Jake Whelan proving he can get top-class job done

21-year-old maintains good start to finish one clear of Paul McBride ahead of matchplay stages

Elite amateur golf is game for full-time players these days but Newlands' Jake Whelan proved that you can get a job and still deliver a first-class performance.

The 21-year old from Clondalkin in Dublin, added a seven-birdie 70 to his opening 68 to win the silver medal awarded to the leading qualifier for the matchplay stages of the Pierse Motors-sponsored South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Lahinch.

At six under 138, the former Maynooth University player finished one stroke clear of last year's silver medal winner Paul McBride from The Island, Alex Gleeson from Castle and Mallow's Noel McCarthy as the cut for the top 64 for the first round of matchplay combat fell at eight-over-par 152.

On a day when southerly winds gusted to 25 mph by midday and some afternoon starters were hit by a brief but torrential downpour, first-round leader Whelan backed up his score with a 70 that also featured three bogeys and a double-bogey six at the tough 14th.

“I’m happy with that,” said Whelan, who holed the winning putt to give Maynooth its first AIG Irish Senior Cup win last year but no longer attends the college. “I played well and holed a few putts.”

As for life away from university, he said: “I wasn’t enjoying the college course as much as I would have liked so I have taken time out and so I took a job the post office so I can have the money to be able to go out and play the championships.”

Whelan has the freedom to test himself on what is an attractive but costly amateur circuit and he will be a tough and hungry opponent in head-to-head combat.

The same can be said of McBride and Gleeson, who are two of the most talented young players in Ireland.

No better venue

Beaten at the 20th in the semi-finals of the British Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl earlier this year, 20-year -old McBride from The Island is preparing to return to prestigious Wake Forest University in the US for his third year while Gleeson will return to UCD in the autumn to complete his degree in Sports Science, stretching it out to five years by taking breaks to play full-time golf.

Both are keen to hoist an amateur “major” and they he can think of no better venue than Lahinch, where they have enjoyed success in the past.

McBride led the qualifiers last year but fell to eventual semi-finalist Keith Egan in the last 16 while 22-year Gleeson reached the semi-finals in 2013, losing to eventual winner Simon Ward.

"Paul Dunne sent me a text trying to keep it light after I lost in the semis of the British Amateur," McBride revealed. "He sort of said, "Ah sure you've played Augusta already."

A student of Entrepreneurship and Communications at Arnold Palmer's alma mater of Wake Forest, McBride enjoyed his trip down Magnolia Lane but would enjoy winning the title and the gold medal even more having fallen at the penultimate hurdle in the Amateur.

“I love it here,” the young Dubliner said as he looked out at the first tee. “I love this. I love the atmosphere around the town. The people around the tee box here and the 18th.

“My last win was Ulster Boys three years ago so I want to win. I am not getting frustrated but it’s just annoying.

“I’ve come close a few times and felt like I’ve been playing well enough to win but haven’t won. I guess, I’ll just wait for it to happen. That’s the way this game is.”

Life experience also counts and 65-year-old Arthur Pierse will be in action in the last 64 following rounds of 75 and 73 on a day when Delgany's Marc Nolan posted a best-of-day 67 to qualify tied seventh with Cairndhu's Stephen Watts on three-under 141, one behind Egan (68) and John Ross Galbraith (69).

Pierse’s nephews Jack and Robbie also made it after some second rounds heroics. On a day wen Jack played his last eight holes in five under to add a 69 his 79 for 148 while Robbie followed an 82 with a 70 to be one of just two players to make it on 152.