April is the cruellest month, the poet said, but it proved joyful for Bray's Alan Fahy as his hard work and patience paid off with victory in the Connolly's Audi West of Ireland Championship at Co Sligo's stunning Rosses Point links.
The 24-year-old, a graduate of the Paddy Harrington Scholarship programme at Maynooth University, beat Galway's Liam Nolan 2&1 in a pulsating decider played in bright sunshine and a fresh northwest breeze.
Both men are prodigious ball-strikers. but Fahy, two-up with five to go, killed off Nolan’s spirited efforts at a comeback by holing decisive clutch putts at the 15th, 16th and 17th to deny Connacht the title.
"It's great; it's crazy," said Fahy, who lost last year's South of Ireland final to Co Sligo's TJ Ford at Lahinch. "It was only when I lost in the final of the South, I was thinking what a good opportunity I had let slip.
“I definitely felt way more comfortable today. I was a bit careless in my attitude in the South, thinking, ‘okay, I’ve got to the final now, let’s go out and enjoy it; I’ve already had a good week.’
“But today I definitely pushed on, and I got the head down a lot more and didn’t even think about winning all day. I was really good. I was just focusing on one shot at a time, and that’s what I did really well today.”
Fahy showed he meant business when beating 19-year-old boys international Thomas Higgins 3&2 in the rain-lashed morning semi-finals, as Nolan proved too strong for the other Roscommon candidate, Allan Hill, and won 2&1.
But in the final it was Fahy’s putter that made the difference. Nolan won the second in par but drove into the drain and lost the sixth to a bogey, then got a taste of what lay in store when he watched Fahy sink a 35-footer for birdie at the seventh to claim a lead he would not relinquish.
After halves in bogey at the eighth, Fahy turned one-up, then extended his lead to two holes when Nolan three-putted the 13th.
Fahy repaid the favour with a three-putt at the 14th, but he was deadly with the putter after that, rolling in a 15-footer for a half in birdies at the 15th after Nolan almost stiffed his approach.
The 16th proved pivotal as Fahy missed the 190-yard par-three left but bumped his recovery into the bank and made a 15-footer for a half in par.
As with so many finals at Rosses Point, the 17th proved the heart-breaker for Nolan.Fahy left himself a 4½-footer for par, with Nolan less than three feet away.But while the eventual champion confidently drilled his right to left par- putt home, Nolan cruelly missed.
“Massive,” Fahy said of the importance of those putts as he covered the 17 holes in level par to Nolan’s three-over.
Paying tribute to coach Noel Fox, he added: "I have put in a lot of hard work over the last few months and I didn't really see results. I just stayed patient really. Sometimes it pays off and you just have to stick with it... I swung it unreal."
Nolan was elegant in defeat, smiling wistfully as Fahy made that key par save at the 16th.
“I put it up to him at the end, but he answered everything I had to give,” Nolan said. “Those two putts on 15 and 16 were tough. I actually didn’t even go to the tee first on 17 because that felt like a loss. But fair play to him. Great golf. He deserved it. He was better in the evening.”
West of Ireland Championship, County Sligo GC
Semi-finals: Liam Nolan (Galway) beat Allan Hill (Roscommon) 2&1; Alan Fahy (Bray) beat Thomas Higgins (Roscommon) 3&2.
Final: Fahy beat Nolan 2&1.