Former Waterford hurler Paul Flynn prepares to do battle in West of Ireland
Opening tee shot falls to schoolboy Charles McGoldrick Jnr
Former Waterford hurler Paul Flynn who tees up in the West of Ireland Championship today.
The big guns have gathered in the shadow of mighty Ben Bulben for the 91st staging of the Radisson Blu West of Ireland Championship.
But while silverware and potential Walker Cup appearances are on the minds of Ireland’s top internationals, two men make their championship debuts at Rosses Point simply happy to tee it up in such illustrious company – 17-year-old qualifier Charles McGoldrick Jnr from Enniscrone and former Waterford hurler Paul Flynn.
The opening tee shot falls to schoolboy McGoldrick, who was one of three players to emerge from the inaugural, 18-hole pre-qualifier on Wednesday and make a 123-strong field that is the strongest in the history of the event.
The son of the late and highly-popular Enniscrone professional Charlie McGoldrick, who passed away at the age of 52 less than two years ago, the 4.7 handicapper is the highest handicapper in the field by a long way having only made it into the qualifier as a reserve.
So strong is the entry for this year’s West that the handicap cut-off fell at an all-time low of 0.0, meaning that McGoldrick needed a spate of withdrawals just to make the 67-strong field for Wednesday's qualifier, where he and County Sligo’s Shane Underwood and Cairndhu’s Stephen Watts shot two-over 73s to earn their places on the first tee at 7am today.
The objective after two rounds of strokeplay is to make the top 64 who will do battle in Sunday’s first round of matchplay.
And while that’s the big goal for former Waterford hurler Flynn, he just wants to enjoy the experience when he takes on a pristine Co Sligo venue in his first amateur “major”, having got his handicap down to plus 0.1 at Tramore.
The 38-year-old won three Munster titles as a left-wing forward with the Decies and played at all the great GAA venues before that 2008 All-Ireland final defeat to mighty Kilkenny at Croke Park brought the curtain down on a fine career.
“I’ve never been to Rosses Point before so I’m hoping that ignorance might help,” joked Flynn, who won a Munster Senior Cup pennant with Tramore last season. “I’ve heard so much about Rosses Point and I’m really looking forward to it. Fingers crossed I am still talking as positively about it next Monday because it’s going to be cold and very challenging.”
Having played top-flight hurling for 15 years and even one season in goal for League of Ireland side Waterford United before that, Flynn is not sure that his vast experience in the top echelons of sport will stand to him when he rubs shoulders with the best golfers in the country. “I had some idea what I was doing with the hurling but it wasn’t as tough mentally as golf,” he said.
With the exception of British amateur champion Alan Dunbar, who is preparing for the Masters, all the leading Irish internationals are taking part, headed by plus-five handicapper Richard O’Donovan from Lucan.
There are no fewer than 89 players off plus one or better but all eyes will be on the likes of Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy, Headfort’s Rory McNamara, Claremorris’ Stephen Healy, who lost to Harry Diamond in last year’s final, and Mourne’s Reeve Whitson, the recently crowned Spanish Amateur Open champion.
The 21-year old son of long-serving Royal County Down professional Kevan, Whitson has set his sights on making September's Walker Cup side. “I had two goals at the beginning of the season, to win and to make the Walker Cup team,” Whitson said. “Now that I’ve got the win, it’s all about trying to make that team.”