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.”

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 gets 2019 off to an impressive start

CAOLAN Rafferty got his 2019 season off to an impressive start by reaching the semi-finals of the South African Amateur Championship.

After finishing tied second in the two round strokeplay qualifying competition Rafferty continued to impressive as he marched through four rounds of matchplay before losing by one hole to South Africa’s Jordan Duminy in the last four.

“I was gutted to lose on the last hole of the semi-final but I am very happy with the way I played all week. There were a lot of birdies and eagles and very few bogeys all week. The game is in good shape so I have more positives to take from the week than the defeat in the semi-final.”

Having spent January focused on his business exams at Maynooth University, where he is a Harrington Scholar, the trip to South Africa as part of the GUI national panel was an opportunity for Rafferty to ease himself into 2019 with the sun on his back.

He opened the week with a steady three under par round of 69 in the first round of qualifying for South African Amateur Championship at King David Mowbray Golf Club. Rafferty reeled off eight successive pars before a hot streak yielded three successive birdies on the ninth, 10th and 11th. He then parred his way in for a bogey-free round and was tied eighth, six shots behind leader Luca Filippi.

The second round saw him birdie seven of the first 14 holes before he dropped his first shot of the week when he bogeyed the par four 15th. He signed for a six under par 66 and finished qualifying tied for second on nine under and one shot behind leading qualifier Filippi.

In the first round of matchplay, Rafferty faced South Africa’s Ayden Senger and took a firm grip of the match early on as won five of the first seven holes to go 5up and closed it out on the 14th for an emphatic 5&4 victory.

Next up was Germany’s Timo Vahlenkamp and once again Rafferty got control early on by winning the first and fourth holes. Although he lost the sixth to a birdie four, he birdied the seventh, ninth and 13th to open up a five hole lead and although he lost the 14th to a birdie four he parred the 15th to halve the hole and take the match 4&3.

That win earned him a place in the last 16 against his Ireland team-mate Conor Purcell from Portmarnock who recently became the first Irishman to win the Australian Amateur Championship.

The match couldn’t have started better for Rafferty who eagled the par four first hole and then won the second with a par to go two up. However, Purcell, who went into the tournament as the highest ranked Irishman on the World Rankings, came charging back and birdied the third, sixth and ninth to take a one hole lead which he held until the 13th when Rafferty birdied to go back to all square.

The Dundalk man then eagled the par five 14th to go one up before proceeding to ruthlessly dispatch Purcell by birdieing the next two holes for a superb 3&2 win.

England’s David Langley provided Rafferty’s opposition in the quarter-finals and he struck the first blow when he birdied the third to open up a one hole lead.

Rafferty’s response was swift and devastating as he won the next four holes with two birdies, an eagle and a par to go three up after seven. Langley got a hole back by winning the ninth but Rafferty won the 10th and although he lost the 12th he won the 13th to remain 3up and then halved the next three holes to win 3&2,.

That left Rafferty in the last four and the only non-South African player still standing. His 16-year-old opponent was one of the home nation’s up and coming stars, Jordan Duminy, a product of the Louis Oosthuizen Academy.

Their match was a tight affair with never more than one hole between them. Rafferty lost the second to a par but won the next in par. The pair then halved the next nine holes before Rafferty birdied the par five 14th to go one up with four to play.

However, Duminy brought the match back to all square at the next hole with a birdie three and, after halving the next two holes in par, the pair stood on the 18th hole all square and facing the prospect of extra holes.

However, the 18th proved to be the decisive hole. Rafferty airmailed the green with his approach shot from 160 yards and ended up against a tree at the back of the green. Duminy made an easy par and Rafferty’s putt to force the match down the 19th burned the edge of the hole.

“I just got really unlucky on 18 with my second shot. I got a flyer from 160 yards and went 30 yards over the back and ended up against a tree. I had to alter my swing to hit it and then tried to chip in but it ran by. He was always making four and although my par putt burned the edge it didn’t drop.

“I would have taken hand and arm off you if you had offered me the week I’ve just had before coming out. I have competed against a field of top class players and reached the semi-final.”

Rafferty’s stats for the week were pretty impressive, He completed 116 holes and recorded three eagles, 36 birdies, 70 pars and seven bogies and only failed to complete one hole all week.

“My scoring was really good. If it had been a strokeplay event I would have been around 35 under for the week so I am really looking forward to next week and hopefully continuing my form. However, you never know what is going to happen in golf. It’s a funny old game and next week could be a complete disaster.”

Next week’s tournament is the South African Amateur Strokeplay at De Zalze Golf Club where Rafferty will be hoping to continue his climb up the World Rankings and cement his place in the World’s top 50 as well as continuing to press his claims for a place on the Britain and Ireland team for the Walker Cup in September at Hoylake.