Rafferty selected for Palmer Cup in Lahinch

Caolan Rafferty

Caolan Rafferty had achieved one of his major objectives for 2020 by being selected on the International team for Arnold Palmer Cup which will take place at Lahinch Golf Club from July 3 to 5.

The Arnold Palmer Cup was co-founded by Arnold Palmer and The Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) and began at Bay Hill in Florida in 1997. The event is a Ryder Cup-style tournament featuring the top men’s and women’s university/college golfers matching the United States against a team of International players.

Last year, in the R&A Foundations Scholars Tournament in St Andrew’s, Rafferty was on course to play his way on to the team when he led by five shots going into the final round with the winner guaranteed a Palmer Cup spot. However, he was pipped by Welshman Aled Greville who came out of the pack and shot seven-under to deny the Dundalk man a trip to Arkansas.

This time around, he won’t need to play his way onto the team as last week the committee selections for the 2020 Arnold Palmer Cup were announced on Golf Channel’s Golf Central as part of their coverage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Three men and three women per side were named and Rafferty was one of the three selected on the International men’s team.

As he is in his final year of a Business degree course at Maynooth University, this was Rafferty’s last chance of making the team and he was delighted to have achieved one of his major objectives for the year.

“It’s nice to make it, especially when it’s my final year in Maynooth and my final chance to make the team. It feels nice to get a committee pick too. Making it early saves a lot of trouble and means I don’t have the worry of having to and win the R&A event next month although I would still like to win that event after what happened last year.”

Rafferty is also delighted that this year’s event is in Lahinch where he won the South of Ireland Championship in 2018 and where he knows he will be able to count on plenty of support.

“I love Lahinch, it’s a class spot. The people down there have been very good to me over the years and to be able to play a big event like this one on home soil is a bonus too. It means I can get some of the support which I always get when I play any event in Ireland which is great and it also will show the talent that is out there at college level to people who wouldn’t always see it.”

Rafferty will be joined on the International team by Irish women’s international Olivia Mehaffey who is a student at Arizona Stage while Barry Fennelly, Maynooth University Golf Programme Manager, will be an Assistant Coach for the International side.

The remainder of the 24 player mixed International team will consist of 12 players selected using the APC Ranking (25 March), four additional committee / coach’s picks and the two winners of The R&A Student Tour Series Final on April 7.

Recent Palmer Cup representatives from Ireland include Julie McCarthy (2019), Ronan Mullarney (2018), Chloe Ryan (2018), Stuart Grehan (2016 and 2017), Gary Hurley (2013 and 2015) and Paul Dunne (2014).

Since its inception, over 100 former Arnold Palmer Cup alumni have gone on to earn cards on either the PGA Tour, European Tour or LPGA, 29 have represented Europe or the USA in the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, and more than 60 have claimed over 240 victories on the PGA or European Tours. The United States leads the series 12-10-1.

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.”

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. 

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.”

Rafferty ranked No.1 in Europe

Congratulations to Caolan Rafferty who is currently ranked No.1 on the European Golf Rankings which is compiled by the European Golf Association and is based on performances over the past 52 weeks.

Caolan has also reached a career-high 14th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking in recent weeks and is also ranked 17th in the World Scratch Golfers Amater Rankings.

2019 has been another brilliant year for Caolan with the highlights being his appearance in the Walker Cup, his win at the West of Ireland and his semi-final appearance at the South African Amateur Open Championship.

Four Dundalk players in GUI coaching panels

The GUI announced their national, provincial and regional coaching panels for 2020 last week with Walker Cup star Caolan Rafferty retaining his place in the national panel while Zak Alderdice and Joseph Laverty are on the Leinster U16 Regional Panel and Louis Goodman is on the U14 panel.

Top 20 finishes for Rafferty, Mackin and Murphy in Spain

There were Top 20 finishes for Caolan Rafferty, Josh Mackin and Eoin Murphy in the third round of the R & A Student Series last week at the Centro National de Golf in Madrid.

Making his first appearance in the Series, Rafferty shot a two under par 70 in the final round to finish third overall on two over after opening rounds of 75 and 73.

Mackin, who won the second round of the series in Carton House in September, had been lying third going into the final round after opening with a 76 and a 69 which was the joint best round of the week. However, he shot 80 in the final round and finished 11th overall.

Murphy shot round of 77, 75 and 75 to finish in 17th place overall which was two places better than his position in the second series.

The three Dundalk players were all representing Maynooth University in the tournament.

The leading players in the Series after the fourth event in Portugal will be invited to the Tour Series Final in Carnoustie and St Andrews next year.

Dundalk players in action at home and abroad

Dundalk players were in action at home and abroad over the last week with mixed fortunes.

Josh Mackin and Eoin Murphy finished fifth and sixth respectively at the Irish Intervarsity ChamDundalk pionship in St Anne’s.

Mackin finished four shots behind the winner, UCD’s Charlie Denvir, after rounds of 76, 70, 73 left him on six over while Murphy was a shot behind his Dundalk and Maynooth University teammate on seven over after rounds of 76, 73 and 71.

Caolan Rafferty was part of a six man Irish team that was beaten by one point by the Metropolitan Golf Association in the annual Carey Cup match which was played in Arcola Country Club in New Jersey last week.

On Day 1 he birdied the last hole in the fourball to earn himself and partner Conor Purcell a half and in the afternoon foursomes the same pairing were one up with eight to play but lost four consecutive holes from the 13th to birdie as their American opponents came from behind to win 3&2.

A similar fate befell Rafferty in the singles on Day 2 when he was beaten 6&4 by Thomas LaMorte. Rafferty was two up after four but then got blown away as the American fired in eight birdies over the next ten holes to win on the 14th.