O’Hara keeps Kilkenny flag flying as he marches into South of Ireland Championship semi-final
34-year-old faces student Ryan McKinstry as he bids for ‘dream’ final
South of Ireland semi-finalist Paul O’Hara played on a south Kilkenny team with the great Henry Shefflin – ‘That was many moons ago and I doubt he’d remember’. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Kilkenny might have relinquished their All-Ireland hurling title but the pain of Sunday will ease considerably for Paul O’Hara if he can come through to win the South of Ireland Amateur Open at storied Lahinch.
The 34-year old, who limits his top flight golf to “a couple of scratch cups” and the annual pilgrimage to “the South”, beat Warrenpoint’s Stephen Coulter 2 and 1 before dispatching former international Nicky Grant of Knock 3 and 2 to set up a semi-final showdown with 20-year old Queen’s University student Ryan McKinstry at the magnificently prepared Co Clare links today.
If he wins that, he will take on 19-year old Alex Gleeson of Castle or 2006 champion Simon Ward of Co Louth in the final and has no problem admitting that winning the title would be beyond his “wildest dreams”.
“This is rarified air,” he said after playing steady golf to beat Grant, who won the Interprovincial Championship with Ulster just last week.
“This is unbelievable. I always knew I could play but to keep your head in this company and just believe in yourself is what is needed.”
A “service rep” for Heineken, his day job is all about quality control and he has certainly showed plenty of it this week, building on a recent victory in the Kilkenny Senior Scratch Cup to see of former international Grant at the 16th.
Birdies at the 12th and 13th put him four up and while Grant pulled back a hole at the 15th, he could not birdie the 16th from 30 feet and had no complaints, having failed to putt well or strike the ball with any kind of consistency.
Revealing he might never have taken up the game at the age of 15 had a pitch and putt course not been built near the local hurling pitch, O’Hara’s love of golf is hurling’s loss as he played alongside Henry Shefflin in a south Kilkenny team.
“That was many moons ago and I doubt he’d remember,” O’Hara said with a grin.
Two more wins would certainly consign that hurling memory to history for O’Hara but first he must beat Cairndhu’s McKinstry.
The 20-year old pharmacy student beat Royal Dublin’s Seán Ryan by two holes before being taken to the 23rd – The Dell – by Rathmore’s Ben Best, where he won with a par three.
The other semi-final promises to be a high quality affair, with former Boys star Gleeson celebrating his Lahinch debut in impressive fashion.
“It’s my first year in men’s golf and it’s been a huge step up,” said the Dubliner, who won the Connacht, Ulster and Irish Under 15s titles in 2009 before going to earn Jacque Leglise honours for Britain and Ireland at Portmarnock last year.
Armed with a two-ball putter supplied by his uncle and caddie John Gleeson after the third round, he beat Shannon’s Ed Hickey 5 and 4 before edging out Royal Dublin’s Bryan McSweeney 2 and 1.
‘Down to the putter’
“I was playing well coming in and hoping to do well but it’s all down to the putter,” Gleeson said. “I couldn’t putt the first two days, but I’ve holed everything since I put it in the bag.”
He will certainly need his A game against 26-year old Ward, who plans to turn professional in September. The Carrickmacross native brilliantly birdied the 15th and took the 16th in par to go two up against last year’s runner-up Stephen Healy and then held on to win by one hole as the Claremorris man closed with two brave but ultimately fruitless birdies.