Youghal draws superb array of young talent

 

As a stepping stone to greater things, the Irish Boys' Amateur Close Championship - which takes place at Youghal Golf Club on Thursday and Friday - is an ideal starting point. Indeed, last year's winner, Michael Hoey, gained immense confidence from the success and, since then, has developed into one of the country's top players, claiming the Irish strokeplay title along the way.

Yet, a testimony to the on-going growth of golf in Ireland is that this year's championship has one of the strongest fields ever assembled and includes the six members of the Irish team which made history by claiming the European Boys' Championship in Gullane last month: David Jones, Justin Kehoe, Robin Symes (all of whom have been selected on the British and Irish team to take on the continent of Europe for the Jacques Leglise Trophy in Italy next week), Mervyn Owens, Michael McDermott and Sean McTernan.

All are remarkably talented individuals, but it is Jones who will carry the mantle of favouritism into the championship. A quarter-finalist in the British Boys' championship last week, the 18-year-old City of Derry player is rated so highly that he has been selected on the full Irish team for the Home Internationals in Royal Porthcawl next month.

Last year, Jones was runner-up to Hoey in the national boys' championship and, so far this season, was a runaway winner of the Leinster and Connacht boys' championships. It would cap a fine year for the Derry teenager if he managed to claim victory in Youghal, a club which is celebrating its centenary in style by this week staging a myriad of national championships. Jones is also in line to claim the Tom Montgomery Award (boys' order of merit) which takes in the four provincial championships and the Irish championship.

One of the busiest players of all over the next few days, however, will be Jones's international teammate Sean McTernan. The 17year-old Co Sligo clubman is assisting his club in the Irish Junior Foursomes finals at Youghal today (where they meet Old Conna in the semi-final, with Ulster champions Holywood taking on Munster king-pins Ballybunion in the other semifinal). Then, tomorrow, Co Sligo are involved in the Fred Daly Trophy semi-finals (where they meet Shandon Park with West Waterford taking on Wexford in the other semi-final) - and a good run in the Irish Boys could see McTernan playing seven rounds of golf in four days. He'll certainly be familiar with the course by the time the actual championship comes around. Incorporated into the boys' (under-18) championship are the under-16 and under-17 competitions and, although all will have their eyes set on the main prizes, Philip McLaughlin of Ballyliffin will probably be favourite for the under-16 section while internationals Owens and McTernan will be the players to beat in the under-17 category. All in all, it promises to be a rich few days of golf.

Ireland's sextet of challengers in the European Individual Championship at Golf du Medoc, near Bordeaux in southern France, have the added incentive of chasing a place in next year's British Open at Carnoustie.

The winner of the European strokeplay championship automatically receives an invitation to the British Open, and there are high hopes that the Irish challengers - Gary Cullen (Beaverstown), Ricky Elliott (Royal Portrush), Noel Fox (Portmarnock), Paddy Gribben (Warrenpoint), Michael Hoey (Shandon Park) and Bryan Omelia (Newlands) - can make a major impact in the 72-hole event, which starts on Thursday. Uniquely, the cut comes after Saturday's third round, with the top 70 players progressing to the final round.

Designed by American Bill Coore and bearing many of the characteristics of a Scottish course with heather and gorse bordering the fairways, the Chateaux course at Golf du Medoc has a par of 71 and plays just under 7,000 yards.

Omelia is the only Irish player to make the British and Irish team for the St Andrews Trophy match with the continent of Europe in Italy next week and has experienced a heavy schedule this season. The beaten finalist in the Irish Close, Walker Cup panellist Omelia is a noted stroke player and will travel to Bordeaux with high expectations.

Fox won the West of Ireland at Enniscrone earlier this season, while Gribben captured the North of Ireland championship at Royal Portrush. Hoey won the Irish amateur strokeplay at Royal Dublin, while Elliott, a golfing scholarship student at Toledo University, was an impressive winner of the Leinster Youths.

Cullen, who will make his international debut at next month's Home Internationals in Porthcawl, finished runner-up to Hoey in the Irish strokeplay, was a semi-finalist in the Irish Close and a member of the Leinster team which captured the Interprovincial Championship last week. Rita McGoldrick may play out of Enniscrone these days, but her return to Kilkenny for the ILGU Midland Championship - which starts today and concludes on Thursday - will evoke many memories.

However, it is an indication of the emergence of new talent that two of the country's promising young players, Una Marsden and Maura Morrin, will go into the championship bearing the tag of joint-favourites, although it would give McGoldrick - married to Enniscrone club professional Charlie McGoldrick - tremendous satisfaction if she were to roll back the years.

Marsden, from Tullamore, and Morrin, from Naas, have made impressive strides in recent months and it would come as no surprise to see them battling it out for the title.

Grace Park won the 94th US Women's Amateur Championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Sunday by routing US Women's Open runner-up Jenny Chuasiriporn 7 and 6 in the 36-hole championship match.