Rafferty finishes third in South African Strokeplay

Caolan Rafferty

Caolan Rafferty continued his excellent start to the 2020 season with a third place finish at the South African Strokeplay Championship which was played over the Firethorn course at Randpark Golf Club, the venue for last month’s South African Open on the European Tour.

He went into the event after finishing sixth in the African Strokeplay Championship the previous week in what was his first tournament outing of the year and has returned home to Ireland full of optimism for the season ahead.

“It was a good two weeks down in South Africa. I didn’t really get off to a quick start in either of the events, I was a bit slow to get going and bit rusty after not playing a lot of golf. But, to be able to finish sixth and third having not really been on top of my game was really good. I certainly have a few positives to take out of it. In both tournaments, as the weeks went on, I played pretty good golf and last week I played really well in the final two rounds to get third place which was really nice.”

Rafferty opened with a two under par 70 in the first round at Randpark, shooting three birdies and a bogey, but despite being under par he found himself back in 16th place, six shots behind leader Jamie Wilson of Scotland. A one under par 71, courtesy of two birdies and one bogey, in the second round saw him fall ten shots behind the new leader, 16-year-old Casey Jarvis, but the failure of his Ireland team-mate, Tiarnan McLarnon, to make the cut reaped a rich dividend for Rafferty.

“Tiarnan caddied for me in the final two rounds and he was a great help through just simply talking about things. I saw the course in a different way with somebody else chipping in with their thoughts and that helped big time. We were communicating and going at it, taking shots on when we felt we could.”

Four birdies in the first five holes of the third round certainly cemented the partnership and when Rafferty claimed another birdie at the ninth, he found himself eight under for the tournament and heading back into contention. A bogey at the par five 11th threatened to upset the momentum but Rafferty reeled off back to back birdies at the 13th and 14th and then claimed his eighth birdie of the day at the par three 17th to finish with a seven under par 65 to move to 10 under.

That saw him leap up the leaderboard from T21 to fourth place and although leader Jarvis, with Nick Price’s former caddy on his bag, was eight shots ahead of him, Rafferty was only four strokes off second place.

“I wouldn’t say it was an easy seven-under but I hit it really close all day. I holed a couple of putts but nothing really too mad and I missed a couple of putts as well,” said Rafferty.

In the final round Rafferty didn’t get out of traps as fast as he would have liked and had only moved to 11 under by the turn after birdieing the fifth and ninth and bogeying the eighth. However, he did finish strongly and fired home four birdies in five holes from the 12th to move to 15 under with two holes to go.

That left him one shot adrift of Kyle de Beer who was in second place but Rafferty couldn’t bridge the gap to the South African and had to settled for third on 15 under as Jarvis romped to victory with an amazing final total of 25 under, having shot five birdies and an eagle in the final round.

“The scoring was outrageous in Randpark. They set the course up really well and set it in a way that you could make birdies if you hit it in the right places but you could still make bogies. It was a nice way to play a golf course that presented the chances when you put the ball in play and put the ball in position.”

Experience counts as Storm Dennis creates tricky conditions

Storm Dennis ensured there were tricky condition to test the field in last Sunday’s Four Man 14 Hole Scramble and in the end it was the experienced quartet of Pat Curran (14), Tadhg O’Sullivan (22), Andrew Shekleton (14) and Seamus Kelly (18) that prevailed.

The winners had just 0.3 of a shot to spare over the runners-up who were a formidable outfit themselves with two five handicappers in Conor McCaughey and Colin Roche as well as Martin Cairns (16) and Adrian Kenny (18).

The 14 Hole course did not include the third, fourth, 15th and 16th holes so after opening with two pars, the winners moved the par three fifth where Shekleton’s tee-shot set up their first birdie of the round. His tee-shot at the next, the par five sixth, also proved decisive in setting up another birdie and they then parred the next three holes to turn for home in 26.

It was O’Sullivan’s drive at the par five 10th that laid the foundation for their third birdie of the round and at the index one par four 11th it was off Curran’s drive that they delivered the fourth and final birdie of their round.

They then successfully negotiated the final five holes without dropping a shot to finished with a gross score of 52 which became a nett 43.5 after their team handicap of 8.5 was deducted. A previous success over the winter by Pat Curran saw 0.3 added to their score to leave them on 43.8 but it was still enough to denied McCaughey and his team-mates who finished on 44.1 after their various deduction.

Sunday, February 16 – Four Man 14 Hole Team Scramble: 43.8* – Pat Curran (14), Tadhg O’ Sullivan (22), Andrew Shekleton (14), Seamus Kelly (18). 44.1/29* – Conor McCaughey (5), Colin Roche (5), Martin Cairns (16), Adrian Kenny (18). * Reductions apply.

Ace Rafferty finishes sixth in African Amateur

Caolan Rafferty finished sixth in the African Amateur Strokeplay Championship in his first tournament outing of 2020 and also managed to record the second competitive hole-in-one of his career to date.

The ace came on the third day of the tournament at Leopard Creek Golf Club when he holed a pitching wedge from 145 yards at the par three 12th hole. “I got the yardage, picked a club, and tried to hit a shot,” said Rafferty.

“It was one of those funny ones. I didn’t really catch it and turned away in a bit of disgust. As I was turning back, I heard my playing partner telling it to go in, and I was like, ‘Sorry, that can’t be right!’ And as I turned around, it just disappeared!

“It was lovely to get the hole-in-one because it’s been a while since I had one. It wasn’t a pretty shot but that’s golf for you, the bad ones end up being the best sometimes.”

The hole in one helped to propel him into the top ten and into contention for the tournament going into the last round after he had opened with rounds of 74 and 72 to sit on two over par and tied 16th at the halfway stage. In addition to the ace, he also recorded two birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey on his way to a one-under par 71 which was one of just seven sub-par totals in the third round.

It moved Rafferty up to tied fifth and just four shots off the lead going into the final day. But he was unable to mount a challenge and needed a birdie on the last to join Ireland teammate and British Amateur champion James Sugrue on sixth place on three over, seven shots behind the winner Martin Vorster, who won the 2019 East of Ireland Championship at Baltray.

Nonetheless, Rafferty was very happy with a top ten finish and the opportunity to dust off the cobwebs ahead of what will be another very busy year for him.

“It was a funny old week because I didn’t play wonderful at all. I just managed to get it round in a way that kept me ticking over. It was my first tournament of the new year so to finish tied sixth was nice. It leaves me looking forward to next week and trying to improve on that.”

Rafferty’s next assignment in South Africa is the South African Amateur Strokeplay at Rand Park Golf Club which has previously hosted the South African Open.

Rafferty wasn’t the only Dundalk player in action abroad last week. Eoin Murphy, who is a student at Maynooth University, was in Portugal for the fourth round of R&A Student Series where he finished tied 27th after rounds of 76, 77 and 79 in the three-round 54 hole event. 

Vintage display wins Champagne Team event

The team of Michael Carr (14), Pat Donaghy (13), Gerry Murray (9) and Sean McGeough (17) prevailed in Sunday’s Four Person Champagne Team event as they won by two points from the quartet of Pat McEntaggart (14), Andrew Cumiskey (13), Joe Garvey (19) and Mark Cumiskey (7).

Both teams got off to a good start by taking six points from the first hole with Donaghy and Murray parring for the winners while McEntaggart and Garvey parred for the runners-up.

Both teams picked up 18pts over the next four holes with the highlight being Mark Cumiskey’s eagle three for four points on the par five sixth. Both did well over the next four holes from the eighth to the 11th with the winners taking 25pts around the turn while the runners-up gained 23pts.

Donaghy and McGeough delivered six points on eighth with three-point pars while Carr’s birdie two and McGeough’s par yielded seven points at the ninth. A three-point birdie from Murray and a three-point par from McGeough saw them take six points on the par five 10th before three-point pars from Carr and Murray on the 11th added another six points to their total and brought them to 49pts with five holes to go.

They covered those five holes in 22pts with three four-pointers at the 13th, 14th and 17th sandwiched by five-point returns from the 12tha and 18th.

That left them on 71pts and their nearest challengers just came up short in their attempt to pip them.

After claiming four points at the eighth they registered a six-point return at the ninth, thanks to three-point pars from McEntaggart and Garvey, before earning a seven point return at the long 10th where Garvey birdied for four points and Andrew Cumiskey birdied for three points. Garvey and Mark Cumiskey then parred the 11th for another six points to leave them on 47pts with five holes to go.

They too had a five-point return from the par five 12th but, although they produced eight pars over the final four holes, they only accumulated two points for four of them and three points for the other four to finish on 70pts and this was reduced to 69pts when they had 1pt deducted for previous winter successes by the Cumiskeys. 

Sunday, February 2 – Four Person 14 Hole Champagne Team: 71pts – Michael Carr (14), Pat Donaghy (13), Gerry Murray (9), Sean McGeough (17). 69pts* – Pat McEntaggart (14), Andrew Cumiskey (13), Joe Garvey (19), Mark Cumiskey (7). 

Crowe flies to impressive victory

Noel Crowe (19) won Sunday’s Singles Stableford on what was a beautiful day for January golf. Crowe took full advantage of the excellent conditions to shoot an impressive 36pts over 14 Holes and claimed overall victory by three points from Conall Murdock (4) and Bill McCarthy (30).

Like last-week the second, third, 15th and 16th holes were not in play but that didn’t bother Crowe who recorded eight pars over the 14 holes that were in play, scored at every hole, and only had one one-point hole.

After a two-point bogey at the first, Crowe then recorded three successive three-point pars as he raced to 11pts after four holes. He reached 18 points after seven holes having recorded a three-point par at the eighth hole, his sixth.

Turning for home he parred the 10th for another three points and a bogey five at the 11th, where he had a shot, yielded another three points. Two points followed after a bogey at the par five 12th before he once again reeled off three successive three-point pars to move 35 points with one to play.

His double bogey six on the 18th represented his worst hole of the round but the one point gained was enough to bring him to an impressive 36pts and give him his first win of 2020.

Murdock’s 33pts was enough to give him the Category 1 prize by a point from Colin Roche (5) who had a deduction for previous successes while McCarthy took Category 3 by one point from Brendan Cleary. Pascal Keenan (14) edged out Oliver McGinnity (18) on countback for Category 2 after both had finished on 32pts.

Sunday, January 26 – Men’s 14 Hole Singles Stableford – Overall: Noel Crowe (19) 36pts. Category 1 (0–13): Conall Murdock (4) 33pts, Colin Roche (5) 32pts*. Category 2 (14–18): Pascal Keenan (14) 32/22pts*, Oliver McGinnity (18) 32pts*. Category 3 (19+): Bill McCarthy (30) 33pts. Brendan Cleary (24) 32pts. * denotes point deducted for previous prize/s won in the Turkey series.

Hot scoring in low temperatures

 There may have been low temperatures on Sunday but things were certainly hot on the scoring front as Tommy Renaghan (15), Maurice Soraghan (9), Dennis Cunningham (14) and John McErlean (23) won the Four Man Team Rumble over 14 holes.

Under the Rumble format, one score counted over the first five holes, two scores counted over the next five and the final four holes saw three of the four scores counting. That meant that over the 14 holes there were 27 scores and the winning team returned 19 pars, five birdies and just three bogies as they recorded a gross 79pts, which was reduced to 76pts when reductions for previous winter prizes were applied.

They amassed 15pts from the first five holes, picking up three points at each, courtesy of pars at the first, second, fifth and sixth and birdie from their low man, Maurice Soraghan, at the par five sixth.

Over the next five holes, with two scores counting, they continued to dove-tail well and collected 33pts over this section with Tommy Renaghan and Denis Cunningham both birdieing the par five 10th for a return of eight points.

With three counting on the final four holes there was little room for error and they didn’t make any as they completed the homeward stretch in 31pts with two pars and a birdie from Cunningham delivered eight points at the par three 13th while two pars from Renaghan and McErlean and a birdie from Soraghan at the par three index 10 17th delivered nine points.

They finished with 79pts and a three-point deduction for previous successes left them on 76 just half-a-point ahead of Michael Coburn (10), Pat Davis (16), Dessie Ward (12) and last week’s winner Noel Reid (15).

The runners-up finished with a gross 76pts after a fine round that included three birdies, 23 pars and just one bogey but they then lost 0.5pts for Reid’s win last week to finish on 75.5pts and missed out by the narrowest of margins.

Sunday, January 19 – Four Man 14 Hole Team Rumble – 76pts* – Tommy Reneghan (15), Maurice Soraghan (9), Dennis Cunningham (14), John McErlean (23). 75.5pts* – Michael Coburn (10), Pat Davis (16), Dessie Ward (12), Noel Reid (15). *Reductions applied.

Profitable day for Reid

Club Treasurer Noel Reid (15) had a profitable day on Sunday when he won the first singles competition of 2020 by one shot from Austin Carroll (12) and Pat Daly (21).

Having started with a three point par at the opening hole and a two point bogey at the next, Reid then produced a four point birdie at the third to get to nine points after three holes.

The next three holes yielded a steady two points apiece and were then followed by three point pars at the seventh and eighth before a two point bogey on the par three ninth meant he turned for home having covered the front nine in an impressive 23pts.

A second birdie of the round at the par five 10th only yielded three points because it was one of two holes where he didn’t have a shot but it brought him to 26pts with four holes to go.

Disaster struck at the index two 11th where he failed to score but bounced back immediately by parring the 12th for three points and, after a two point bogey at the 13th, he finished with a par on the 18th for another three points and final total of 34pts which was enough for him to take the overall victory.

Carroll’s 33pts earned him the Category 1 prize while Daly took Category 3. Edmund Sheridan (14), who shot 32pts, claimed the Category 2 prize while Conall Mullins (19) was the Juvenile Prize winner after shooting 32pts.

Sunday, January 12 – 14 Hole Singles Stableford – Overall: Noel Reid (15) 34pts.  Category 1 (0–13): Austin Carroll (12) 33pts, Anthony O’Donoghue (13) 32pts/19. Category 2 (14–18): Edmund Sheridan (14) 32pts, Michael Kelly (18) 31pts. Category 3 (19+): Pat Daly (21) 33pts, Noel McGuinness (19) 32pts. Juvenile: Conall Mullins (19) 32pts.  

Rafferty focused on achieving more goals in 2020

CAOLAN RAFFERTY

CAOLAN Rafferty is still focused on amateur achievements as heads into 2020 and towards a major decision on his future direction.

The 27-year-old Dundalk golfer is in the final year of his Business degree at Maynooth University and has always insisted that any thoughts of turning professional won’t be entertained until after he graduates. But he admits that, even a few months out from his arrival at that significant crossroads, he is far from making his mind up on his future.

“I am genuinely still in limbo,” admitted Rafferty. “I don’t know whether to make the jump or go out into the big bad world and get a job. “It‘s something that I will sit down and have a chat about with my coach Dougie (Bell) and with Neil (Manchip). Neil will be a big help because he has been through situations like that with Shane (Lowry) and the boys and then obviously I’ll sit down with my family and see what they all make of it too.”

At present, Rafferty’s golfing focus is very much on the amateur game where he still has a lot of unfinished business despite having won the South of Ireland and West of Ireland Championships over the past two years and appeared in the Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool last September.

“2020 is going to be another busy year. There are a couple of extra teams involved in this year so hopefully I will make a few of them and the end goal this year is the Eishenhower Trophy. I just missed out last time when it was on in Carton House.

“Looking back, 2019 is as good a year as I probably could have hoped for. I think if someone had said to me, at the start of the year, this is what you are going to achieve in 2019, I would have took everything off them and ran for the hills.

“From the start of the year in South Africa right through to playing Walker Cup there is very little that I would change. So yeah, I would rate it as pretty much as good as I could have done.”

Having reached the semi-finals of the South African Amateur Championship, where he was beaten by one hole, Rafferty came home and captured the West of Ireland at Rosses Point.

“The win in the West was another big thing in the year. To win anything is big but to win one of the big championships here in Ireland is obviously that little bit sweeter. I think to win it the way I did win it as well, by a few shots, was nice.”

Rafferty’s other big highlight of 2019 was his appearance at the Walker Cup where he picked up one win from two outings in the singles having been overlooked for the foursomes on both days along with fellow Irishman James Sugrue.

“The Walker Cup was unbelievable from the minute you get there to the end of it. Obviously, I would have liked to play another game, maybe play foursomes on one of the days, but that’s just the way things go. But, other than that, it was just a fantastic week and I got to meet a great bunch of lads.”

Having beaten America’s Alex Smalley 2&1 on the Saturday afternoon, Rafferty was paired again with the Duke University golfer on the Sunday afternoon and was involved in a pulsating match that was eventually decided in favour of the American on the 17th.

“To just get a point on the board was fantastic. It would have been a bit sickening to go and get none but to actually get a point was sweet,” recalled Rafferty.

“I know I’ll never get a roar like I did on the Sunday when I chipped in on the fifth or chipped in on the seventh out of the bunker. There were a few moments in the match where I could have been dead and buried but the cheers and little things like interacting with the crowd was really cool.”

However, 2019 wasn’t without its disappointments with Ireland losing the Home Internationals in Lahinch and Dundalk again coming up short at the All-Ireland Barton Shield Finals while the loss of a five-shot lead in the final round of the R&A Scholars Tournament at St Andrews in April is still a raw memory months later.

“The winner gets a slot in the Palmer Cup which was on in America last year so to have a five-shot lead going into the last day and not get the win hurt a bit. But, at the same time, it fired me up and I went out the week after and won the West where I also had a five shot lead going into the last day.

“St Andrews was a disappointment, but I learnt an awful lot about myself and learnt a lot about how to deal with a disappointment like that there and how to cope a little bit better when you are five shots ahead. It seems like an awful lot but it’s only one hole at the end of the day in golf.”

Members of the Irish squad recently met up with Open Champion Shane Lowry and Rafferty admitted that many of the insights that the Offalyman shared with them that day struck a chord with him.

“Meeting Shane was class. He is such a genuine lad. He kind of just put it all into perspective. He was open and very honest. He gets nervous, everyone gets nervous and he said there are days that he has learned an awful lot about himself. The things that I could draw out of it, I went through myself.

“He knows what he wants, and he does what he wants, when he wants. That’s an attitude that gets you a good bit in golf. It’s important to please yourself and forget about what everyone else is saying about you. There are always going to be the people saying you should be doing this or should be doing that. Shane mentioned that about people saying he should have done this, or he should have done that, or he should still be something else, but at the end of the day he’s the one standing with a major and a lot of wins under his belt. You have to respect someone when they are so honest about it.”

Rafferty will be part of a group of Irish players who will once again start their season in South Africa and he admits that it has been of great benefit to him in each of the last two years.

“I always find that South Africa is really important to kick-start your season. You are going down there and playing some of the best courses in the world and because it is so early it gets you going earlier in the year. It shortens the winter and sharpens your tools and allows you to hit the ground running because you don’t want to be behind the mark at the start.

“You take a lot of confidence when you go down there and you compete against some of the best golfers in the world. You are playing golf courses that we don’t normally play and, if you do finish well, it just goes to prove that you have more in the bag than you would find if you were just at home playing links all the time.”

Rafferty will start 2020 as number one in the European Golf Association rankings and 15th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, just one slot below his all-time high of 14th. Making the WAGR Top 10 is a major goal for the coming year but his belief hasn’t wavered that if he can continue to play good golf, everything else will look after itself.

“I’m just going to focus on playing good golf. If you play well all year, it will all look after itself and you won’t have to do anything different. It was something Shane alluded to. He plays his own game, he plays his own style, he doesn’t try to do anything different and that’s something I have spoken about with Neil and Dougie. It’s playing with what you have got. It’s not going to be pretty every day but if you can get around the golf course that’s half the battle. If I do that, all the rankings will look after themselves, teams will look after themselves, and tournaments will look after themselves.”