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 looking forward to 2019 after memorable year

IT’s a sign of how far Caolan Rafferty has come over the past three years that he is now the highest ranked Irishman on the World Amateur Golf rankings having broken into the top 50 for the first time in recent weeks.

As 2018 draws to a close Rafferty, who turned 26 on December 22, sits at No.49 on the WAG rankings and is looking forward to 2019 knowing it could be even better than the previous 12 months.

This time last year, the Dundalk Golf Club player set himself three objectives. They were to win one of Ireland’s six major amateur golf championships, win a senior club pennant with Dundalk, and make the Irish team for the Eisenhower Trophy.

He achieved two out of the three as he beat Rowan Lester in the South of Ireland final at Lahinch in July and led Dundalk to victory over Enniscorthy in the Leinster final of the Barton Shield in June. He agrees it was a good year.

“Two out of three wasn’t bad and even the Eisenhower was close in that I was probably the fourth man of a three man team.

“I think at one stage I had five, maybe six trophies, in the house, all at the one time. It was a really good spell from say September of 2017 to now. I couldn’t really complain. I won in Colombia in September 2017 and that was my first big win. That boosted my confidence. Getting the South took a weight off my shoulders and hopefully I can add to it now because that’s the next objective.”

His other major objectives for 2019 are to make the Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team in September and also secure a place at the US Amateur Championship which takes place in August in Pinehurst.

If he stays in the Top 50 then he will automatically earn a place at Pinehurst and he agrees that it is a sign of how far he has come over the past three years that he is now realistically contemplating being part of these iconic events.

“All these things are starting to come around which I never really thought of before. When I got to my first semi-final at the North in 2015 the last thing I was thinking about was where am I on the WAG. To get into the top 50 in the world is a nice achievement in itself, and there’s not too many from Ireland, never mind the smallest county in the country, have done it.”

He spent several days in the run-up to Christmas on Merseyside after being one of ten potential Walker Cup players invited to attend an informal practice session at Royal Liverpool Golf Club by Britain and Ireland captain Craig Watson and selectors Nigel Edwards and Andy Ingram. The Hoylake venue will host the bi-annual event in September and Rafferty enjoyed the experience.

“It was an interesting two days. I never played Hoylake so it was my first time there. Obviously this time of the year wouldn’t do it any justice, the weather was poor and you could see that the course was bit tired at the end of the season but the layout is fantastic. The clubhouse, everything about it, is amazing. To be part of a Walker Cup team there would be special and would be something that I would really enjoy.”

He admits he really got a taste of what it could be like in September as they were given a tour of the team room, asked to do media interviews and given an opportunity to see the massive trophy up close. He says playing in the Walker Cup has been a long-term objective over the past few years but he is not going to let it become a millstone around his neck.

“The last thing I am going to be worrying about is trying to make the team. If I play good golf that will all sort itself out.”

He believes that his poor showings in the St Andrews Trophy and the British Amateur during the summer probably cost him his place on the Eisenhower Team so he is determined to improve his consistency across the season in 2019 and believes he now mentally stronger than ever.

“I think I did show last year that I have a bit more character to me now and that I can dig deep and really push whereas a couple of years ago I probably didn’t have it in me.”

Since 2017, Rafferty has been on a Harrington Golf Scholarship at Maynooth University where he is studying for a degree in business and he admits he is now beginning to see the benefits of being a college golfer.

“The University this year was a big thing and there was plenty of golf there. Extra golf, but it added to the season. The scheduling got busier but it was a case that you were playing in big events, playing new people and seeing new courses. Last year I didn’t really grasp what college golf was about but this year I saw the value of it and how a few of those titles would be nice under my belt.

“The College golf is definitely helping. I wouldn’t be a great practiser, I’d rather play holes, but this year I got myself into a bit of a routine and I went down two or three nights a week even though keeping on top of assignments is tricky. I am balancing it better. I have a schedule to my week now. Before I went to college I was going through the motions. I felt like I had to go down and practice but now you want to go and practice. I have a better outlook and better discipline.”

Another major event for Rafferty in 2019 will be the R&A’s Amateur Championship which is being held in Portmarnock and The Island in June and he revealed that it was a big topic of conversation in Hoylake.

“They were all asking about Portmarnock and wanting to know what it is like. I think it is going to be one of the toughest courses the Amateur has ever been played on. The best of the best are going to be there so making the cut will be my first goal.”

The inter-club scene provided happiness and heartbreak during 2018 as he was part of the first ever Dundalk team to win a senior pennant but then saw their dreams of a national pennant dashed by Athenry in the final of the Barton Shield in Thurles.

“To get over the line this year and give that little bit of thrill to everybody in Dundalk by winning the Leinster pennant was nice. Because it is such an individual game to do stuff as a team is so nice.

“To be pipped in the final of the All-Ireland was heartbreaking. It is amazing how close you get. It was a rough one to take. As I said to the lads, I have had plenty of heartbreak in individual golf, in championships. To learn to lose before you win is the way I have always had it. You don’t win first time out, you have to take your defeats, know what it is to have a setback and then go again. I think next year will show a good bit of character from us to try and do it again. Athenry only won it on their third attempt so we’ll take a lot from knowing that.”

After celebrating his 26th birthday and Christmas at home in Dundalk, Rafferty flew out to America on St Stephen’s Day with Maynooth University team-mate Ronan Mullarney to take part in the 2018 Patriot All-America Invitational in Arizona and is looking forward to the year ahead.

“I am looking forward to the season in general. After Arizona, I come back and I have exams then we go for a training week to Portugal and then hopefully I will make the panel going to South Africa. It is just flying after that and it will be Christmas before I know it. It will be all go.”

One question Raffetty gets asked a lot concerns his future plans and whether or not he intends to turn professional. He admits it is something he is thinking about but not a question that he is ready yet to answer.

“I am going to do College and see what happens after that. I am still 50-50 on it and it is something I will need to have a real good think about because it is costly. I will sit down after college and I will weigh up my options. I won’t make a rash decision, I know that much.”