The Walker Cup might be four months away, but it will be at the back of the players’ minds as they tee it up at the Rosses Point home of the great Cecil Ewing in the Flogas Irish Amateur Open today.
County Sligo Golf Club will host Irish golf's blue riband for only the second time since Joe Carr triumphed there in 1950 — a fitting honour for a club celebrating its 125th anniversary this year,
The great Ewing playing in five Walker Cup matches from 1936 to 1955 — only 11 times capped Carr played more— and so the arrival of the Irish Strokeplay Championship in this stunning corner of Sligo represents a golden opportunity for the new breed of Irish amateur to show the selectors what they can do on links terrain.
Ewing won the West of Ireland ten times but he also won the Irish Amateur Open in 1948 and 1951, and a fifth successive Irish win in an event revived in 1995 after a 36-year gap, could prove a significant boost to Irish hopes of more Walker Cup glory at Royal Liverpool from September 7-8.
Five Irish players made the initial, 26-man Great Britain and Ireland squad and while Kinsale's John Murphy remains in the US and Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty has exam commitments at Maynooth University, the other three will tee off under Ben Bulben's gaze today.
Rafferty's absence, given his impressive win in a one-off, strokeplay staging of the West of Ireland Championship at County Sligo six weeks ago, is a blow to lovers of great ball-striking.
But fellow Great Britain and Ireland panellists such as West of Ireland runner-up Conor Purcell from Portmarnock, Kilkenny's Mark Power and Mallow's James Sugrue have the talent to keep the trophy at home.
Ranked inside the world's top 25, Purcell has already captured the Australian Amateur crown this year knows that Walker Cup selection is a question of playing consistently well.
"I don't really put an emphasis on a particular tournament or a particular stretch of events," the 21-year-old said. "You just need to try to keep doing what you're doing."
Of the 57 home players in the field, Massereene's Tiarnan McLarnon is playing as well as anyone while 18-year old Power, is looking to add an amateur major to his two Irish Boys crowns before he heads to Wake Forest on a golf scholarship in September.
It is not unknown for teenagers to win this prestigious event with European Tour professional Gavin Moynihan winning the first of his two titles as a 17-year old in 2012 to join major winners Pádraig Harrington and Louis Oosthuizen on the list of recent champions.
Eight of the Walker Cup squad are in the 135-strong field, but there are others ready to shine, such as Joshua McMahon from Wallasey in Liverpool, who won the recent Lytham Trophy to grab the attention of the selectors.
Germany's Michael Hirmer, who lost to Purcell in the semi-finals of the Australian Amateur last January, leads a seven-strong German contingent while Finn Matthias Honkala beat the Portmarnock star in last year's St Andrews Trophy, where the Continent of Europe triumphed of GB&I.
The club has made a special effort to present the best test possible, and the 7,157-yard course is undoubtedly more challenging than ever following recent changes.
A new back tee at the 14th, coupled with the greater protagonism given to the burn that crosses the fairway, has made that testing par-four an even tighter driving hole. An extension to the right side of the green at the punishing and iconic 17th ha also be welcomed by many.
"This is the biggest tournament that the club has ever hosted," said Co Sligo Captain Kevin Flanagan, who is proud to see Ruairi O'Connor and his eldest son Sean represent the host club this week.
"The course is fit for this type of championship. The views will catch the eye when the players come here first. It is a very fair course. There are no blind shots. The greens are not particularly sloped, and the rough is not particularly tough at the moment. I think approach shots will be the most important factor for the players."
Flogas Irish Amateur Open, County Sligo GC (Par 71)
07:00/11:13 P Connolly (Killeen Castle), L Hinton (Eng), A McCormack (Castletroy);
07:11/11:24 S Doyle (Black Bush), L Irvine (Sco), J Byrne (Baltinglass);
07:22/11:35 M Nolan (Dun Laoghaire), J Stokes (Eng), C Morris (Wal);
07:33/11:46 S Walsh (Portmarnock), S Turner (Eng), C Wilson (Can);
07:44/11:57 R Latimer (Knock), J Hawksby (Eng), J McCarthy (Grange);
07:55/12:08 R Dutton (Tandragee), J Fox (Portmarnock), C Barrow (Eng);
08:06/12:19 JG Cass (Eng), M Harris (Wal), R Williamson (Holywood);
08:17/12:30 J Walsh (Castle), K Murphy (Dun Laoghaire), S Desmond (Monkstown);
08:28/12:41 C Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire), R Black (Hilton Templepatrick), J Davies (Wal);
08:39/12:52 H Foley (Royal Dublin), B Firth (Eng), T O’Connor (Athlone);
08:50/13:03 A Marshall (Lisburn), J Biggs (Eng), D Reddan Jnr (Nenagh);
09:01/13:14 C Purcell (Portmarnock), M Honkala (Fin), M Hirmer (Ger);
09:12/13:25 C Strickland (Eng), R Mullarney (Galway), M Hammer (Ger);
09:23/13:36 A Hietala (Fin), T Vahlenkamp (Ger), J Sugrue (Mallow);
09:34/13:47 R Brazill (Naas), A Herrmann (Ger), C Knipes (Eng);
09:45/13:58 M Essam (Eng), M Naysmith (Sco), B Chamberlain (Wal);
09:56/14:09 M Herrmann (Ger), S Roger (Sco), W Dodds (Eng);
10:07/14:20 C Butler (Kinsale), O Brown (Wal), J Newton (Eng);
10:18/14:31 R Foley (Sui), J Pierse (Portmarnock), M Roberts (Wal);
10:29/14:42 E McCormack (Galway Bay), H Islam (Eng), A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire);
10:40/14:53 G Cullen (The Links Portmarnock), L Sanges (Wal), M Scowsill (Eng);
10:51/15:04 C Salter (Eng), J McDonnell (Forrest Little), D Kitt (Athenry);
11:02/15:15 J Whelan (Newlands), C Wilson (Sco), Z Karkaletsos (Eng);
11:24/07:00 G Dunne (Co. Louth), M Farr (Eng), M McClean (Malone);
11:35/07:11 L O’Neill (Connemara), H Goddard (Eng), E Smith (The Links Portmarnock);
11:46/07:22 R Muir (Sco), H Byers (Eng), R Lyons (Olympic);
11:57/07:33 R Moran (Castle), M Lamb (Eng), C Otten (Ger);
12:08/07:44 M Norton (Belvoir Park), R Cannon (Balbriggan), S Macpherson (Sco);
12:19/07:55 S Flanagan (Co. Sligo), D Langley (Eng), W Porter (Sco);
12:30/08:06 O Huggins (Eng), W Small (Tandragee), I Lynch (Rosslare);
12:41/08:17 G Burns (Sco), J Cooper (Eng), F Van Dijk (Ned);
12:52/08:28 J Bolton (Eng), C Campbell (Warrenpoint), K Egan (Carton House);
13:03/08:39 P Coughlan (Castleknock), D Antonisse (Ned), K Cantley (Sco);
13:14/08:50 M Markovits (Ned), G Collins (Rosslare), M Kennedy (Royal Dublin);
13:25/09:01 K Kouwenaar (Ned), M Power (Kilkenny), E Walker (Sco);
13:36/09:12 T McLarnon (Massereene), E McIntosh (Sco), J Burnage (Eng);
13:47/09:23 E Murphy (Dundalk), P O’Keeffe (Douglas), C Woollam (RSA);
13:58/09:34 B Dietzel (Ger), C Thornton (Eng), J Wright (Sco);
14:09/09:45 A Edwards-Hill (Eng), P McKeever (Castle), D Howie (Sco);
14:20/09:56 P Poate (USA), J Johnston (Sco), L Moolman (RSA);
14:31/10:07 J Hapgood (Wal), T Tetak (Svk), J McMahon (Eng);
14:42/10:18 J Hull (Eng), M McCormack (The Island), J Wilson (Sco);
14:53/10:29 R McNelis (Fintona), R O’Connor (Co. Sligo), L Owen (Eng);
15:04/10:40 D West (Eng), M Boucher (Carton House), J Temple (Portmarnock);
15:15/10:51 M McKinstry (Cairndhu), M Deasy (Lee Valley), J Rowe (Tandragee).