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 and Murphy make presence felt in West

Two Dundalk golfers certainly made their presence felt at West of Ireland Championship in Rosses Point last week and while they didn’t come away with the title, they certainly laid down markers for the season ahead.

Caolan Rafferty went one better than year by reaching the last eight while Eoin Murphy, who has just turned 17, reached the last 16 in what was his first major amateur championship.

Murphy, who is a two handicapper, had to pre-qualify for the tournament and earned one of the 20 spots on offer after a marathon seven hole play-off was needed to fill the remaining four qualifying places from the 10 players tied on 77.

On the seventh tie-hole Murphy found himself as one of three players chasing the last two spots and his hopes of qualifying looked doomed when he forced to take a penalty drop from a wall. He made a five but got through after one of his rivals played a wrong ball and incurred a two-stroke penalty.

Four other Dundalk players – Andrew Keenan, Conor Curran, Richie Newell and Neil MacKell – also played in the pre-qualifers but failed to make the cut.

Murphy took full advantage of his good fortune two days later when he teed up in the Championship proper. He shot a three under par 68 in the first of the two strokeplay qualifying rounds as he mixed three bogeys with four birdies before holing a 60-yard lob wedge for an eagle two at the 18th.

“It was a nice way to finish,” said Murphy afterwards. “”It was a good solid round of golf — I hit lots of greens and didn’t do anything too mad until the 18th. It’s my first men’s championship and to be able to compete with these boys is great.”

Although he shot a 78 in the second round, Murphy comfortably qualified for the matchplay stage as did Rafferty who shot rounds of 72 and 75 but Aaron Grant missed the cut by two shots after he followed an excellent opening round of 73 with a nine-over par 80.

In the first matchplay round Murphy was drawn against Irish international Tiarnan McLaron (Massereene) and showed no signs of nerves against one of the favourites as he trounced the Ulsterman by 6&5 and he proved it was no fluke in the afternoon when he defeated Royal Dublin’s Richard Knightly by 3&2, impressing everybody as he came from two down with a tremendous run of winning holes to close the match on the 16th.

Rafferty also had a good day at the office on Easter Sunday as he saw off Tandragee’s Ross Dutton by 2&1 in the first round and then beat Andrew Hickey (Ballyhaunis) by 3&2 after lunch to reach the last 16 for the second successive year.

Unfortunately for Murphy, his magnificent run came to an end on Easter Monday morning when he was beaten 6&4 by local favourite David Brady (Co Sligo) but he certainly left his mark on the competition and showed that he has the ability to play at Irish amateur golf’s highest level.

Rafferty drew on all his experience to make the quarter-final as he was two down with four to play against Colin Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire). He birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th to go one up and also won the 18th to win the match by two holes and earn a shot at making the last day of the West.

Rafferty faced Portmarnock’s Jack Pierce in the last eight and came up against a player in the top form from tee to green. Pierce, who helped Portmarnock win the World Club Golf Championship in December, opened up a three shot lead but although Rafferty birdied the 12th to reduce the deficit to two with six to play but he was unable to reel in Pierce who won by 2&1 and was level par for his round when it finished on the 17th.

While obviously disappointed that he didn’t make the semi-finals and the final day of the Championship, Rafferty can take a lot of satisfaction from his opening major of the year having gone one better than he did in 2016.

Grant and Rafferty reach last 16 at West of Ireland

Elite golfers Aaron Grant and Caolan Rafferty proudly flew the flag for Dundalk Golf Club at the West of Ireland Golf Championship in Rosses Point over the Easter Weekend.

Both reached the last 16 of the first major amateur championship of the 2016 season and claimed some notable scalps along the way.

The Dundalk duo qualified for the Matchplay stage of the tournament after finishing among the top 25 of the 64 qualifiers. The qualifying round was reduced to 18 holes after high winds caused the second round on Easter Saturday to be abandoned so Grant’s 77 and Rafferty’s 79 from Friday saw them qualify comfortably inside the cut.

In Round 1 on Easter Sunday morning Grant beat Andrew Morris of Belvoir Park 2&1 while Rafferty defeated James Pierse of Portmarnock by 1 hole.

On Sunday afternoon in Round 2 Grant had a one hole victory over William Russell of Clandeboye while Rafferty came from two down after 11 holes to beat Portmarnock’s James Fox with a birdie on the 19th hole.

That left only Dundalk and host club Co Sligo with two representatives in the last 16 on Easter Monday morning. Rafferty faced Matthew Kane of Whitehead and, after losing the opening hole, was unable to get back on level terms. He was two down after 11 and eventually succumbed to a 3&2 defeat.

Grant faced Daniel Holland of The Castle and found himself two down after 11 holes. They were all square by the time they walked off the 14th green but after halving the 15th, Grant lost 16 and 17 to lose the match 2&1.

Rafferty’s conqueror Kane was beaten in the quarter-finals by the eventual winner Jonathan Yates of Nass who defeated Holland in the final.

Reaching the last 16 of the West represents a good start to the season for Rafferty and Grant and everybody at Dundalk wishes the boys well for the coming season.

One of the big targets for both players in the coming weeks will be the annual Dundalk Senior Scratch Cup, sponsored by Jeffers Sports Turf, which is scheduled for Sunday, April 24. Entries are now being accepted by the Pro Shop on 042-9321731.