Ronan Mullarney conquers Ballybunion to take Irish Close
In-form Galway man left Robert Brazill with little margin for error at Ballybunion
Ronan Mullarney celebrates on the 18th green in the final of the Irish Amateur Close Championship at Ballybunion Golf Club. Photograph: Pat Cashman
The venerable Old Course was a shimmering emerald in the August sunshine and the 23-year-old international from Galway Golf Club produced a performance worthy of a master jeweller, closing out a hard-fought win over Naas’s Robert Brazill to become the first player to lead the qualifiers and win the title since Cormac Sharvin in 2013.
“Any time you are on a list with Cormac, it is a good thing,” beamed the flame-haired Galway man, who had won the R&A Scholars, the Mullingar Scratch Trophy and the Irish Students Championship in Tralee but never one of the six amateur “majors”.
After surviving a late rally from 18-year-old Elm Park talent Charlie Denvir to win his semi-final by one hole, he played to his strengths in the final and left Brazill with little margin for error on a perfect day for links golf.
“I am absolutely delighted,” Mullarney said after Brazill’s 12ft birdie putt to force extra holes lipped out on the 18th. “I wasn’t going to tell you, but it did absolutely grate on me that I haven’t won one of these before. I am delighted.”
While he topped the qualifiers by six strokes on nine-under par after rounds of 65 and 68, Mullarney was determined to walk away with more than the silver medal and he achieved his goal in impressive fashion and should be an asset to Ireland in next month’s Home Internationals at Lahinch before he tries his luck at the European Tour Qualifying School.
Against Denvir, he looked to be cruising to a fast-track win when he went three up through five holes. But the young Dubliner took the match up the last where Mullarney ground out a regulation four to win.
A closing four was enough to take the title against Brazill, who left Ballybunion guaranteed to finish the season inside the top three in the Bridgestone Order of Merit, which means he will join Mullarney in Lahinch.
The 2018 West of Ireland winner had turned a two-hole deficit at the turn into a two-hole win in his semi-final clash with Dún Laoghaire’s Alan Fahy.
But he was frustrated by his lack of luck on the greens and Mullarney’s metromnomic play in the final, which offered little hope of a big mistake.
“Ronan just doesn’t hit it off line,” Brazill said. “He knows where it’s going every single time. I know I am capable of a two-way miss, even with an iron. I don’t think he knows what a miss is and he’s a really good putter. He’s such a hard man to play against.”
After winning the fourth with a conceded birdie, Mullarney lost the fifth to Brazill’s birdie four but then made a 15 footer to win the sixth in birdie with his opponent less than 10ft away.
It was a blow to Brazill, who won the eighth with a two to square the match but then took six and conceded the ninth to go one down again and never got back on terms, growing more frustrated as the holes ebbed away.
He saved a great par at the 11th but having failed to take advantage of Mullarney’s bogey at the 12th and then done well to halve the 13th in birdie, he lost the 15th to a par-three to go two down.
Mullarney opened the door a crack when he left a 35 footer seven feet short at the 17th and three-putted to allow Brazill to win the hole with an otherworldly up and down from thick rough left of the green.
But while the Naas man asked the question by bombing his downwind drive to within 50 yards of the pin at the 18th, Mullarney hit an iron for safety, fired his approach to 18ft and burned the edge for birdie.
Brazill had one bullet left but his last-gasp birdie putt to force the match up the 19th caught the left side of the hole and spun out.
Having said on Sunday that he’d be disappointed to leave Ballybunion with only the silver medal, Mullarney drove home with all the silverware and the title his game and his trajectory deserves.
“In the grand scheme of things, you are not here to be the leading qualifier you are here to win,” he said. “I was delighted to be the leading qualifier but you are here for the trophy.”
AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship, Ballybunion (Old)
Semi-finals: R Mullarney (Galway) bt C Denvir (Elm Park) 1 hole; R Brazill (Naas) bt A Fahy (Dún Laoghaire) 2 holes. Final: Mullarney bt Brazill 1 hole.