Dún Laoghaire's Alan Fahy survived a marathon 42-hole day to battle his way into Sunday's semi-finals of the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch.
Three down after nine holes of his weather-delayed second round overnight, he returned to the course at 7am and beat his room-mate, Carton House's Marc Boucher at the 20th, then followed a 4&3 win over Lisburn's Aaron Marshall in round three with a nervy one-hole win over 17-year-old Galgorm Castle starlet Josh Hill in the quarter-finals.
Munster Strokeplay champion in 2018 and a beaten semi-finalist in the Irish Close at Ballybunion in 2019, the 23-year old Bray native now faces a semi-final showdown Enniscorthy's Paul Conroy (21), the University of Tennessee star who followed a 4&3 win over international Matthew McClean from Malone with a 4&2 win over Laytown and Bettystown's reigning Connacht Strokeplay and North of Ireland champion Alex Maguire.
“I can’t even remember half the matches now,” an exhausted Fahy said. “I thought I was gone against Marc when he had a 10-footer for it on the 19th but just missed and I made a nine-footer for the half and managed to get the win on the 20th. It was a stressful day.
“I’ll just chill out now. I know Paul well and it will be a good match tomorrow. But the South is huge. It’s probably the biggest of the championships so just to have a chance of winning tomorrow and to get into the final is a great opportunity. Anything can happen in match play.
“It was neck and neck with Josh. I went two down after eight, and my trolley battery had just died, and I had to carry my bag for a few holes until the club came and gave me a new trolley. Then his battery went, but they looked after us very well.”
Fahy won the 11th, 12th and 13th to turn the match around but had to get up and down from the swale left of the 18th for par and victory after driving into sand and tugging his third with a wedge.
“Similar to the match with Marc, I clawed a few holes back and managed to get over the line,” added Fahy, who graduated from Maynooth University last year and is now gunning for a spot on the team for the Home Internationals from September 14th-15th. “I don’t know how I managed to get that chip to three feet.”
Fahy faces a tough match with Enniscorthy’s Conroy, who is looking to become the first man from the Wexford club to win the historic title.
“It feels good”, Conroy said after his win over Maguire. “I played well all day and limited the mistakes. I made a few birdies to start each match and finished solid.
“Alex was playing unreal. He didn’t do much wrong. If he started a little better and holed a few putts, it could have gone either way.
“I don’t think anyone from Enniscorthy has ever won the South, so it’ll be great to add my name to the trophy.”
At the top of the draw, Co Sligo's TJ Ford won the 18th with a par and then beat Royal Dublin's Richard Knightly with a birdie at the 20th to set up a semi-final meeting with Fortwilliam's Hugh O'Hare, who was a 4&2 winner of Portumna's Sam Murphy.
Knightly took two huge scalps when he followed Friday's win over Irish Close champion Hugh Foley with a one-hole win over another clubmate in leading qualifier Max Kennedy.
The Dubliner (33) had chances to go two-up several times on the back nine but missed from 10 feet for birdie at the 11th, saw Ford salvage an unlikely half in par at the 12th and then three-putted for a half in bogey at the 13th where his opponent was in the Mine.
He then left 20-footers for birdie short in the jaws at the 16th and 17th.
He was one-up playing the 18th, but with Ford only able to hack his second further up the right rough, he feared he could still make birdie and tugged his 2-iron a touch and was unfortunate it hurdled the bunker and ended up right against the stone boundary wall next to the Liscannor Road.
Ford (24) found the front edge in three, but while Knightly eventually ricocheted his third off the wall into the swale, his chip was too strong, and he missed a 15-footer for par and victory.
He had another chance from eight or nine feet at the 19th for a winning birdie but hit a tentative putt that came up short before a bunkered drive saw him lose the 20th to Ford’s birdie four.
Knightly was left to second guess his short selection to the 18th, but Ford was thrilled to win after hitting a stellar 180-yard seven-iron downwind approach from a tough lie in the right rough that clear the left bunker and finished almost pin high on the apron on the left from where he two-putted, making a five-footer for birdie and victory.
“I presumed I needed to make birdie on 18,” said Ford, who was suffering from blistered feet at the finish. “Richard was really unlucky with his second shot, to finish up where it was. I’m just delighted to be able to capitalise.
“I don’t even have a spare T-shirt for tomorrow. I’ve played each game to see how it comes, and thankfully I’m still going.
“I haven’t even looked at the draw. I’ve been just trying to take it as it comes. The third round is as far as I’ve gone. Today was a really good game, and I was behind the whole way and just trying to stay in it. The shot on the 20th was a bit of a Hail Mary, but it worked out. I’ve never won anything, but I won five out of six in the interpros last year, so I feel like I can do okay.”
O'Hare (22) has been playing alongside John Murphy and Matthias Schmid, the recent silver medallist at the British Open, at the University of Louisville, where Kennedy is also on the team.
Playing at that standard has worked wonders for his game, and he is looking now to go all the way, having fallen in the early rounds in his previous visits to Lahinch.
“It’s an experience that makes you grow up,” the Belfast man said of US collegiate golf. “It opens your eyes to what really good golf is and makes you constantly strive to get better and not settle. Looking at John and Matthias and other lads, you try to learn a thing or two.
“I’m going to the sea to recover, but I’ll be on cloud nine tomorrow on the first tee. I’ve ignored the draw and just taken each game as it comes. I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
South of Ireland Amateur Open (sponsored by Pierse Motors Volkswagen)
Third round: R Knightly (Royal Dublin) bt M Kennedy (Royal Dublin) 1 hole; TJ Ford (Co Sligo) bt K Murphy (Arklow) 3/2; S Murphy (Portumna) bt D Marshall Jnr (Naas) 5&4; H O'Hare (Fortwilliam) bt J Hood (Galgorm Castle) 5&4; A Maguire (Laytown & Bettystown) bt J Doherty (Carton House) 3&2; P Conroy (Enniscorthy) bt M McClean (Malone) 4&3; J Hill (Galgorm Castle) bt P O'Keeffe (Douglas) 3&2; A Fahy (Dún Laoghaire) bt A Marshall (Lisburn) 4&3.
Quarter-finals: TJ Ford (Co Sligo) bt R Knightly (Royal Dublin) 20th; H O'Hare (Fortwilliam) bt S Murphy (Portumna) 4&2; P Conroy (Enniscorthy) bt A Maguire (Laytown & Bettystown) 4&2; A Fahy (Dún Laoghaire) bt J Hill (Galgorm Castle) 1 hole.
Sunday, Semi-finals: (0830) TJ Ford (Co Sligo) v H O'Hare (Fortwilliam); (0845) P Conroy (Enniscorthy) v A Fahy (Dün Laoghaire). Final: 2.0