Rafferty finishes fourth in European Masters

Caolan Rafferty

Caolan Rafferty returned home to Dundalk to a hero’s welcome on Sunday having spent the last two weeks living out a suitcase as he played three tournaments in three counties and emerged with a win, a second and a fourth place.

The win came in the West of Ireland Championship last Sunday week when he became the first player from Dundalk Golf Club to win the event as he added the West to the South of Ireland title he won in Lahinch last year.

He headed straight from the presentation ceremony at Rosses Point to Dublin Airport where the Irish team was gathering ahead of an early morning flight last Monday to Spain for the European Masters in Sotogrande.

Fifteen countries from across the continent teed it up with Ireland looking to lift a title they last held in 2016 while Rafferty and team-mates Conor Purcell, Mark Power and Robert Brazil were also hoping to land the individual honours although Rafferty admitted that was a secondary concern.

“I was only interested in helping the team this week,” said the 26-year-old. “I knew from last year anything under six over was good for team purposes.”

As it happened Rafferty finished on eight over after the four rounds of play which was just two shots behind the individual winner Tom Sloman of England. He opened with a four over par 76 and followed that with a 73 and 74 before finishing the tournament with a 73 in round four.

“The course was so tough and Rob Brazil, with a 69 in the last round, was the only player over the four days to shoot a sub-70 round. The wind was up and the pins were hidden on really quick greens. If you missed a green it was so hard to get up and down.

“I got off to a bad start on the first day and was four over after nine. Tiredness definitely kicked in but I tried to rally back and post a half decent score. I kept telling myself just one more round and managed to cover the back nine in level par for a 76.

“Going into the last round, myself and Conor felt if we posted under par we could win the team event or, at worse, finish second. Third wasn’t the end of the world but it would have been nice to have finished higher.”

With the Walker Cup selectors watching the action in Spain unfold, Rafferty had the consolation of being the best of the four Irish players as Ireland finished third behind England and were pipped by one shot for second place by Holland.

“From a personal point of view I was delighted to finish fourth in the individual competition after a long few weeks on the road. It wasn’t the easiest course to come and play after the few weeks I had, playing three tournaments in succession in three different countries.”

Rafferty will now take a well-deserved break and head back to Maynooth University where he has a lot of college work to catch up on. It will also give some time to reflect on the past few weeks.

“I feel really happy with myself that I was competitive at three big tournaments and managed to also get a win. It was tough living out of a suitcase for three weeks so I know now how the pros feel. It’s always good to win one early and follow it up with a decent finish and there’s still plenty of golf to be played this year.”

Rafferty wins West of Ireland Championship

Caolan Rafferty – 2019 West of Ireland Golf Champion.

CAOLAN RAFFERTY added another Irish amateur major to his belt on Sunday when he captured the West of Ireland Golf Championship at Rosses Point.

The 26-year-old Dundalk Golf Club player held his nerve on the final day to see off the challenge of England’s Arron Edwards Hill and Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell and win by four shots.

Having won the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch last summer, Rafferty now holds two of the six Irish Amateur majors and remains on track to qualify for the American Amateur Championship and make the Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team.

“It’s a great feeling,” admitted Rafferty moments after sinking his Championship winning putt on the final green at Co Sligo Golf Club and acknowledging the cheers of the large crowd in attendance.

“I played as well I have in a long time this week. The course suited me and my golf was steady all week. We were blessed with the weather and I didn’t have to change anything from day to day.”

After opening with a level par 71 on Thursday to lie joint 10th, Rafferty found himself joint leader at the halfway stage after shooting a five under par 65 in the second round. After bogeying the second, he holed six birdies over the final 16 holes and shared the lead with Royal Dublin’s Max Kennedy.

In the third round, Rafferty again went low, this time posting a bogey free, four birdie round of 66 to move to nine under and open up a four shot on the field.

The previous Tuesday, at the R&A Foundation Scholars Tournament in St Andrews, Rafferty had blown a five shot lead in the final round in finishing second to Welshman Aled Greville and missed out on the automatic place available to the winner on the International team to face the United States of America in the 2019 Arnold Palmer Cup match being played at Arkansas in June.

“Those things happen in golf,” reflected Rafferty. “I just made too many mistakes in the final round at St Andrew’s and unfortunately Aled shot seven under on the day and came chasing out of the pack to beat me. I got over it quickly because I’ve had plenty of bad days in my career and that wasn’t going to be the worst day.

“Having just had that experience probably helped me going into the final round of the West because I knew if I played my own game it should be good enough to see me over the line.”

Playing in the final grouping as his nearest challengers, Edwards Hill and Purcell, Rafferty opened with four straight pars before moving to 10 under for the tournament after a birdie on the par five fifth. Two holes later he recorded his first bogey in 40 holes but he responded with six more pars to lie nine-under with five to play.

By that stage Purcell, who is the reigning Australian Amateur champion, had emerged as his biggest challenger having reeled off four birdies, following a bogey at the second, to move to seven-under and close the gap on Rafferty to two shots.

But the 418 metres par four 14th proved to be the decisive hole. When Rafferty holed for a bogey five, Purcell had a short but testing four-footer for par to reduce the gap to just one. It was a putt that slid agonisingly past the hole and left Rafferty in pole position with four holes to go.

As the Dundalk man parred his way in to finish on eight under, Purcell dropped shots at the 16th and 17th, and eventually finished tied for second, along with Edwards Hill, on four under.

“I didn’t panic when he got to within two of me. I knew even then I could make one mistake and still be able to steer it in. Luckily when I did make that mistake on 14, he failed to capitalise.”

It’s been a great start to 2019 for Rafferty after reaching the semi-finals of the South African Amateur Championship and finishing second at the R&A Foundation Scholars tournament. He now heads to Spain to represent Ireland at the European Nations in Sotogrande this week still chasing his dream of playing in the American Amateur Championship and the Walker Cup.

“The last two tournaments carried world ranking points so that should help keep me in the top 50 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. All I can do is keep playing the golf I am playing and see what happens.”

Rafferty is the first Dundalk golfer to win the West of Ireland Golf Championship having gone one better than the legendary Mick Ferguson, who finished as runner-up in 1951. He is also the first Dundalk player to win two of the major Irish Amateur Championships.

This was the first year that the West was played in a strokeplay format and Rafferty admitted that it was the change in the format that eventually persuaded him to head to Sligo from Scotland last Wednesday.

“I was humming and hawing whether I should even come over or not given my college work load but, funnily enough, I actually have a great strokeplay record from the qualifiers around here. I sat down and looked at my scores and thought, ‘well I’m actually not too bad at strokeplay around this golf course and to have four rounds of strokes could actually play to my advantage’. Luckily enough it did because I’ve a lot of college work to catch up on now!”

Dundalk’s other representatives at the West were Eoin Murphy and Aaron Grant. Murphy opened with rounds of 73 and 70 to lie T10 after two rounds but eventually finished T44 after disappointing weekend rounds of 77 and 78.

Grant opened with a 77 but then retired with an injury after 16 holes of his second round.

 

Top trio head for the West at Rosses Point

Caolan Rafferty, Aaron Grant and Eoin Murphy will tee it up in this week’s West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point which starts on Thursday and will be a four round strokeplay event with the cut falling after 54 holes.

Josh Mackin missed out on one of the 12 qualifying places last Sunday by one shot iafter shooting a four-over par 71 while Neal Mackell also missed out after a 79.

Rafferty, Grant and Murphy warmed up for the West at the Laytown & Bettystown Scratch Cup last week where defending champion Rafferty finished fifth after two one over par rounds of 72 and Grant and Murphy also finished in the top 15.

 

 

Rafferty full of positives after South African trip

Caolan Rafferty

CAOLAN Rafferty headed home from a fortnight in South Africa full of positives after a productive start to his 2019 season.

The Dundalk Golf Club player spent two weeks in the South African sunshine as part of a GUI national squad that took part in the South African Amateur Championship and the South African Strokeplay Championship.

After reaching the semi-final of the Amateur Championship he bounced back from a poor first round to finished in joint 11th place at the Strokeplay Championship and also saw his world ranking rise to a career high 38th place which increases his chances of a first ever appearance at the American Amateur Championship in the summer.

His performance at the Amateur Championship, where he was second qualifier and then reached the last four of the matchplay phase, saw him jump 13 places in the world rankings and he admitted it was a postive start to the year.

“It’s great to get down that far in the rankings and it adds a little confidence. However, at the end of the day, it’s just a number and golf doesn’t take that into account so I have to just keep doing what I’m doing and try to keep improving my game. It’s been slowly improving week on week since 2015 so I don’t want that to stop.”

The picturesque De Zaize Golf Club, located on a working wine farm in the heart of the Stellenbosch wine region, was the venue for the Strokeplay Championship but it failed to inspire Rafferty in the opening round as he shot a three-over par 75 and found himself tied for 88th place and facing a battle to make the cut.

“I just didn’t feel myself,” he admitted. “I had a niggle in my shoulder and back, I was agitated and couldn’t settle which wasn’t like me so to shoot three over par the way I was feeling was actually a good score.

“However, I just knew if I played the golf I know I can I’d be fine in the second round. I actually knew if I played how I knew I could, I could even get back into contention.”

His self-belief shone through in the second round. After turning for home at one under following two birdies and one bogey on the front nine, Rafferty found his groove and four birdies down the back saw him sign for a five under par 67.

That left him on two under at the halfway stage and he had leapt 55 places up the leaderboard to joint 33rd. While the leader Jayden Schaper was on 14 under after a nine under par 63 in the second round, Rafferty was only seven shots off second place and full of confidence.

In the third round he birdied seven of the eight holes from the fourth and although he bogeyed the par three 12th he bounced back with another birdie, his eighth of the day, at the 13th. As he stood on the tee of the par three 16th he was seven under for the day and nine under for the tournament.

“I had just played the golf I am capable of doing. The courses we played in South Africa yielded a lot of chances. I had got a little help from Neil Manchip after round one and it all clicked. I actually fancied myself to be even lower than seven under at that point.”

His great run came to an end over the next two holes as he dropped three shots and ended up signing for a four under par 68 which moved him to joint 15th and within striking distance of a top ten finish going into the final round.

“On 16, which was a par three, I missed the green and didn’t get up and down. Then on 17, which was a par five, I pushed my tee shot into a hazard, dropped and had to lay up. My fourth shot landed six to eight feet from the pin and then spun back off the front of the green and down a bank from where I failed to get up and down. Dropping three shots in two holes was tough to take considering how well I had played for the previous 15 holes. It took me a while to get over it and be able to talk to the lads again.”

The fourth round offered Rafferty a realistic chance of a high finish and he teed it up full of confidence but ended up signing for a one under par 71 after a round that yielded five birdies, two bogies and a double bogey.

“My confidence was high even after a poor finish in the third round and I knew in myself I could go low. I had got a lot of texts from back home from my parents, girlfriend and the lads in the club which helped me and made me realise a low one could still be there.

“But, it ended up being a frustrating round where I just didn’t get going at all. I struggled early on and then it never took off. To shoot one under wasn’t the end of the world. I would have loved to shoot a couple better but that’s golf.”

Having started the second round on three over and in 88th place, to finish the tournament in 11th place on seven under represented an impressive turnaround and Rafferty aditted that he took a lot from the way he responded to that opening round.

“I was delighted to jump up the leaderboard considering the way I was feeling after round one. I was wondering how I would make the cut. I have got a lot out of the two weeks in South Africa and I will now get back to Maynooth and the book and catch up on my studies.”

Rafferty now plans to spend March practicing and studying and his next competitive outing is likely to be his defence of the Laytown and Bettystown Scratch Cup at the end of March before heading to Rosses Point for the West of Ireland Championship in early April.

Rafferty gets 2019 off to an impressive start

CAOLAN Rafferty got his 2019 season off to an impressive start by reaching the semi-finals of the South African Amateur Championship.

After finishing tied second in the two round strokeplay qualifying competition Rafferty continued to impressive as he marched through four rounds of matchplay before losing by one hole to South Africa’s Jordan Duminy in the last four.

“I was gutted to lose on the last hole of the semi-final but I am very happy with the way I played all week. There were a lot of birdies and eagles and very few bogeys all week. The game is in good shape so I have more positives to take from the week than the defeat in the semi-final.”

Having spent January focused on his business exams at Maynooth University, where he is a Harrington Scholar, the trip to South Africa as part of the GUI national panel was an opportunity for Rafferty to ease himself into 2019 with the sun on his back.

He opened the week with a steady three under par round of 69 in the first round of qualifying for South African Amateur Championship at King David Mowbray Golf Club. Rafferty reeled off eight successive pars before a hot streak yielded three successive birdies on the ninth, 10th and 11th. He then parred his way in for a bogey-free round and was tied eighth, six shots behind leader Luca Filippi.

The second round saw him birdie seven of the first 14 holes before he dropped his first shot of the week when he bogeyed the par four 15th. He signed for a six under par 66 and finished qualifying tied for second on nine under and one shot behind leading qualifier Filippi.

In the first round of matchplay, Rafferty faced South Africa’s Ayden Senger and took a firm grip of the match early on as won five of the first seven holes to go 5up and closed it out on the 14th for an emphatic 5&4 victory.

Next up was Germany’s Timo Vahlenkamp and once again Rafferty got control early on by winning the first and fourth holes. Although he lost the sixth to a birdie four, he birdied the seventh, ninth and 13th to open up a five hole lead and although he lost the 14th to a birdie four he parred the 15th to halve the hole and take the match 4&3.

That win earned him a place in the last 16 against his Ireland team-mate Conor Purcell from Portmarnock who recently became the first Irishman to win the Australian Amateur Championship.

The match couldn’t have started better for Rafferty who eagled the par four first hole and then won the second with a par to go two up. However, Purcell, who went into the tournament as the highest ranked Irishman on the World Rankings, came charging back and birdied the third, sixth and ninth to take a one hole lead which he held until the 13th when Rafferty birdied to go back to all square.

The Dundalk man then eagled the par five 14th to go one up before proceeding to ruthlessly dispatch Purcell by birdieing the next two holes for a superb 3&2 win.

England’s David Langley provided Rafferty’s opposition in the quarter-finals and he struck the first blow when he birdied the third to open up a one hole lead.

Rafferty’s response was swift and devastating as he won the next four holes with two birdies, an eagle and a par to go three up after seven. Langley got a hole back by winning the ninth but Rafferty won the 10th and although he lost the 12th he won the 13th to remain 3up and then halved the next three holes to win 3&2,.

That left Rafferty in the last four and the only non-South African player still standing. His 16-year-old opponent was one of the home nation’s up and coming stars, Jordan Duminy, a product of the Louis Oosthuizen Academy.

Their match was a tight affair with never more than one hole between them. Rafferty lost the second to a par but won the next in par. The pair then halved the next nine holes before Rafferty birdied the par five 14th to go one up with four to play.

However, Duminy brought the match back to all square at the next hole with a birdie three and, after halving the next two holes in par, the pair stood on the 18th hole all square and facing the prospect of extra holes.

However, the 18th proved to be the decisive hole. Rafferty airmailed the green with his approach shot from 160 yards and ended up against a tree at the back of the green. Duminy made an easy par and Rafferty’s putt to force the match down the 19th burned the edge of the hole.

“I just got really unlucky on 18 with my second shot. I got a flyer from 160 yards and went 30 yards over the back and ended up against a tree. I had to alter my swing to hit it and then tried to chip in but it ran by. He was always making four and although my par putt burned the edge it didn’t drop.

“I would have taken hand and arm off you if you had offered me the week I’ve just had before coming out. I have competed against a field of top class players and reached the semi-final.”

Rafferty’s stats for the week were pretty impressive, He completed 116 holes and recorded three eagles, 36 birdies, 70 pars and seven bogies and only failed to complete one hole all week.

“My scoring was really good. If it had been a strokeplay event I would have been around 35 under for the week so I am really looking forward to next week and hopefully continuing my form. However, you never know what is going to happen in golf. It’s a funny old game and next week could be a complete disaster.”

Next week’s tournament is the South African Amateur Strokeplay at De Zalze Golf Club where Rafferty will be hoping to continue his climb up the World Rankings and cement his place in the World’s top 50 as well as continuing to press his claims for a place on the Britain and Ireland team for the Walker Cup in September at Hoylake.

Carroll takes Winter Series Singles Stableford

The Winter Series sponsored by Tiernans Centra Blackrock continued on Sunday with a singles stableford over 14 holes and it was won by nine handicapper Gerard Carroll who shot an excellent 34pts.

That gave him a one point winning margin as Michael Browne (22) finished with 33pts while Adrian Kenny (19) was a point further back on 33pts.

Three players finished on 31pts with Clem Walshe (4) taking fourth place on countback from Anthony McGuinness (19) who edged out Fergal McKenna (17) while the seventh and final prize went to David Brennan (14) who shot 30pts after covering the final nine holes in 20pts.

Walshe, who was the 2018 Golfer of the Year, has emerged from his winter hibernation in flying form and last week he was just edged out on countback in the second outing of the 2019 Hilary series at Seapoint Golf Club. On a cold and blustery day, on a course playing to its full length, Walshe shot a 74 and was pipped for victory by Royal Dublin’s Kevin Knightly (3) who eagled the par five 18th to pip the Dundalk player on countback.

This is a big year for Eoin Murphy as he moves into senior elite ranks and the plus one handicapper will take a lot of heart from his 73 at the Hilary outing which was enough to claim the gross prize.

Caolan Rafferty’s preparations for the upcoming season continues in South Africa over the next fortnight when he takes part in South African Amateur Championship at King David Mowbray Golf Club and the South African Amateur Strokeplay at De Zalze Golf Club. Rafferty is one of nine players on a GUI panel taking part in both events.

Sunday, February 17 – Winter Series 14 Hole Singles Stableford sponsored by Tiernans Centra Blackrock –
Gerard Carroll (9) 34pts, Michael Browne (22) 33pts, Adrian Kenny (19) 32pts, Clem Walshe (4) 31/20pts, Anthony McGuinness (19) 31/19pts, Fergal McKenna (17) 31pts, David Brennan (14) 30/20pts.

Rafferty looking forward to 2019 after memorable year

IT’s a sign of how far Caolan Rafferty has come over the past three years that he is now the highest ranked Irishman on the World Amateur Golf rankings having broken into the top 50 for the first time in recent weeks.

As 2018 draws to a close Rafferty, who turned 26 on December 22, sits at No.49 on the WAG rankings and is looking forward to 2019 knowing it could be even better than the previous 12 months.

This time last year, the Dundalk Golf Club player set himself three objectives. They were to win one of Ireland’s six major amateur golf championships, win a senior club pennant with Dundalk, and make the Irish team for the Eisenhower Trophy.

He achieved two out of the three as he beat Rowan Lester in the South of Ireland final at Lahinch in July and led Dundalk to victory over Enniscorthy in the Leinster final of the Barton Shield in June. He agrees it was a good year.

“Two out of three wasn’t bad and even the Eisenhower was close in that I was probably the fourth man of a three man team.

“I think at one stage I had five, maybe six trophies, in the house, all at the one time. It was a really good spell from say September of 2017 to now. I couldn’t really complain. I won in Colombia in September 2017 and that was my first big win. That boosted my confidence. Getting the South took a weight off my shoulders and hopefully I can add to it now because that’s the next objective.”

His other major objectives for 2019 are to make the Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team in September and also secure a place at the US Amateur Championship which takes place in August in Pinehurst.

If he stays in the Top 50 then he will automatically earn a place at Pinehurst and he agrees that it is a sign of how far he has come over the past three years that he is now realistically contemplating being part of these iconic events.

“All these things are starting to come around which I never really thought of before. When I got to my first semi-final at the North in 2015 the last thing I was thinking about was where am I on the WAG. To get into the top 50 in the world is a nice achievement in itself, and there’s not too many from Ireland, never mind the smallest county in the country, have done it.”

He spent several days in the run-up to Christmas on Merseyside after being one of ten potential Walker Cup players invited to attend an informal practice session at Royal Liverpool Golf Club by Britain and Ireland captain Craig Watson and selectors Nigel Edwards and Andy Ingram. The Hoylake venue will host the bi-annual event in September and Rafferty enjoyed the experience.

“It was an interesting two days. I never played Hoylake so it was my first time there. Obviously this time of the year wouldn’t do it any justice, the weather was poor and you could see that the course was bit tired at the end of the season but the layout is fantastic. The clubhouse, everything about it, is amazing. To be part of a Walker Cup team there would be special and would be something that I would really enjoy.”

He admits he really got a taste of what it could be like in September as they were given a tour of the team room, asked to do media interviews and given an opportunity to see the massive trophy up close. He says playing in the Walker Cup has been a long-term objective over the past few years but he is not going to let it become a millstone around his neck.

“The last thing I am going to be worrying about is trying to make the team. If I play good golf that will all sort itself out.”

He believes that his poor showings in the St Andrews Trophy and the British Amateur during the summer probably cost him his place on the Eisenhower Team so he is determined to improve his consistency across the season in 2019 and believes he now mentally stronger than ever.

“I think I did show last year that I have a bit more character to me now and that I can dig deep and really push whereas a couple of years ago I probably didn’t have it in me.”

Since 2017, Rafferty has been on a Harrington Golf Scholarship at Maynooth University where he is studying for a degree in business and he admits he is now beginning to see the benefits of being a college golfer.

“The University this year was a big thing and there was plenty of golf there. Extra golf, but it added to the season. The scheduling got busier but it was a case that you were playing in big events, playing new people and seeing new courses. Last year I didn’t really grasp what college golf was about but this year I saw the value of it and how a few of those titles would be nice under my belt.

“The College golf is definitely helping. I wouldn’t be a great practiser, I’d rather play holes, but this year I got myself into a bit of a routine and I went down two or three nights a week even though keeping on top of assignments is tricky. I am balancing it better. I have a schedule to my week now. Before I went to college I was going through the motions. I felt like I had to go down and practice but now you want to go and practice. I have a better outlook and better discipline.”

Another major event for Rafferty in 2019 will be the R&A’s Amateur Championship which is being held in Portmarnock and The Island in June and he revealed that it was a big topic of conversation in Hoylake.

“They were all asking about Portmarnock and wanting to know what it is like. I think it is going to be one of the toughest courses the Amateur has ever been played on. The best of the best are going to be there so making the cut will be my first goal.”

The inter-club scene provided happiness and heartbreak during 2018 as he was part of the first ever Dundalk team to win a senior pennant but then saw their dreams of a national pennant dashed by Athenry in the final of the Barton Shield in Thurles.

“To get over the line this year and give that little bit of thrill to everybody in Dundalk by winning the Leinster pennant was nice. Because it is such an individual game to do stuff as a team is so nice.

“To be pipped in the final of the All-Ireland was heartbreaking. It is amazing how close you get. It was a rough one to take. As I said to the lads, I have had plenty of heartbreak in individual golf, in championships. To learn to lose before you win is the way I have always had it. You don’t win first time out, you have to take your defeats, know what it is to have a setback and then go again. I think next year will show a good bit of character from us to try and do it again. Athenry only won it on their third attempt so we’ll take a lot from knowing that.”

After celebrating his 26th birthday and Christmas at home in Dundalk, Rafferty flew out to America on St Stephen’s Day with Maynooth University team-mate Ronan Mullarney to take part in the 2018 Patriot All-America Invitational in Arizona and is looking forward to the year ahead.

“I am looking forward to the season in general. After Arizona, I come back and I have exams then we go for a training week to Portugal and then hopefully I will make the panel going to South Africa. It is just flying after that and it will be Christmas before I know it. It will be all go.”

One question Raffetty gets asked a lot concerns his future plans and whether or not he intends to turn professional. He admits it is something he is thinking about but not a question that he is ready yet to answer.

“I am going to do College and see what happens after that. I am still 50-50 on it and it is something I will need to have a real good think about because it is costly. I will sit down after college and I will weigh up my options. I won’t make a rash decision, I know that much.”

Rafferty wins Leinster Order of Merit again

CAOLAN Rafferty has won the Leinster Golf Senior Order of Merit for the second successive year. Caolan’s win at the South of Ireland and third place finish at the East of Ireland helped him to an impressive 110 ranking points overall which was 40 more than second placed Rowan Lester of Hermitage.