Facial expressions drawn in a rictus of anxiety, caught in no man’s land between grimace and grin. Divots that would dress a small child fly in all directions amid a flurry of last-minute practice swings.
The moment arrives and the inevitable can no longer be postponed, as players try and manoeuvre themselves into the least uncomfortable position and let fly. Welcome to the first tee of the Pierce Purcell Shield semi-finals at Carton House.
Unlike all the other competitions at the AIG-sponsored All Ireland Cups and Shields, the Pierce Purcell (foursome competition with a combined handicap of 27 between two players) best represents the majority of amateur club golfers in Ireland. The participants must play the course, their opponents but more often than not against themselves, which is perhaps the fiercest contest of the three.
Sharing the stress with a caddie and a playing partner – it’s a Foursomes format – alleviates some of the tension but the flipside is no golfer sees more on the course than the higher handicapper; the water, the bunker, the trees and the out of bounds.
The spectrum of shots is enormous from duff to the delightful and all swings in between an inconsistency that enhances rather than diminishes the spectacle; one less in strokeplay is the only number that matters.
Thurles and Royal Curragh will contest today's final after narrow 3-2 victories over Portumna and Moyola Park respectively. John Looby and Gerard Maguire secured the winning point at the 19th for a Thurles team that included Tommy Quigley, going for his third Pierce Purcell medal, and his sons, Shane, with whom he played, and Stephen.
Tommy Quigley said: “It’s great, a lovely family thing. It’s not every place you’d find a father and two sons playing on the one team, it’s brilliant. I don’t know if there are many places where it’s done but that’s a great thing about golf, that you can play with your family.”
The most dramatic conclusion to the day's golf came in the Junior Cup final, in which Ballybunion's Brian Slattery recovered from three down after eight in the bottom match to win on the 17th green in spectacular fashion, holing a 100-foot putt to close out a 2/1 victory over Jack Ward and ensure that the Kerry club edged past the Leinster champions, Grange.
The Rathfarnham club enjoyed commanding leads in three of the five matches on the front nine but by the time the first four were completed the tie was delicately poised at 2-2. The 38-year-old Slattery won nine, 10 and 13 to level the match, 14 to go one up and when Ward found the water on the 16th, claimed a two-hole lead.
Slattery enjoyed a large dollop of good fortune on the par five, 17th, a teammate finding his errant tee shot, four minutes, after the search began. He then hit the wheel of his opponent’s trolley with his next shot and with Ward into ‘gimme’ distance for par Slattery drained his mammoth putt from several paces below the green.
He admitted: “I know I was down early but got a bit lucky, a couple of putts went in and Jack [Ward] had a couple of unlucky lip-outs. I suppose it is just the nature of things, when they are going your way, they’re going your way.”
Slattery paid tribute to 14-year-old James O’Callaghan who had played all the matches up to the semi-final only to suffer a heavy fall in PE last Thursday; sporting a surgical boot, he cheered on his erstwhile team-mates.
Three of the team – Slattery, Ronan Cross and Adrian Walsh had won the Jimmy Bruen (2015) while Frank Geary Jr. was a member of the 2013 Ballybunion Junior Cup-winning team, the club's first ever in that competition.
Warrenpoint successfully defended the Barton Shield, beating Galway for the second year in a row. It was the Connacht champions' third successive final loss. Team manager Colm Campbell Snr, whose son Colm Jnr is on the team, said: "We are delighted to back to back. It was no easier than it was last year, beating the Galway lads.
“Unfortunately for them, they came up against us and we have an unbelievable team. What turned the game was when Paul [Reavey] holed a super putt for birdie on 16 [(20ft], and [Colm] Junior stood up after him and holed another super putt for birdie on 16 [8ft]. That turned the game for us.
“I am sure they are very disappointed. It is tough. But maybe they will go on and do well in the Senior Cup.”
Barton Shield final – Warrenpoint bt Galway by 4 holes (Warrenpoint names first): S Coulter & P Reavey bt J Lyons & L O'Neill, 2 holes; C Campbell & R Gribben beat R Mullarney & L Power, 2 holes.
Junior Cup final – Ballybunion 3 Grange 2 (Ballybunion names first): P Byrne lost to K O'Meara 6&5; F Geary Jr. bt P McNiff 3&2; R Cross lost to G McDonnell 7&6; A Walsh b N McCormack 3&2; B Slattery bt Jack Ward 2&1.
Piece Purcell Shield semi-finals – Royal Curragh 3 Moyola Park 2 (Royal Curragh names first): M Cleary & B Mullins lost to S Graffin & T Steele at the 20th; E Trant & J Murphy bt M McKee & S Heaney 4&3; A Ryan & T Powell bt Bernard O'Kane & G Loughlin 4&3; M Whitty & B Geraghty lost to C McKenna & T Johnston 3&1; B Murphy & P Dempsey bt D Cleary & M McNabb 2&1. Thurles 3 Portumna 2 (Thurles names first): T Quigley & Shane Quigley bt D Cox & B Mooney 6&5; Stephen Quigley & M Fahy bt P Cahalan & A Hayes by 1 hole; J Looby & G Maguire bt D Hogan & P Hogan at the 19th; P Coote & S Sherlock lost to E Quigley & A Page 2 holes; J Nevin & A O'Keefe lost to S McEntee & D Hughes 4&3.
Senior Cup semi-finals (8.0 and nine minute intervals): Royal Portrush v Galway (Portrush names first) – M McMurray v L O'Neill; A Morris v R Mullarney; M McAlpin v J Lyons; G McGimpsey v L Nolan; J Knipe v L Power. Limerick v Carton House (8.45 and nine minute intervals, Limerick names first): O O'Brien v D Morgan; S Poucher v J Doherty; C Vaughan v S O'Connor; M Reddan v G McDermott; J Kehoe v C Cunningham.
Pierce Purcell Shield Final (10.30 and nine minute intervals) – Royal Curragh v Thurles (Curragh names first): Whitty & Geraghty v T Quigley & Shane Quigley; Trant & Murphy v Coote & Nevin; Cleary & Mullins v Looby & Maguire; Ryan & Powell v O'Keefe & Dwan; Murphy & Dempsey v Stephen Quigley & Fahy
Jimmy Bruen Shield semi-finals (11.45 and nine minute intervals) – Mountrath v Warrenpoint (Mouthrath names first): J Coss & M Brennan v R Carvill & J Murray; M Carroll & P Darling Jr, v G Durkin & S Carr; J Carroll & C Bergin v H McGuffin & B Laverty; P Dunphy & M Motts v S Weir & E Durkin; M Gaughan & A Manicle v R Duffin & E Rooney. Castlebar v Ballykisteen (12.30 and nine minute intervals, Castlebar names first): S Rice & T Lawless v O Hodges & PJ Carey; S Quigley & J Collins v D Cartlidge & S Calvert; P Burke & R Prendergast v L Downey & G Downey; T Moylett & M Corrigan v A Murphy & D O'Brien; K Horkan & C Dawson v M Kennedy & J Nolan.