Kinsale's John Murphy put months of frustration behind him when he ground out a memorable one-shot win in the Sherry Fitzgerald Davitt & Davitt sponsored Mullingar Scratch Trophy.
The 21-year old international won the St Andrews Links Trophy last year and represented Ireland in the Eisenhower Trophy.
But after a disappointing season, he put a summer of discontent behind him in Mullingar, closing with a brace of two-under par 70s to win by the minimum from Malone’s Matthew McClean on seven-under 281.
He was two shots behind McClean overnight and still two shots behind the Ulsterman with 18 holes to go, tied for second with Co Louth’s Gerard Dunne, who would finish tied fifth after a tournament-wrecking triple bogey at the 16th.
"I am relieved more than anything," said Murphy after joining major champions Shane Lowry, Rory McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke on the list of winners in Mullingar.
"There are a lot of great names in that trophy, and it’s nice to get my name on there. I am relieved more than anything. I was very close to not coming here and getting a bit sick of golf, so it was nice to come and prove a point this week.
“It’s been a tough season, and while I kept plugging away, things weren’t happening for me. I am heading back to Louisville next Saturday so I said I’d give it one more crack instead of just throwing in the towel on the summer. I am very relieved with this one.
“I came back [from the US] with the same mindset as last summer where I had a great summer but golf works in funny ways. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
“I got off to a bad start and never really got it going and I continued to lose confidence as time went on. I knew I was playing just as well as last year, I just wasn’t showing it and hitting the wrong shot at the wrong time. I feel like it is coming back thankfully and holing a few putts at the right time. It feels good.”
While he was still trailing coming down the stretch, the University of Louisville star remained patient and sandwiched a two at the 15th between birdies at the par-five 14th and 16th to lead by one stroke in what was a tense final round battle characterised by a string of near misses by the final three-ball.
“Things were switching all day,” Murphy said. “There were times when Ger was three ahead, and Matt was three ahead. I was never ahead. I just stayed patient and waited for a few putts to drop and made three birdies in a row on the back nine there to get ahead for the first time and just held on to it coming in.”
When McClean made a 40 footer at the 11th to get to two clear of Murphy and Dunne on seven-under, he could not keep it going and will rue found missed putts inside six feet on the last seven greens alone.
He missed a four footer for par at the 12th to lead by just one from Murphy and two from the Co Louth man and then missed another four footer for birdie at the 14th to find himself tied with Murphy, just one clear of Dunne and Colm Campbell.
Murphy then birdied the 15th from around eight feet and McClean could not follow him in from around six feet, falling one behind.
”It was a matchplay situation where I made and he missed,” Murphy said of his birdie at the 15th, which gave him the lead for the first time.
Dunne has had little experience of winning at the top level and while he has shown signs in recent seasons that he is getting closer to a major win, he found the closing stretch a test.
Having bogeyed the 10th and 12th, his chance eventually evaporated at the 16th, where he drove into sand and going for broke, carved his second out of bounds right, eventually running up a triple bogey eight.
McClean played a magnificent second that came in from the left and finished 12 feet above the hole at the iconic par-five. But he could not make the eagle putt and Murphy matched his birdie, two putting from long range to remain one ahead.
The Kinsale man looked set to take a one-shot lead to the 18th when he opted not to flirt with the out of bounds right of the 17th and blasted his drive left over the trees, leaving him a short second to the green. albeit over more trees.
But he three-putted for bogey, missing a three footer, to go to the par-five 18th tied for the lead with the Malone man on seven-under.
“I don’t know the line with driver and it paid off even though I three-putted there this afternoon,” Murphy said. “Thankfully it didn’t cost me in the end.”
McClean found the 18th fairway but while Murphy was in the left rough, he hit a poor iron that finished in the water hazard short right of the green, then missed a three footer for par to force a playoff after Murphy had sensibly laid up from the left rough but missed from eight feet for birdie.
“I didn’t know if he was in the water or not on 18 and my ball was lying nicely,” Murphy said. “So while it was the time to pull off an incredible shot, I would have felt very stupid if he was in the water and I followed him in after.
“I knew it was going to be an easy pitch shot with the backstop if I left it 50 yards short of the green and that’s what I did. I played a good pitch and hit a good putt but just misread it. I played too much break.
“Matthew had a chance to force a playoff, but it was like that all day. It was a dogfight, and we took some chances and missed others. Thankfully I just managed to come out ahead at the end.”
Warrenpoint’s Colm Campbell drew on all his experience and shot a final round 69 to finish third on five-under to clinch third place in the season-long Bridgestone Order of Merit race to claim one of three automatic spots in the Irish team for next month’s Home Internationals at Lahinch.
He was out of the game for 18 months after incurring a hand injury in 2017 and understandably delighted to confirm his return to the Irish set-up yesterday.
A McClean win would have endangered his challenge for third in the points race but he shut the door by playing the back nine in three-under 34.
“I’m delighted to get the job done today because I was kind of behind Matt going into the final round so it was nice to clip in a nice round and get the job done,” Campbell said after a 69 left him two shots behind Murphy on five-under but third in the points list ahead of McClean.
Another Kinsale man, Cathal Butler, celebrated his call up for Munster last week with an excellent fourth place finish on three-under by following a third round 71 with a closing 69.
Naas’ Robert Brazill made eagles at the 14th and 16th to tie for 11th on level par to edge out the absent Irish Close champion Ronan Mullarney for the season-long Bridgestone title and secure his first cap.
The new Order of Merit system is undoubtedly one of the most successful innovations introduced by the GUI in recent years.
“It gives the guys that are not able to get across the water to play championships with work commitments a chance,” Campbell said. “It’s a very fair system because if you play well in a championship here you get rewarded and you pick up valuable Bridgestone Order of Merit points.
“It’s a very fair system, nobody can have any qualms about it. It gives everybody an opportunity of getting into the top three and being selected on their own merit for the Home Internationals. I think it’s the only fair way of doing it.”
The Irish team will be selected about the Interprovincials Matches, scheduled for Tullamore from August 28-30.
With Murphy and Kilkenny’s Mark Power unavailable due to college commitments, the 11-man line up will feature some new faces.
Irish Close champion Mullarney, Bridgestone winner Brazill and Campbell and guaranteed their places with Amateur champion James Sugrue and fellow Walker Cup hopefuls Conor Purcell and Caolan Rafferty certain selections and Peter O’Keeffe and Tiarnan McLarnon also highly unlikely to miss out.
The other three places will give the selectors some headaches with the likes of Rowan Lester and Robbie Cannon under pressure from McClean, Sean Flanagan, Keith Egan, Tom McKibbin and Eanna Griffin, to name just five.
Mullingar Scratch Trophy, sponsored by Sherry Fitzgerald Davitt & Davitt, Mullingar GC (Par 72)
281 J Murphy (Kinsale) 70 71 70 70;
282 M McClean (Malone) 70 69 70 73;
283 C Campbell (Warrenpoint) 69 74 71 69;
285 C Butler (Kinsale) 71 74 71 69;
286 G Dunne (Co. Louth) 73 68 70 75, R Williamson (Holywood) 70 74 72 70;
287 D Morley (Oughterard) 73 70 72 72, T McLarnon (Massereene) 72 73 73 69, K Egan (Carton House) 72 72 72 71, J McDonnell (Forrest Little) 70 73 70 74;
288 R Brazill (Naas) 72 74 70 72, A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire) 72 73 72 71, D Flynn (Carton House) 71 76 73 68, P Coughlan (Castleknock) 70 73 71 74;
289 P O' Keeffe (Douglas) 76 73 70 70, H Foley (Royal Dublin) 73 72 69 75;
290 M Boucher (Carton House) 78 68 72 72, L Grehan (Mullingar) 71 76 72 71;
291 R Moran (Castle) 71 75 71 74;
293 E O'Brien (Clontarf) 74 72 72 75, T Dowdall (Woodbrook) 69 76 75 73;
294 T Mulligan (Laytown & Bettystown) 74 74 72 74, D Marshall (Naas) 73 77 73 71, M Kennedy (Royal Dublin) 72 76 74 72, C Denvir (Elm Park) 72 75 73 74, J Hood (Galgorm Castle) 70 75 75 74;
295 P McKeever (Castle) 72 74 74 75;
296 E Griffin (Waterford) 76 74 71 75, G Carr (Mullingar) 76 74 70 76, R Latimer (Knock) 75 76 73 72, O Devereux (Carton House) 74 74 73 75, J Blake (Island) 71 79 74 72;
297 E Farrell (Ardee) 78 74 70 75, D Reddan Jnr (Nenagh) 75 78 72 72, G Lenehan (Portmarnock) 75 72 76 74, W Small (Tandragee) 74 75 74 74;
298 P Murphy (Rosslare) 80 72 71 75, I Lynch (Rosslare) 76 74 73 75, R Clarke (Island) 74 76 74 74;
300 C Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire) 81 71 75 73, M McCormack (Island/Moss Creek) 77 74 75 74;
304 H Gillivan (Westport) 78 75 80 71, A Doran (Co. Louth) 77 72 78 77;
305 S O'Brien (Nenagh) 73 77 78 77;
307 A Lowry (Esker Hills) 77 75 77 78, C Boggan (Rathcore) 76 74 73 84;
310 J Temple (Portmarnock) 74 79 78 79;
318 J Greene (Portmarnock) 75 77 90 76;
RTD 222 A Grant (Dundalk) 77 73 72;
NS 149 D McCormack (Roganstown) 77 72;
RTD 153 J Swarbrigg (Mullingar) 77 76.