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 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.

Good finish by Rafferty in South Africa

Caolan Rafferty

Caolan Rafferty was the second best placed Irishman at the South African Strokeplay Championship which was held at Pecanwood Golf Club last week.

Rafferty finished in joint 26th place on -11, which was four shots behind Alex Gleeson of Castle. The tournament was won by Sweden’s Oliver Gillberg who shot a phenomenal 27 under par to win by one shot.

Rafferty found himself six shots off the lead after an opening round of two under par 70 which included four birdies.

He fell further behind after the second round when he shot a 71 to make the half-way cut on -3 which was 12 shots off the lead.

That left him tied for 49th place but he moved up two places after posting a two par 70 in the third round. Rafferty recovered from a dreadful start as he double bogeyed the opening hole and went on to shoot six birdies as well as two bogeys.

That suggested he was beginning to acclimatise to the conditions and he proved it in the final round when he carded his best round of the week, a six-under par 66, and climbed 21 places up the leaderboard to finish on -11.

The tournament left Rafferty with plenty of positives as all four rounds were under par and he managed to throw in a low one as well. He now heads, along with his Irish team-mates, to Glendower Golf Club for the African Strokeplay Championship which runs from Tuesday to Friday.