Different Strokes: Tears of joy as Southgate reaches promised land

Meanwhile Eamonn Brady is remembering Seve before his dream Wentworth debut

An English acquaintance of mine – last Friday evening – sent a text wondering if the third round of the Irish Open on Saturday would feature two-balls or three-balls. His query had a reason behind it. Matthew Southgate was having the tournament of his young life and, as a friend of the family, he was trying to get the information so they could hastily book flights over to Dublin.

If the draw was for two-balls, then Southgate would be paired with Rory McIlroy. If the draw was in three-balls, he wouldn’t be. The McIlroy factor would increase the size of the travelling party.

As if happened, Southgate was paired with McIlroy; and, as it happened, he had extra family support on hand to add their voices to their man among the many thousands who were roaring on the local hero.

It was hard to miss Southgate. At 6’ 4 ½” (191cm) in height, his is quite an imposing presence. And the other noticeable characteristic was his smile. It was ever present, he was someone who clearly revelled in doing what he was doing in a hitting a little white ball a long way.

Southgate would actually get to play with McIlroy on Saturday and again on Sunday morning, when they completed their third round. It would be a long number of hours later on Sunday evening when each would walk up the 18th fairway to the final green. In Southgate’s case, his birdie on the 72nd hole – some 20 minutes before McIlroy’s eagle – brought arguably the most emotional scenes from any player.

And with good reason, as it transpired.

Less than a year ago, Southgate was diagnosed with testicular cancer. His journey to the 72nd green of the Irish Open at The K Club was like one that brought him through wilderness and uncertainly before emerging to the promised land. His cheque for €200,000 was comfortably the largest of his professional career and, perhaps as importantly, will ensure that he retains his playing privileges on the European Tour for next season.

It has been some year for Southgate and his family, as his young niece was also battling leukaemia.

It was after playing a Challenge Tour event in Germany last July that he arrived home to the news that he had been diagnosed with cancer. A week later he had surgery. It would be September before he managed to play any golf again, but, quite remarkably, he secured a tour card when he finished sixth at Q-School in Spain in November. He had successfully completed three stages to get the precious ticket back to the big circus.

At the time, he remarked: “I think a lot of golfers would understand that your health and your family and all those important things in your life are just like the game itself. Things don’t always go your way all the time and that sometimes you do have to chip out sideways. That’s really where I feel like I’m at with my little life, like I’ve had to hack out sideways and start again. I’ve managed to get back on track and I feel incredibly lucky for that.”

As fate would have it, Southgate only got a phone call late on Monday evening to tell him he was in the Irish Open. As first reserve, he’d been waiting and hoping for a call. He made the most of it, for sure. His fourth place finish earned him a spot in this week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and the prizemoney has effectively secured his place on tour for another season, moving him to 51st in the latest order of merit standings.

“My goal for the year was to keep my card and I’ve achieved that by the end of May. That’s a huge achievement for me. Now with the freedom of having some money in the bank, some points on the board, I’ll free up and hopefully this won’t be the last time you see results like this.”

Brady taking inspiration from the best

From club pro to rubbing shoulders with golf’s elite, Eamonn Brady is hoping that he will be inspired by the legendary Seve Ballesteros when he gets to compete in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

“I seemed to keep picturing Seve in my head, usually playing out of the trees. And yet when I played the practice round it struck me just how far away from the fairway the trees are. I kept thinking to myself, ‘how in the hell did he hit it over there?’.

“It was amazing. Just like everyone else, I have watched it on television over the years and the course is just how I pictured it. I felt it was quite a generous course and I feel like it should suit my game, with a premium on long straight driving. Mind you, it’s much easier without the crowds and everything but obviously, I’m really looking forward to it,” said the 42-year-old Dubliner, who earned his spot in the field with a top-10 finish in the PGA Club Championship in Turkey last year.

Word of Mouth

“I would love the Irish Open to have a later date, something we’re currently trying to see what we can do” – Rory McIlroy on seeking a date – possibly in a links swing around the British Open – for the championship.

"It's awesome to be up there with Seve....." - Sergio Garcia, after his win in the Byron Nelson - defeating Brooks Koepka in a play-off - moved him alongside Seve Ballesteros with nine career wins on the PGA Tour.

By the numbers

8: With no Rory and no Pádraig, just eight Irish players are in the field for the BMW PGA Championship - the European Tour's flagship event - at Wentworth: Shane Lowry, Colm Moriarty, David Higgins, Eamonn Brady, Michael Hoey, Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.

Twitter Twaddle

"What a finish for @McIlroyRory! Pretty sick winning your host event in your home country.. Congrats bro!" - PGA Tour Justin Thomas sounds a bit envious.

"Congrats Rors...sick shot on 16 and 18 @McIlroyRory all to a great cause @roryfoundation including the winning check...good man" - Rickie Fowler knows his onions.

“Huge thanks to all the fans who supported me this week at the @DDFIrishOpen. Huge congrats to @McIlroyRory and @SouthgateMatt on huge weeks!” -Paul Dunne tips his cap to the two notable achievements from the Irish Open

In the bag

Rory McIlroy, Dubai Duty Free Irish Open

Driver: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (9.5 degrees, Mitsubishi Rayon Diamana S+ 70X shaft)

3-Wood: Nike Vapor Speed (15 degrees, Fujikura Rombax Pro 95 X shaft)

5-Wood: Nike Vapor Speed (19 degrees, Fujikura Rombax Pro 95 X shaft)

4-9 Irons: Nike VR Pro Blades (Royal Precision Project X 7.0 shafts)

47-Degree Wedge: Nike Engage (Royal Precision Project X 6.5 shaft)

52-Degree Wedge: Nike Engage (Royal Precision Project X 6.5 shaft)

56-Degree Wedge: Nike Engage (Royal Precision Project X 6.5 shaft)

59-Degree Wedge: Nike Engage (Royal Precision Project X 6.5 shaft)

Putter: Nike Method Origin B2-01

Ball: Nike RZN Platinum

Know the Rules

Q: In stroke play, A and B both started with 14 clubs. They were using the same model of clubs and similar golf bags. At the 4th hole, B inadvertently took one of A’s clubs from A’s bag and made a stroke with it. B then placed the club into his bag. At the 6th hole, B discovered the error. What is the ruling?

A.: Rule 4-4a states: “The player must not start a stipulated round with more than 14 clubs. He is limited to the clubs thus selected ...” B complied with the first sentence of Rule 4-4a. However, when B made a stroke with A’s club, he did not comply with the second sentence and was subject to penalty under Rule 4-4a for using a club selected for play by another person playing on the course. Upon discovery of the breach, B was required immediately to declare the club out of play under Rule 4-4c. He incurs a penalty of two strokes for making a stroke with that club on the 4th hole. As B did not intend to add the club to the clubs he had selected for the round, he incurs no additional penalty for having carried it until the breach was discovered at the 6th hole. A may retrieve the club to use during the remainder of the round.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times

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