Thomas O’Connor puts young guns in their place at Lahinch

34-year-old shoots scorching 63 in first qualifying round for Ireland Amateur Open

Thomas O’Connor set the early pace at Lahinch. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Thomas O’Connor set the early pace at Lahinch. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

 

Amateur golf is a young man’s game these days but Athlone’s Thomas O’Connor was pleased to “buck the trend” and open with a nine-under 63 that matched the weather to lead after the first qualifying round for the 119th South of Ireland Amateur Open at Lahinch.

The venerable Old Course was at the mercy of the players with several forward tees and some accessible pins making it vulnerable to attack in scorching summer temperatures with no more than a 10 to 15 mph southeast breeze wafting across the links.

There is a true changing of the guard taking place in the amateur game with James Sugrue, Tom McKibbin, Ronan Mullarney and Conor Purcell, who all played in the Home Internationals at Lahinch in 2019, now in the professional ranks alongside Rowan Lester, Jonathan Yates and John Murphy.

But while new talent is emerging all the time, 34-year-old warehouse manager O’Connor struck a blow for the working man as he made an eagle, eight birdies and one bogey in a nine-under par round.

He leads the event by two strokes from the 2020 Irish Boys champion, 18-year-old Portumna talent Sam Murphy, and by three shots from a trio of 19-year-olds in Royal Dublin’s Max Kennedy, Naas’ David Marshall and Elm Park’s Robert Galligan.

“I’ve been playing the South for a good few years now but with all the young guys, it’s nice to buck the trend,” O’Connor said. “I’m a part time golfer and full time worker but I kept it steady today and gave myself a lot of short putts for birdie. I only had 24 putts, which helps.”

Out at the hottest part of the day, he birdied the first three holes, bogeyed the sixth but then made a 30 footer at the seventh, chipped in at the 10th and eagled the 12th with six iron to 20 feet.

He then got up and down from greenside sand at the 13th and knocked in a 20 footer at the 15th before closing with a tidy chip-and-putt birdie at the par-five 18th.

“I did a lot of putting practice during lockdown,” he revealed. “It’s always been my Achilles’ heel but it’s been good since.

“The South is a break, it’s a holiday but it’s great to spend a few days in Lahinch and after a top-10 in the Connacht Strokeplay I’m hoping for a good week. Everything was good today. I was never in much trouble.”

Murphy, who will be heading for Grand Canyon University in Arizona in September, was impressive through the bag as he cruised to an effortless looking 65.

“I putted really well and hit it close,” said Murphy said, who holed a 25 footer at the third before hitting it inside 10 feet for the rest of day as he birdied the fourth and sixth and followed a solitary bogey at the eighth with birdies at the ninth, 10th, 16th, 17th and 18th “It’s my first South of Ireland. I came down with my coach a few weeks ago and loved it. Hopefully we can keep it up.”

Forty-two players broke par and with the top 64 who qualify for the matchplay after today’s second round on one-over or better, the likes of defending champion Sean Desmond and Walker Cup player Caolan Rafferty are in danger of missing out after three-over 75s.

Galligan and Marshall went bogey free while University of Louisville star Kennedy, a beaten semi-finalist in last week’s North of Ireland, made an eagle two at the 13th as well as six birdies in his 66.

As for Laytown and Bettystown’s Alex Maguire, the 20-year-old from Florida Atlantic University, he made an excellent start in his bid to add the “South” to his wins in the Connacht Strokeplay and the “North” last week with a four-under 68.

“This is my first time playing Lahinch,” he said. “It’s a really good test and I’d love to win again. This is a class championship and it’s even better in this weather.”

119th South of Ireland Amateur Open, round one, Lahinch (Par 72):

63 T O’Connor (Athlone)

65 S Murphy (Portumna)

66 M Kennedy (Royal Dublin); R Galligan (Elm Park); D Marshall (Naas)

67 R Moran (Castle); M McClean (Malone)

68 S Walker (Roscommon); H O’Hare (Fortwilliam); A Marshall (Lisburn); C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown GC); A Maguire (Laytown & Bettystown GC)

69 R Walsh Jnr (Douglas); S Carroll (Ballybunion); K McCarron (North West); M Boucher (Carton House); D O’Sullivan (Tralee); E Shipp (Headfort); J Hill (Galgorm Castle); D Flynn (Carton House)

70 S Carter (Royal Dublin); C Hickey (Dooks); R Cannon (Balbriggan); A Hill (Athenry); S Loftus (Lahinch); D Kitt (Athenry); A Hickey (Galway Bay); K Egan (Carton House); K Murphy (Arklow); J Hood (Galgorm Castle); A Kiernan (Forrest Little); G Collins (Rosslare)

71 E Sullivan (Carton House); C Cunningham (Carton House); R Latimer (Knock); A Mulholland (Castlerock); P McGrath (Galway Bay); S Ryan (Royal Dublin); S Flanagan (Portmarnock); P Conroy (Enniscorthy); M Mullen (Rosslare); J McDonnell (Forrest Little)

72 G Rochford (Bray); R Knightly (Royal Dublin); C Byrne (Strabane); J Rackard (Enniscorthy); A Smith (Mullingar); K Bornemann (Douglas); J Sutherland (Galgorm Castle); B Smyth (Howth); L O’Connor (Edmondstown); A Ryan (Thurles); R McNelis (Fintona); J Whelan (Grange); H Foley (Royal Dublin); C Nolan (Portmarnock); A O’Callaghan (Tralee)

73 S Mc Dermott (Slieve Russell); R McCrory (Lurgan); R Griffin (Ballybofey & Stranorlar GC); P Buckley (Cork); D McMahon (Castletroy); O O’Brien (Limerick); J Hanney (The Island); P Coughlan (Castleknock); T McLarnon (Massereene); F Kennedy (The Island); L Cunningham (Galway Bay); R Abernethy (Dun Laoghaire); J Blake (The Island); C Butler (Kinsale); M Buggy (Castlecomer); P O’Keeffe (Douglas); G Lappin (Belvoir Park); L Nolan (Galway); J Rowe (Belvoir Park); J Greene (Portmarnock); J Doherty (Carton House); J Robinson (Lisburn)

74 E O’Donnell (Tralee); D Reddan Jnr (Nenagh); A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire); J Mackin (Dundalk); J Lyons (Galway); D O’Riordan (Fermoy); S Hogan (Nenagh); E Farrell (Ardee); I Lynch (Rosslare); J Hewitt (Tandragee); T Ford (Co. Sligo); G Ward (Kinsale); L O’Neill (Connemara); F O’Sullivan (Tralee); R McCrudden (Royal Portrush); P Sheehan (Ballybunion); S O’Neill (Co. Cavan); R O’Doherty (Enniscrone); P Murray (Clontarf); D Shiel (Powerscourt)

75 P Flynn (Tramore); T Dowdall (Woodbrook); K Crowley (Fota Island); T Finnegan (Co. Sligo); C Denvir (Elm Park); N McCann (Lurgan); C Rafferty (Dundalk); S Kenneally (Kinsale); J Law (East Cork); D Byrne (The Els Club Dubai); A Kelly (The Heritage); S Downes (Royal Dublin); S Desmond (Monkstown)

76 C Vaughan (Limerick); J McCabe (Roganstown); J Cleary (Elm Park); E Murphy (Dundalk); N O’Loughlin (Druids Glen); M Norton (Belvoir Park); P Carey (Nenagh); A McCormack (Castletroy); R Kennelly (Portmarnock); J Foley (Elm Park); C Cooley (Belvoir Park); S O’Connell (Athenry)

77 G Bohill (Co. Louth); C Rabbette (Esker Hills); J O’Riordan (Dungarvan); T Plunkett (Crover House); J Cunningham (Carton House); J Egan (Muskerry)

78 C Plower (Galway Bay); C Campbell (Warrenpoint); C Kelly (Athlone); G O’Mahony (Fota Island)

79 G Lenehan (Portmarnock); T O’Leary (Rosslare); D Keating (Seapoint); P O’Hara (Kilkenny); E Magill (East Clare); P Tobin (Douglas); G O’Flaherty (Cork); N Hearns (Mountrath)

80 D Kelleher (Blarney); H Gillivan (Westport); L Abom (Edmondstown)

81 D Leufer (Athenry); M O’Kelly (Limerick); B Murray (Waterford Castle)

83 R Ward (Nenagh)

84 S McDermott (Esker Hills)

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