Robert Brazill’s stock seven-iron soars 180 yards with ease but he’s loving being asked to drill it 110-yards into a 50 kmph Ballybunion breeze as he seeks the perfect climax to a brilliant season in the AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship
The powerful 22-year-old Naas star has no compunction about pulling out the driver at every opportunity, even if it means aiming 60 yards away from his intended target.
But he is also loving the challenge of what leading qualifier and title favourite Ronan Mullarney calls “ground hurling” as the winds continue to battle the fabled old course.
“It’s how many good shots you can hit,” Brazill said after following a two-hole win over Oughterard’s Devin Morley with a hard-fought 4&2 victory over Kinsale’s Cathal Butler. “It’s about how many fun shots you can play. Imagination plays a huge part here
“I hit a seven iron from 110 yards today whereas that's usually a sand wedge. You have to keep it as close to the ground as possible.”
Brazill is on target to top the Bridgestone Order of Merit which will award caps to the top three point winners following next weekend’s final counting Mullingar Scratch Trophy.
But he wants to seal his first Irish cap with a win, insisting: “I'd love to win this.”
He faces a tough semi-final showdown with 2018 Munster Strokeplay winner Alan Fahy from Dun Laoghaire, who beat the up and coming Eoin Murphy 3&1 by slowing down his tempo to deal with the conditions and a late comeback by the rising Dundalk star.
But it will be equally tough for Mullarney against 18-year old Elm Park talent Charlie Denvir in the other semi-final.
One down with one to play, the former Boys international almost drove the downwind 18th and won it with a conceded birdie three before breaking Ballybunion hearts by drilling home a 12 footer for another birdie at the 19th to beat the home hope Edward Stack and make the last four.
“A few roars out there were nearly like it was an All Ireland Football Final for Kerry, but I was focused on my own game,” Denvir said of his win over the 30-year old local man. “I enjoyed the challenge.”
Stack had his chances but after taking a four iron instead of a five on the 18th tee, he drove into the waste area they call the Sahara, came up short in two and then saw his chip peel left and down into a swale before bowing out to Denvir’s textbook birdie three on the 19th.
“I am disappointed but also thrilled to have gone so far,” Stack said. “I have been looking forward to this since it was announced a few years ago. Even to get into the tournament was a thrill. I am disappointed to lose but. He's a great player and a fantastic ball striker. One for the future.”
Denvir cruised to a wire-to-wire, eight-stroke win in the Connacht Boys at Galway Bay two years ago and could prove a handful for the relentless Mullarney, who went beyond the 15th for the first time all week when Co Sligo’s Sean Flanagan took him to the last in a nip-and-tuck affair.
“This is my best run ever I'd say in any match play competition,” Denvir said. “Expectations are not as high as normal because I'm just after finishing the Leaving.
“I’ll be the underdog anyway. If I get something going with the putter again, I might be able to cause a bit of an upset.”
Mullarney beat Mountrath’s Niall Hearns 5&4 before his razor sharp short game proved the difference against close pal Flanagan.
The Galway man won the 16th with a two-putt birdie and while he missed a four footer for the match at the 17th, he closed out a two-holes win with a magical chip to three feet at the 18th.
While he does not believe that the tough conditions favour anyone, he knows he has answers to the questions posed by Ballybunion in the wind.
“It's brilliant,” said Mullarney, who made his international debut last year but still yearns for that maiden Championship win.
“I love the course. It was completely different to what I expected but in a good way. It is quirky and punishing. But it is good. You are not going to get away with bad shots.”
Against Flanagan — a close friend since he was 13 — the was never more than a hole in it until the every end.
“I holed a couple of mid-range putts to keep it at one hole and Sean holed a couple at the start to keep the match all square,” he said. “We were going at each other all day. It was a great game.”
He took the lead with two-putt birdie at the 16th but after missing a short par putt to claim the match at the next, Mullarney did not panic.
“I just thought: ‘Put a good swing on it going up 18.’ It came out like a rocket and I hit in the bunker. That putt on 17, I didn’t think it was possible but I misread a three footer. I hit a decent putt there but it didn’t move.
“I think it’s nearly an advantage to know your opponent. I’d say we’ve played each other four times and Sean has handed me two holes. It’s always a tight match. It’s always a good match. Any time Sean doesn’t do well, I never understand it. He doesn’t really hit bad shots.
“16 was big. Sean’s ball nearly stayed up on the green, came down and left him with an awkward chip. I was about 30 feet, pin high up the hill so nice two putt.
“On those holes where he can get it near the green, I’ll play to a certain yardage. I know my yardages really well so If I can play to a yardage I like, I’m happy enough. I’m comfortable there.
“I’m quite golf smart. I know my game quite well, I suppose I have to. I kind of pick my way around the golf course rather than bomb it.”
Set to explore uncharted territory against Denvir, the winner will play Brazill or Fahy and neither man is afraid to make birdies.
Fahy had a wonderful 2018 season, winning the Munster Strokeplay title. But while 2019 has been disappointing and he was forced to withdraw from the South of Ireland Championship due to the death of his maternal grandmother, he sees this week as a chance to draw something positive from a forgettable year.
“I am happy to be back playing half decent,” the 21-year-old, a final year Geography student at Maynooth University, said afterwards. “I was up all the way this morning and only won on the last. But with the wind, I just slowed my tempo down a good bit and I have been striking it pretty well and hitting a lot of good shots in the strong wind.
“I was one down after 2 to Eoin but after that I birdied 11 to go 4 up and he won three holes in a row from the 13th to get back to one down then he lost a ball on 16 left and I was on in two. We scrapped it up 17 and I got the win.”
He has fond memories of facing Brazill in the North two years ago, winning on the 18th in the first round.
“I barely remember beating him in the North but I know it's going to be a really tough game and I am going to have to play really well to win,” he said. “I just need to play well. That's the bottom line. I'd love to do well and get something out of the season.”
Brazill remembers that loss at Royal Portrush well and having tasted championship success at Rosses Point last year, he wants more so he can eventually turn professional feeling like a winner.
“I just need to put it all together and keep myself happy on the golf course,” Brazill said. “I won't go [pro] until I am ready, So I’ll try and win a couple of championships before I do that. It gives you an extra lift.
“Every championship is on my radar and is the last of the big six, and I'd love to win this. It would be massive to win this. It would be nice to call yourself an Irish champion.”
AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship, Ballybunion GC
Semi-finals - August 7
0845 R Mullarney (Galway) v C Denvir (Elm Park)
0900 R Brazill (Naas) v A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire)
Quarter-finals - August 6
R Mullarney (Galway) bt S Flanagan (Portmarnock) 2 holes
C Denvir (Elm Park) bt E Stack (Ballybunion) 19th
R Brazill (Naas) bt C Butler (Kinsale) 4&2
A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire) bt E Murphy (Dundalk) 3&1.
Third round - August 6
R Mullarney (Galway) bt N Hearns (Mountrath) 5&4;
S Flanagan (Portmarnock) bt TJ Ford (Co. Sligo) 2&1;
E Stack (Ballybunion) bt R Knightly (Royal Dublin) 2&1;
C Denvir (Elm Park) bt G O'Mahony (Fota Island) 6&5;
C Butler (Kinsale) bt S Walsh (Portmarnock) 2&1;
R Brazill (Naas) bt D Morley (Oughterard) 2 holes;
E Murphy (Dundalk) bt C Campbell (Warrenpoint) 4&3;
A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire) bt E Farrell (Ardee) 2 holes