Rafferty focused on achieving more goals in 2020

CAOLAN RAFFERTY

CAOLAN Rafferty is still focused on amateur achievements as heads into 2020 and towards a major decision on his future direction.

The 27-year-old Dundalk golfer is in the final year of his Business degree at Maynooth University and has always insisted that any thoughts of turning professional won’t be entertained until after he graduates. But he admits that, even a few months out from his arrival at that significant crossroads, he is far from making his mind up on his future.

“I am genuinely still in limbo,” admitted Rafferty. “I don’t know whether to make the jump or go out into the big bad world and get a job. “It‘s something that I will sit down and have a chat about with my coach Dougie (Bell) and with Neil (Manchip). Neil will be a big help because he has been through situations like that with Shane (Lowry) and the boys and then obviously I’ll sit down with my family and see what they all make of it too.”

At present, Rafferty’s golfing focus is very much on the amateur game where he still has a lot of unfinished business despite having won the South of Ireland and West of Ireland Championships over the past two years and appeared in the Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool last September.

“2020 is going to be another busy year. There are a couple of extra teams involved in this year so hopefully I will make a few of them and the end goal this year is the Eishenhower Trophy. I just missed out last time when it was on in Carton House.

“Looking back, 2019 is as good a year as I probably could have hoped for. I think if someone had said to me, at the start of the year, this is what you are going to achieve in 2019, I would have took everything off them and ran for the hills.

“From the start of the year in South Africa right through to playing Walker Cup there is very little that I would change. So yeah, I would rate it as pretty much as good as I could have done.”

Having reached the semi-finals of the South African Amateur Championship, where he was beaten by one hole, Rafferty came home and captured the West of Ireland at Rosses Point.

“The win in the West was another big thing in the year. To win anything is big but to win one of the big championships here in Ireland is obviously that little bit sweeter. I think to win it the way I did win it as well, by a few shots, was nice.”

Rafferty’s other big highlight of 2019 was his appearance at the Walker Cup where he picked up one win from two outings in the singles having been overlooked for the foursomes on both days along with fellow Irishman James Sugrue.

“The Walker Cup was unbelievable from the minute you get there to the end of it. Obviously, I would have liked to play another game, maybe play foursomes on one of the days, but that’s just the way things go. But, other than that, it was just a fantastic week and I got to meet a great bunch of lads.”

Having beaten America’s Alex Smalley 2&1 on the Saturday afternoon, Rafferty was paired again with the Duke University golfer on the Sunday afternoon and was involved in a pulsating match that was eventually decided in favour of the American on the 17th.

“To just get a point on the board was fantastic. It would have been a bit sickening to go and get none but to actually get a point was sweet,” recalled Rafferty.

“I know I’ll never get a roar like I did on the Sunday when I chipped in on the fifth or chipped in on the seventh out of the bunker. There were a few moments in the match where I could have been dead and buried but the cheers and little things like interacting with the crowd was really cool.”

However, 2019 wasn’t without its disappointments with Ireland losing the Home Internationals in Lahinch and Dundalk again coming up short at the All-Ireland Barton Shield Finals while the loss of a five-shot lead in the final round of the R&A Scholars Tournament at St Andrews in April is still a raw memory months later.

“The winner gets a slot in the Palmer Cup which was on in America last year so to have a five-shot lead going into the last day and not get the win hurt a bit. But, at the same time, it fired me up and I went out the week after and won the West where I also had a five shot lead going into the last day.

“St Andrews was a disappointment, but I learnt an awful lot about myself and learnt a lot about how to deal with a disappointment like that there and how to cope a little bit better when you are five shots ahead. It seems like an awful lot but it’s only one hole at the end of the day in golf.”

Members of the Irish squad recently met up with Open Champion Shane Lowry and Rafferty admitted that many of the insights that the Offalyman shared with them that day struck a chord with him.

“Meeting Shane was class. He is such a genuine lad. He kind of just put it all into perspective. He was open and very honest. He gets nervous, everyone gets nervous and he said there are days that he has learned an awful lot about himself. The things that I could draw out of it, I went through myself.

“He knows what he wants, and he does what he wants, when he wants. That’s an attitude that gets you a good bit in golf. It’s important to please yourself and forget about what everyone else is saying about you. There are always going to be the people saying you should be doing this or should be doing that. Shane mentioned that about people saying he should have done this, or he should have done that, or he should still be something else, but at the end of the day he’s the one standing with a major and a lot of wins under his belt. You have to respect someone when they are so honest about it.”

Rafferty will be part of a group of Irish players who will once again start their season in South Africa and he admits that it has been of great benefit to him in each of the last two years.

“I always find that South Africa is really important to kick-start your season. You are going down there and playing some of the best courses in the world and because it is so early it gets you going earlier in the year. It shortens the winter and sharpens your tools and allows you to hit the ground running because you don’t want to be behind the mark at the start.

“You take a lot of confidence when you go down there and you compete against some of the best golfers in the world. You are playing golf courses that we don’t normally play and, if you do finish well, it just goes to prove that you have more in the bag than you would find if you were just at home playing links all the time.”

Rafferty will start 2020 as number one in the European Golf Association rankings and 15th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, just one slot below his all-time high of 14th. Making the WAGR Top 10 is a major goal for the coming year but his belief hasn’t wavered that if he can continue to play good golf, everything else will look after itself.

“I’m just going to focus on playing good golf. If you play well all year, it will all look after itself and you won’t have to do anything different. It was something Shane alluded to. He plays his own game, he plays his own style, he doesn’t try to do anything different and that’s something I have spoken about with Neil and Dougie. It’s playing with what you have got. It’s not going to be pretty every day but if you can get around the golf course that’s half the battle. If I do that, all the rankings will look after themselves, teams will look after themselves, and tournaments will look after themselves.”

Lawlor inspires the World to victory in Disabled Cup

Brendan Lawlor (centre) celebrates with his teammates after winning the first Disabled Cup

 

Dundalk Golf Club’s Brendan Lawlor is on top of the world after helping the World Team beat Australia in the first ever ISPS Handa Disabled Golf Cup in Melbourne.

Played alongside the World Cup of Golf, the two day event was a further opportunity, after last week’s Australian All Abilities Championship in Sydney, for 12 of the world’s top disabled golfers to show their skills off to a wider audience in an intensely competitive environment.

Lawlor, who finished second in last week’s event, teamed up with Spain’s Juan Postigo in Friday’s foursomes and Saturday’s fourballs, to deliver two emphatic wins and two vital points as they led the World team from the front to a 3.5 to 2.5 victory over Australia.

The 21-year-old admitted the past two weeks has been amazing for both himself and disabled golf.

“The second place finish in Sydney gave me amazing exposure over here and I definitely saw that when we moved to Melbourne. The cameras were always on us and the crowds were in awe in what we were doing as we were playing the same course as the professionals.

“It was a great honour to be the first disabled golfers to lift the trophy. It was even better for it to be presented to us by Peter Phillips who is a fantastic ISPS Handa ambassador and a great guy,” said Lawlor.

Such was the impact Lawlor has had since arriving in Australia that when he arrived at Melbourne’s Metropolitan Golf Club, Ireland’s World Cup team of Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne sought him out and invited him to join them for a practice round.

“Shane and Paul are two gents. They approached me and said hello first. They knew who I was and it felt amazing. Playing golf with them was even better,” recalled Lawlor.

Lawlor and Postigo were handed the honour of leading the World team out in Friday’s foursomes and it didn’t take them long to put the first point on the board as they proved too strong for Mike Rolls and Tony Coates in what were extremely tough conditions.

They won 6&4 and helped the World team lead Australia 2-1 after the opening day with Lawlor happy with how they had played.

“It felt pretty good,” Lawlor said. “We were pretty slow to start but we hit a lot of good shots and from seven to 12 we played pretty steady.

“Myself and my partner Juan stayed calm when the weather was really bad because we knew the scores weren’t going to be as good. We played really solid and were only two over for 14 holes as we both holed key putts.”

On Saturday they were again sent out first as The World team looked for the 1.5 points they needed to take the trophy. Lawlor and Postigo again showed the way by finishing the job on the 14th as they romped to a 5&4 victory over Australia’s Cameron Pollard and Tony Coates.

They were a remarkable three-under-par when the match ended but Lawlor admitted it took them a while to get control of the match.

“The weather today was really nice. It was windy but it was warm. I got off to a slow start today even though I had a great par on the first. The next few holes I went stale but Juan played really solid when I wasn’t playing well. We were one over after eight and I then hit this three wood to 60 feet on nine and holed it for eagle was an amazing moment and a big moment in the game. We stayed steady and were three under for the 14 holes we played which was solid shooting.

“Me and Juan got on like a house on fire. He is a Spanish disability golfer with an amazing talent and is ranked number one in Europe. We gelled really well both days and had a laugh and played great golf.”

Lawlor had his father on his bag with him for the two tournaments in Australia and admitted it was special to be able to share those great moments with him.

“Dad is an amazing caddie. I give him a hard time sometimes when the game isn’t going to plan. But the support both my parents have given me all my life, not just the last two weeks is lovely. Second in Sydney and winning two points for Europe, the caddie must be doing something right, or maybe it’s the player!”

Lawlor’s big objectives include trying to form an Irish Disabled Golfers Association and helping to promote golf’s case for inclusion in the 2024 Paralympics. He believes that the past two weeks have helped both objectives take a big step forward.

“Yes, the last two weeks will 100 per cent help promote the game. The crowds in Australia had more interest in watching us than the pros, which was quite extraordinary. The pros loved it too and they treated us like their own. I played a pro-am with Thomas Pieters and he is one great guy.”

Lawlor now heads back to Ireland and will finally have an opportunity to take stock on what has been an unbelievable year for him. As well as his Australian exploits it included wins on the European Disabled Golfers Tour in France and Czech Republic and saw him move to third in the World Rankings. He also mixed it with able-bodied golfers at the highest level and was part of Dundalk’s senior panel which won the Leinster Barton Shield and reached the semi-finals of Leinster Senior Cup. Lawlor won both his matches in the Senior qualifiers of the Senior Cup at Laytown & Bettystown and also succeeded in getting his playing handicap down to one.

ENDS