't afford to take his foot off the gas against Gleeson after almost getting himself in trouble in his quarterfinal win over Brophy, who beat leading qualifier Ronan Mullarney by one hole in the third round,

"I got off to a great start – I was three under par after I birdied seven and four up," Cannon said. "I got the intensity level right all day, and I think I just let it drop a little bit on the eighth for a couple of holes and went through a bit of a sticky patch. That’s the only sticky patch I’ve had."

He birdied the 10th from 20 feet, lost the 11th after losing his tee shot but birdied the 13th and closed out the match on the 16th.

If he beats Gleeson, he'll face a player nearly half his age as Purcell and Leonard are both 21.

 Leading qualifier Ronan Mullarney (Galway) took his shoes and socks off to play a great shot out of the water at the 18th, but it was not enough to keep the match alive and he lost by 1-hole to Dylan Brophy (Castleknock). Picture © Gerry Ruddy

Leading qualifier Ronan Mullarney (Galway) took his shoes and socks off to play a great shot out of the water at the 18th, but it was not enough to keep the match alive and he lost by 1-hole to Dylan Brophy (Castleknock). Picture © Gerry Ruddy

Purcell, who won his maiden championship at Lahinch two years ago, reached the semi-finals of the British Amateur earlier this summer and having made the GB&I St Andrews Trophy team, a Close win would give him an excellent chance of making it to Carton House for the World Amateur Team Championships.

He had to go to the 20th to beat Mallow's James Sugrue in the third round before easing to a 4&2 win over Laytown and Bettystown's Eugene Smith.

"Tough battle," Purcell said of his win over Sugrue, which came courtesy of a 25 footer for birdie. "U was two down with six to play, so I just said to myself, ‘Keep in it and see what happens.’"

He managed to get back on terms playing the 18th where he got up and down to take the match down the 19th.

After missing a ten footer for victory there, he watched Sugrue miss from just outside him for birdie on the 20th and took advantage to nail down the line.

"20 was nice," he said. "He went before me. I got a good read."

He was never behind against the ever-improving Smith, who looked likely to get back to two down with four to go when he birdied the 14th from 15 feet only to see Purcell follow him in from 10 feet for the half.

"That was a big half," Purcell said. "I felt comfortable then. He three-putted 15, and I missed a short putt to close it out, but I made a nice birdie on 16 —  7-iron to 30ft.

 Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) playing from the rough at the 11th hole during the quarter-final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Peter O'Keeffe (Douglas) playing from the rough at the 11th hole during the quarter-final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

"The putter has been good all week. I had just a few missed ones. I’m really happy with everything. I’ll just see how I’m playing in the morning and give it a good go."

He will face another 21-year-old in Killiney's Eoin Leonard, who grew up in Ascot to Dalkey parents and is now going into his final year at Yale.

Familiar with The European Club after spending summer holidays in Brittas Bay, Leonard beat Dungarvan's Kevin Stack 6&5 before came back from three down after eight to beat American Marc McCormack on the 19th.

He got up and down for bogey from the dry shale in the water hazard in front of the green at the 18th where McCormack made a 25 footer for a half.

But it all ended at the 19th when hit a 102-yard wedge almost stone dead to seal the win.

"It was a tight one," said Leonard, a former Leinster Boys champion who won the Ivy League Championship this year before going on to qualify for next week's US Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach. 

"There was a lot of ebbing and flowing in it, but it was good, it was a really high standard of golf, which was nice. It was just a joy to play in.
 
“I’m glad that a birdie won it rather than the mistakes on 18. I just pushed my second shot on 18. It came up a little short. I got down there and it was just in stones, there was no water in there so decided to Jean van de Velde-it and hit a little chip. Luckily it worked out alright.
 
"I had a good little stretch, I made a couple of birdies, he made a couple of mistakes that I capitalised on. Then he came back at me again with two birdies of his own. It was just that type of game, so I’m glad that a birdie won it rather than the mistakes on 18."
 
He knows Purcell well — "Tough opposition, a good friend of mine though so it’ll be a tough match" — and dreams of going one better than his Ivy League win earlier this season.

 Eoin Leonard (Wentworth) playing from the water at the 18th green during the quarter final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Eoin Leonard (Wentworth) playing from the water at the 18th green during the quarter final of the AIG 2018 Irish Amateur Close Championship at The European Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

"The Ivy League would probably be one of the biggest tournaments I’ve won. This would probably match it if not be better than it so hopefully I can make a run at it tomorrow," he said.

"My family are all from Dalkey originally. They moved over to Ascot before I was born so I’ve grown up there but I’ve very strong ties to my family back home. 

"Yale is where I play my college golf. I have one more year left. I’m really enjoying it out there. it’s a really good balance of golf and academics and social life."

A student of the History of Science and Medicine, he'd love to make it on one of the game's major tours, but for now, The European Club (and Purcell) is his biggest challenge. 
 
"I love this golf course, so my family used to come down to Brittas Bay every summer on our holidays, so I played here every year for five or six years growing up," he said. 

"I think it’s the best traditional links you can get. I don’t think I’ve played a course where you can see the ocean on so many holes. It's just beautiful."

Given the beauty of the setting and the quality of the golf course, a deserving winner will undoubtedly emerge.

 Pat Ruddy (centre), President of The Eurpean Club, conferred Honorary Life Membership on current GUI President John Moloughney and President-elect Jim McGovern.

Pat Ruddy (centre), President of The Eurpean Club, conferred Honorary Life Membership on current GUI President John Moloughney and President-elect Jim McGovern.

AIG Irish Amateur Close 2018

The European Club, Co Wicklow

    Round Three - Tuesday, 7 August

    1. D Brophy (Castleknock) bt R Mullarney (Galway) 1 hole;
    2. R Cannon (Balbriggan) bt G Collins (Rosslare) 7&6;
    3. A Gleeson (Castle) bt R Lester (Hermitage) 1 hole;
    4. P O’Keeffe (Douglas) bt J Walsh (Castle) 3&2;
    5. C Purcell (Portmarnock) bt J Sugrue (Mallow) 20th;
    6. E Smith (Laytown & Bettystown) bt R Moran (Castle) 2&1;
    7. E Leonard (Wentworth) bt K Stack (Dungarvan) 6&5;
    8. M McCormack (Moss Creek) bt R Dutton (Tandragee) 2&1.

    Quarter-finals - Tuesday, 7 August

    1. R Cannon (Balbriggan) bt D Brophy (Castleknock) 4&2;
    2. A Gleeson (Castle) bt P O’Keeffe (Douglas) 1 hole;
    3. C Purcell (Portmarnock) bt E Smith (Laytown & Bettystown) 4&2;
    4. E Leonard (Wentworth) bt M McCormack (Moss Creek) 19th.

    Semi-finals - Wednesday, 8 August

    1. 08:00 R Cannon (Balbriggan) v A Gleeson (Castle);
    2. 08:10 C Purcell (Portmarnock) v E Leonard (Wentworth)

    Final - Wednesday, 8 August (13:00)