Survival instincts keep the dreams of final glory alive

 

THE INSTINCTS of a survivor can sometimes be just as important as any golf craft, a fact exemplified at Rosses Point yesterday by the manner in which three of the four remaining players in the West of Ireland Amateur Championship, sponsored by Ulster Bank, kept their dreams of ultimate glory alive.

As you would expect, Garth "McGimpsey was the exception to the rule not requiring to go any further than the 15th green in either of his two matches yesterday to maintain his quest for a fourth `West' crown. But it wasn't quite so comfortable for the other eventual semi finalists, all of whom were forced to show considerable character.

And no one displayed those fight inequalities more ably than Sean Horkan a 31 year old civil engineer from London. On two occasions, Horkan an overseas life member at county Sligo, who have now adopted him as a favoured son seemed to be dead and buried, firstly against Peter Lawrie and, then, in his quarter final encounter with Donegal teenager Ciaran McMonagle.

Yet, Horkan, playing with a borrowed driver after his own was stolen from the clubhouse locker room three days ago, managed to extricate himself from seemingly impossible situations to claim a semi final joust with Gavin Lunny, another player who, had to live on borrowed time. McGimpsey meets Enda Kennedy, another Ulsterman, his fourth in five rounds of matchplay, in the other semi final.

"I don't know bow I'm still in the championship," exclaimed Horkan, who twice had to come from four holes down to survive. In his third round match with Lawrie, a 22 year old golfing scholarship student at UCD who is considered a future Irish international, Horkan was tour down with six holes to play but eventually won at the 19th.

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one day. Horkan whose father, also Sean, won a site beside the first fairway in a development raffle some years ago and subsequently built a holiday home there, hence the Rosses Point connection rode his luck in the afternoon. He trailed promising Gweedore player McMonagle by four holes after six and, yet, contrived to win by a one hole margin.

"After being in a similar situation against Peter (Lawrie), I knew it was important to just keep pulling away, to try and turn the screws on him," said Horkan. "I just kept focused and, really, concentration was the key."

There were a number of crucial junctures in his match with McMonagle, not least when he rattled in a 20 footer for a half at the 11th to stay three down. After that, the pendulum of fortune swung the Londoner's way. Horkan reeled off four successive holes from the 12th to turn a deficit into a profit situation.

Perhaps the deciding moment came at the short 13th, where Horkan put his tee shot into a greenside bunker. He was left with a near impossible stance. "My legs were everywhere," he conceded. However, the Walton Heath man contrived to blast out to three inches. And he claimed "I felt I had Ciaran on the run then."

So it proved. Horkan went ahead for the first time at the 15th where young opponent again found a sand trap and he halved the holes to book a place in the semi finals that had appeared beyond him for much of the day.

Likewise, 18 year old Naas player Lunny had seemed to be on his way out of the championship when trailing Mark Kilgore, a chartered accountant from Portstewart, in his quarter final. "It was a real dog fight," claimed a relieved Lunny after fighting back from three down after five holes to win by a 2 and 1 margin that belies the tense nature of the battle.

"I'm just so thrilled to make the semi finals that I am going to enjoy it from here on in," said Lunny, an Irish boys' and youths' player last season. After accounting for Queens student Ricky Whitford in the third round, Lunny was forced to show his mettle against Kilgore but responded to the challenge in a manner which must have impressed the watching Irish selectors.

The Kildare lad won the sixth and seventh holes after Kilgore missed the green on both occasions and then rattled in a 15 footer for birdie at the ninth to go level for the first time since standing on the first tee.

It proved to be a ding dong battle on the home stretch, with the players buffeted by a westerly wind. Lunny had got his nose in front on two occasions (with a birdie at the 10th and an outrageous 60 footer for birdie at the 13th) only to be hauled back each time.

However, Lunny seized his opportunity at the 16th when Kilgore was bunkered and failed to get up and down. One up playing the showpiece 17th, Lunny's drive was followed by a three wood just short of the green and two putts, including a testy three and a half footer for the par, were enough to clinch a hard earned win.

There were no such histrionics from McGimpsey, winner of the `West' in 1984, `88 and `93. The Walker Cup stalwart followed up his 5 and 3 win over Dubliner Stephen Browne in the third round with an equally accomplished 4 and 3 win over Ulster team mate Dale Baker in the quarter finals.

McGimpsey appears to be in cruise mode over the county Sligo links, although "a wee bit of rain is probably needed," he suggested. The Bangor man's shot making was, once again, a lesson to any young or not so young spectator, embodied by the way he played driver three wood to the 12th, into the teeth of the wind, to go three up.

"After halving the previous five holes, that was a huge psychological boost," said McGimpsey. "It was a tough game, really tight, up to the 12th."

The unenviable task of attempting to end favourite McGimpsey's march now falls to Strabane bar man Kennedy "I'm over the moon just to be still in the tournament, I've nothing to lose at this stage" who secured his semi final place with a one hole win over Connemara's David Mortimor.

Kennedy, a quarter finalist last year when he was beaten by eventual winner Eamon Brady was two down with six to play against Mortimor but won the 13th, 15th and 17th (where he holed a 25 footer for a winning par) to set up a first ever encounter with McGimpsey. It's not a prospect anyone will envy him in McGimpsey's current form!.