Rafferty takes positives from Irish Open experience at Mount Juliet

Caolan Rafferty took lots of positives from his involvement in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open which was played at Mount Juliet over the past week.

The Dundalk Golf Club player, who has been one of Ireland’s leading amateur players over the past few years, received his first ever invite to a European Tour event a few days before the event teed off and, while his interest ended after the second round, he admitted that he enjoyed every moment of the experience of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington.

“It was a great week. I got to compare my game with the top lads and found what I have to work on and what I’m doing that is good,” said Rafferty who shot two rounds of six over par 78 to finish on 12 under.

“Being able to say I played in the Irish Open is nice even though my scores weren’t wonderful. Watching the top players on the range and being quite close to them was a nice experience and one I won’t forget.”

With his Dundalk Golf Club team-mate Eoin Murphy acting as his caddy, Rafferty arrived in Mount Juliet on Tuesday. After getting form-filling and his COVID tests out of the way, he played nine holes with Open champion Shane Lowry and his Ireland team-mate Mark Power, another amateur in the field.

“It was great to share the experience with Eoin and nice to have someone with me who I know well and get on with. It was a great experience for him too, to see the lads, be in that environment for a few days and see what it’s like on tour.  

“Playing with Shane Lowry was another great experience. A member from Dundalk met Shane at the game between Louth and Offaly in Navan and told him I was playing. Shane straight away said: ‘Tell him to join me and Mark, we’re going out in a practice round on Tuesday,” Rafferty explained.

“He’s so sound and helped us out where he could. It was great to see him play and see how good he is.

“I played the 18 holes on the Tuesday and then chilled out. On Wednesday I went to the range and met up with the Srixon reps to check out a few things and got my driver shaft sorted which is now giving me an extra 15 yards off the tee.”

Rafferty was drawn alongside two of the most experienced professionals in the field for his two rounds and admitted that he really enjoyed playing alongside Paul Waring and Edoardo Molinari.

“I couldn’t have asked for two better playing partners. They both made me feel very welcome and comfortable. They had a laugh on the way around too which was great.

Rafferty saw at first hand the small margins that make the difference between success and failure at the top level of professional golf. Molinari was two under at the halfway stage and Waring was level par, but both missed the cut which fell at three under par.

Looking back on his own rounds, Rafferty felt he didn’t do himself justice as he had three birdies, 10 bogeys, one double bogey and one triple bogey over the 36 holes.

“I just didn’t play well. I didn’t play as well as I know I can, and I made some silly mistakes as  well as getting a few bad breaks.”

Having completed his degree at Maynooth University, where he was on a Harrington Giolf Scholarship, the Covid pandemic thwarted Rafferty’s plans to have a go at winning his Tour Card. However, he says that his experience at Mount Juliet is unlikely to have any influence on the future direction of his golf career.

“I’m not going to let two rounds of golf decide on what I do,” he said.

Rafferty’s failure to make the cut did have one positive outcome as it meant the 28-year-old was able to take up the opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car around Mondello race track on Saturday and he admitted it was just the tonic he needed after the disappointment of missing the cut at Mount Juliet.

“When it all went belly up with the golf I headed up the road to Kildare. It was great to have that there to take my mind off the golf and switch off for a day or two even though I would have loved to be in Mount Juliet for another two days. But that’s golf and these things happen.”

Rafferty didn’t get too much downtime after Mount Juliet and Mondello as he was on an early morning flight to Spain on Sunday for the European Team Championships which take place at the PGA Catalunya Resort in Spain having being moved from the Vasatorp Golf Club in Sweden because of travel restriction concerns.

“It’s always nice to get the chance to play for your country and we haven’t had the chance to do that the last while. I would like to think we have a good chance at this year’s Europeans. We have a good mix in the team and we all get on well together so, hopefully, all going well we will qualify in the top tier and then give the matchplay a good run.”