AFTER their respective victories in Tullamore at the National Gents Strokeplay Championship, Communications & Press Officer Jason O’Connor spoke with the three Champions from both Saturday and Sunday.
Liam O’Donovan (Bruff, Senior)
A RECORD breaking day on Sunday saw Liam O’Donovan leave the field in his wake with a new lowest score for a 54 hole National Strokeplay Championship. While his victory in Stackallen two years ago might been one about steel and resolve with the tightness of the finish this was about the Bruff player’s skill as he had seven shots to spare over his nearest challenger. His ambitions were pretty modest though in advance of Sunday.
“I was just thinking about making the cut really. I don’t have a great track record of scoring around Tullamore so I had no major expectations. When I saw the course I was thinking somewhere around 29 or 30 under would be needed by anyone who wanted to win it,” the now three time Donnelly Cup winner said. Being out in the first session gave him the opportunity to set the tempo and he duly did in firing that opening 36 of 22 under par with Liam pinpointing the final two holes of his first 18 as being key to gathering momentum for the second 18. “I was seven under after 16 and managed to birdie 17 and 18 to move to nine and I felt I could take on the course a bit more in the second round. To get 13 (under for second round) was magnificent and it was a nice way of putting everyone else under pressure knowing they couldn’t afford any mistakes if they wanted to get near me,” he said.
Even with a four shot lead he still was conscious of a 12 under par score from one of his nearest challengers putting them within reach on the magic 30 under. However a hole-in-one early in the playoff only made his vice like grip on proceedings even more apparent. “When you are leading you don’t want a slow start to the final 18 because you are going back to the field otherwise and getting jittery. That hole-in-one (on the third) and the chip-in at the sixth for birdie really settled me and made me believe I could go on and do even better than 30,” 32 under will be the new iconic score for future National Strokeplays but in terms of the personal honour of being a three time winner (alongside Sean Downes, Ray Murphy and John Walsh) he is pretty proud of the feat. “When you win your first national you do wonder were you lucky but the ones that follow are always the ones that reinforce just how good you can be on your day. I was happy with how I was playing this year even if I had a bad day in St Annes at the Munster Strokeplay. The few Scratch Cups I had won kept my confidence up and allowed me to achieve what I did today,” the Bruff player feels.
He was full of praise for Tullamore in their efforts in getting the course ready as his attention now turns to putting on the county colours with Limerick in Tramore (Munster) and RGSC (National). “I thought Tullamore had the place in great shape for the amount of time they had to get ready. With all the work that goes in with hosting nationals now it amazes me how clubs keeping working so hard in advance to get their course for these events because it is far from easy. In terms of Limerick, I would be hopeful that we can do well this year. We have some great players in contention and I don’t think we’re too far away from landing a big one.”
In the meantime O’Donovan can savour being Irish and European Strokeplay Champion at the same time.
Dayle Donohoe (St Patricks- Intermediate)
FOLLOWING his surprise run to the National Matchplay Final in Seapoint, Dayle Donohoe was the name on everyone’s lips when it came to this year’s Intermediate Strokeplay events. It didn’t quite work out for him at the Leinsters in Collinstown as he missed out on a medal but he lived up to most pundits expectations in Tullamore by going on to record a 54 hole total of 21 under par for a narrow one shot victory over a man with St Patricks connections himself in Inniskeen’s Michael Vaughan. Dayle reflected on what has been a magnificent two months for him since breaking through the glass ceiling in Seapoint.
“I had no major expectations going up to Seapoint for the Matchplay. In truth I was lucky to win my First Round game and it was something that grew from there. I liked Seapoint because it was a course you didn’t have to worry too much about the ball spinning with the wind there. Probably the win I had over Mark Millar in the semi-finals was the most satisfying performance of the weekend for me but in Collinstown the soft greens and the weather didn’t suit me as it forced me to deviate from my usual game,” Donohoe said of the period up to last Saturday. The quickness of the greens in Tullamore was something that appealed to him however. “I had four practice rounds there and it struck me how fast they were. I had five under for my first round so I knew I needed to do something better in the second 18 with the way the course was. I was delighted to get seven of the first nine in the second round and 15 was a good target to set,” he said.
Leading Castleisland’s James Dignan by two after 36 it would be Vaughan who would emerge as his big challenger in the playoff and Dayle pinpointed some early birdies in the last round as key to his win. “I knew I had to make whoever wanted to challenge me earn it but I was in a bit of trouble on 16 and managed to make a huge par to keep me in front on Michael and going down the last knowing you only need a par to win is a good feeling to have,” the St Patricks clubman said. Dayle is a keen golfer playing off scratch and also having competed in the West and South of Ireland Championships as well as playing for Leinster in Wales. He is happy to have returned to Pitch & Putt for 2016 however.
“Coming back is probably the best thing I could have done in terms of improving me competitively. I do intend to go back playing golf but I’m enjoying the competitive aspect of Pitch & Putt that I find myself in at the moment,” he said. How Donohoe got in to Pitch & Putt owes much to the late Tommy Foley and PPUI President Mervyn Cooney’s guidance with the lessons given to the U-16’s in Enniscorthy growing up as well as some encouragement from his father Maurice. Receiving the Cup off Mervyn on Saturday evening was a special feeling for Dayle. “He’s done so much for the club in keeping it going that it’s only fitting that he was the one to present it to me. Kevin Doyle getting third was a great showing for the club as well and Paul and Martin O’Neill have been a great encouragement to me as well,” the new Intermediate Champion said.
Dayle will get the best of both worlds in the Inter-Counties representing Wexford at the top level in the National at RGSC while also playing with the county’s Intermediate team in the Leinsters at McDonagh.
Ashley Lowry (Tullamore- Junior Winner)
IT might have taken a chance meeting with the Club Chairman to convince him to come back but Ashley Lowry is glad that he took the opportunity to come back to Pitch & Putt and erase the memory of a pretty crushing experience in a previous National Strokeplay Championship. Ashley was in contention in the Intermediate event in Tralee back in 2009 before dropping out of the reckoning, an experience he admits he took pretty badly. “I went away from the game afterwards and couldn’t contemplate picking up a club again after things going wrong for me in Tralee that year. Earlier this year I bumped into Darren (O’Connell) and he told me the Nationals were coming here so I decided to give it another go,” he said of his decision to come back.
Having won a Leinster 10-13 Strokeplay title as a Juvenile a decade ago, Ashley had some form in the winners’ enclosure but despite qualifying comfortably from Ferbane to make it to the Finals, Lowry still found himself having to wrestle with some demons on Saturday. “I was pretty disappointed to only shoot four under for the first 36 and I had to be given some encouragement for the playoff with the way I was feeling. I hadn’t birdied any of the first six holes in the first 36 and that was getting me down so to birdie the first two holes in the playoff did a lot for my confidence,” he said of the build-up to a winning climax. Moving to eight under after nine holes had him right in the thick of it and moving to 11 under and a share of the lead left him with the chance to take control on 17. “That birdie put me ahead going onto the last and all I wanted was a par on 18 when I saw the way the other scores were shaping up. I played safe with the putt for birdie and got the par I needed thankfully,” Ashley said.
After his 12 under total was confirmed as the winning total ahead of a trio of club-mate John Connolly, St Patricks’ Glenn Fortune and Collinstown’s Stephen Harte, Ashley admitted to being a bit overwhelmed by the amount of congratulations he received afterwards. “I did get teary eyed a bit with the amount of people who came up to me. I can’t thank the people in the club enough for the support that they have given me. It was a bit difficult when you beat a club-mate to win it but in fairness to John I’m delighted he managed to get second for the amount of practice he put in beforehand,” he said of the runner-up. While he won’t be lining up in the Offaly colours in the Inter-County he will be hoping to take confidence from the win ahead of Tullamore’s Inter/Junior conclusion to their Inter-Club campaign and also to Singles level as an Intermediate in future years. Ashley returns to the Club Chairman for his final thoughts on his victory.
“Although he did get help, Darren put so much time into getting the course ready for the weekend that he deserves much of the great for the condition of the course. He was up here so many evenings in the build-up working away it was amazing.”
Tomorrow: We speak to the winners of the National Ladies Strokeplay Championships from St Stephens two weeks ago.
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