Rafferty finishes sixth in African Championship

Caolan Rafferty

Caolan Rafferty got his 2018 season off to a promising start over the past fortnight when he was part of an eight strong Ireland team that travelled to South African for two of the top amateur events on the African golf calendar.

Rafferty finished sixth at the African Championship having recorded a joint 26th place finish at the South African Championship the previous week and said his African adventure had been a great experience.

“I was told before I went out that it was probably the best trip of the year because you are playing on the best golf courses and playing against top players. It was a great experience and the GUI and our new Captain John Carroll had everything done to perfection so all we had to do was turn up and play golf,” said Rafferty.

The trip provided an ideal opportunity for Rafferty to give his new Titleist clubs their competitive debut having flown to England in January for a five-and-a-half hour fitting session.

“That was another great experience as the day after the fitting session I went down to the factory to pick them up and got to see the whole process which was very educational. I had a week to break them in before I went to South Africa.”

His first couple of round at the South African Championship in Peacanwood Golf Club had all the hallmarks of a getting to know you process with the new clubs but six birdies in the third round suggested they were settling in and a final round 66, where he landed seven birdies, proved the point.

“I’d poor starts in three of the rounds at Pecanwood but I had a good chat with the GUI’s National Coach Neil Manchip and he told me not to be afraid to go low and to focus on what I was good at. I had 21 birdies that week but finished on 11 under so I was mixing the good and bad but that last round gave me a lot of confidence heading to the African Championship.”

Rafferty said that conditions in South Africa took a bit of getting used to as the thin air meant the ball was going a lot further than he was used to.

“We had to start doing our yardages in metres and pretending the metre figure was yards. I was hitting a nine iron 190 yards, something I’d never do at home even downwind. Bunkers that would normally be in play could now be driven over. It was really different. The kikuyu grass was very tough, especially in the rough where it was knitted together and all you could do was advance the ball as far you could.”

By his own admission, his opening round of one over par 73 at Glendower was too tentative and left him tied 18th, six shots behind the leader. But, after another good heart to heart with Manchip, he once again focused on hitting fairways and greens and shot a four under par 68 to move to -3 and sixth, three shots off the lead.

He followed that up with a three-under par 69 in the third round to ease into second place on six under on a day when a deluge of rain made South Africa feel a lot more like Ireland. However, South Africa’s James Du Preez stole a march on everybody by posting an eight under par 64 to open up a seven shot lead on Rafferty.

Playing together, Rafferty and Du Preez matched each in the final round by posting one-under par 71s but, while it was enough for the South African to win by three shots, it saw the Dundalk man slip down the leaderboard to joint sixth on seven under.

“I felt I played very well in the final round but things didn’t really happen for me. I then started to chase it when I might have been better aiming to finish second instead of trying to do something to rattle him.”

Having been the second best Irishman in Peacanwood, Rafferty finished as best Irish player in Glendower and also led Ireland to second place in the team event.

“It was great to finish second in the team event because we are out there representing our country and you do take pride in getting that flag up on the leaderboard.”

Rafferty is now back in Ireland and back at Maynooth University where he is on a Harrington Scholarship but he’s off on his travels next Monday when he flies out to La Manga for the Spanish Amateur Championship which take places from February 28 to March 4.