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 finishes fourth in European Masters

Caolan Rafferty

Caolan Rafferty returned home to Dundalk to a hero’s welcome on Sunday having spent the last two weeks living out a suitcase as he played three tournaments in three counties and emerged with a win, a second and a fourth place.

The win came in the West of Ireland Championship last Sunday week when he became the first player from Dundalk Golf Club to win the event as he added the West to the South of Ireland title he won in Lahinch last year.

He headed straight from the presentation ceremony at Rosses Point to Dublin Airport where the Irish team was gathering ahead of an early morning flight last Monday to Spain for the European Masters in Sotogrande.

Fifteen countries from across the continent teed it up with Ireland looking to lift a title they last held in 2016 while Rafferty and team-mates Conor Purcell, Mark Power and Robert Brazil were also hoping to land the individual honours although Rafferty admitted that was a secondary concern.

“I was only interested in helping the team this week,” said the 26-year-old. “I knew from last year anything under six over was good for team purposes.”

As it happened Rafferty finished on eight over after the four rounds of play which was just two shots behind the individual winner Tom Sloman of England. He opened with a four over par 76 and followed that with a 73 and 74 before finishing the tournament with a 73 in round four.

“The course was so tough and Rob Brazil, with a 69 in the last round, was the only player over the four days to shoot a sub-70 round. The wind was up and the pins were hidden on really quick greens. If you missed a green it was so hard to get up and down.

“I got off to a bad start on the first day and was four over after nine. Tiredness definitely kicked in but I tried to rally back and post a half decent score. I kept telling myself just one more round and managed to cover the back nine in level par for a 76.

“Going into the last round, myself and Conor felt if we posted under par we could win the team event or, at worse, finish second. Third wasn’t the end of the world but it would have been nice to have finished higher.”

With the Walker Cup selectors watching the action in Spain unfold, Rafferty had the consolation of being the best of the four Irish players as Ireland finished third behind England and were pipped by one shot for second place by Holland.

“From a personal point of view I was delighted to finish fourth in the individual competition after a long few weeks on the road. It wasn’t the easiest course to come and play after the few weeks I had, playing three tournaments in succession in three different countries.”

Rafferty will now take a well-deserved break and head back to Maynooth University where he has a lot of college work to catch up on. It will also give some time to reflect on the past few weeks.

“I feel really happy with myself that I was competitive at three big tournaments and managed to also get a win. It was tough living out of a suitcase for three weeks so I know now how the pros feel. It’s always good to win one early and follow it up with a decent finish and there’s still plenty of golf to be played this year.”

Rafferty wins West of Ireland Championship

Caolan Rafferty – 2019 West of Ireland Golf Champion.

CAOLAN RAFFERTY added another Irish amateur major to his belt on Sunday when he captured the West of Ireland Golf Championship at Rosses Point.

The 26-year-old Dundalk Golf Club player held his nerve on the final day to see off the challenge of England’s Arron Edwards Hill and Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell and win by four shots.

Having won the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch last summer, Rafferty now holds two of the six Irish Amateur majors and remains on track to qualify for the American Amateur Championship and make the Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team.

“It’s a great feeling,” admitted Rafferty moments after sinking his Championship winning putt on the final green at Co Sligo Golf Club and acknowledging the cheers of the large crowd in attendance.

“I played as well I have in a long time this week. The course suited me and my golf was steady all week. We were blessed with the weather and I didn’t have to change anything from day to day.”

After opening with a level par 71 on Thursday to lie joint 10th, Rafferty found himself joint leader at the halfway stage after shooting a five under par 65 in the second round. After bogeying the second, he holed six birdies over the final 16 holes and shared the lead with Royal Dublin’s Max Kennedy.

In the third round, Rafferty again went low, this time posting a bogey free, four birdie round of 66 to move to nine under and open up a four shot on the field.

The previous Tuesday, at the R&A Foundation Scholars Tournament in St Andrews, Rafferty had blown a five shot lead in the final round in finishing second to Welshman Aled Greville and missed out on the automatic place available to the winner on the International team to face the United States of America in the 2019 Arnold Palmer Cup match being played at Arkansas in June.

“Those things happen in golf,” reflected Rafferty. “I just made too many mistakes in the final round at St Andrew’s and unfortunately Aled shot seven under on the day and came chasing out of the pack to beat me. I got over it quickly because I’ve had plenty of bad days in my career and that wasn’t going to be the worst day.

“Having just had that experience probably helped me going into the final round of the West because I knew if I played my own game it should be good enough to see me over the line.”

Playing in the final grouping as his nearest challengers, Edwards Hill and Purcell, Rafferty opened with four straight pars before moving to 10 under for the tournament after a birdie on the par five fifth. Two holes later he recorded his first bogey in 40 holes but he responded with six more pars to lie nine-under with five to play.

By that stage Purcell, who is the reigning Australian Amateur champion, had emerged as his biggest challenger having reeled off four birdies, following a bogey at the second, to move to seven-under and close the gap on Rafferty to two shots.

But the 418 metres par four 14th proved to be the decisive hole. When Rafferty holed for a bogey five, Purcell had a short but testing four-footer for par to reduce the gap to just one. It was a putt that slid agonisingly past the hole and left Rafferty in pole position with four holes to go.

As the Dundalk man parred his way in to finish on eight under, Purcell dropped shots at the 16th and 17th, and eventually finished tied for second, along with Edwards Hill, on four under.

“I didn’t panic when he got to within two of me. I knew even then I could make one mistake and still be able to steer it in. Luckily when I did make that mistake on 14, he failed to capitalise.”

It’s been a great start to 2019 for Rafferty after reaching the semi-finals of the South African Amateur Championship and finishing second at the R&A Foundation Scholars tournament. He now heads to Spain to represent Ireland at the European Nations in Sotogrande this week still chasing his dream of playing in the American Amateur Championship and the Walker Cup.

“The last two tournaments carried world ranking points so that should help keep me in the top 50 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. All I can do is keep playing the golf I am playing and see what happens.”

Rafferty is the first Dundalk golfer to win the West of Ireland Golf Championship having gone one better than the legendary Mick Ferguson, who finished as runner-up in 1951. He is also the first Dundalk player to win two of the major Irish Amateur Championships.

This was the first year that the West was played in a strokeplay format and Rafferty admitted that it was the change in the format that eventually persuaded him to head to Sligo from Scotland last Wednesday.

“I was humming and hawing whether I should even come over or not given my college work load but, funnily enough, I actually have a great strokeplay record from the qualifiers around here. I sat down and looked at my scores and thought, ‘well I’m actually not too bad at strokeplay around this golf course and to have four rounds of strokes could actually play to my advantage’. Luckily enough it did because I’ve a lot of college work to catch up on now!”

Dundalk’s other representatives at the West were Eoin Murphy and Aaron Grant. Murphy opened with rounds of 73 and 70 to lie T10 after two rounds but eventually finished T44 after disappointing weekend rounds of 77 and 78.

Grant opened with a 77 but then retired with an injury after 16 holes of his second round.

 

Top trio head for the West at Rosses Point

Caolan Rafferty, Aaron Grant and Eoin Murphy will tee it up in this week’s West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point which starts on Thursday and will be a four round strokeplay event with the cut falling after 54 holes.

Josh Mackin missed out on one of the 12 qualifying places last Sunday by one shot iafter shooting a four-over par 71 while Neal Mackell also missed out after a 79.

Rafferty, Grant and Murphy warmed up for the West at the Laytown & Bettystown Scratch Cup last week where defending champion Rafferty finished fifth after two one over par rounds of 72 and Grant and Murphy also finished in the top 15.

 

 

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 and Murphy make presence felt in West

Two Dundalk golfers certainly made their presence felt at West of Ireland Championship in Rosses Point last week and while they didn’t come away with the title, they certainly laid down markers for the season ahead.

Caolan Rafferty went one better than year by reaching the last eight while Eoin Murphy, who has just turned 17, reached the last 16 in what was his first major amateur championship.

Murphy, who is a two handicapper, had to pre-qualify for the tournament and earned one of the 20 spots on offer after a marathon seven hole play-off was needed to fill the remaining four qualifying places from the 10 players tied on 77.

On the seventh tie-hole Murphy found himself as one of three players chasing the last two spots and his hopes of qualifying looked doomed when he forced to take a penalty drop from a wall. He made a five but got through after one of his rivals played a wrong ball and incurred a two-stroke penalty.

Four other Dundalk players – Andrew Keenan, Conor Curran, Richie Newell and Neil MacKell – also played in the pre-qualifers but failed to make the cut.

Murphy took full advantage of his good fortune two days later when he teed up in the Championship proper. He shot a three under par 68 in the first of the two strokeplay qualifying rounds as he mixed three bogeys with four birdies before holing a 60-yard lob wedge for an eagle two at the 18th.

“It was a nice way to finish,” said Murphy afterwards. “”It was a good solid round of golf — I hit lots of greens and didn’t do anything too mad until the 18th. It’s my first men’s championship and to be able to compete with these boys is great.”

Although he shot a 78 in the second round, Murphy comfortably qualified for the matchplay stage as did Rafferty who shot rounds of 72 and 75 but Aaron Grant missed the cut by two shots after he followed an excellent opening round of 73 with a nine-over par 80.

In the first matchplay round Murphy was drawn against Irish international Tiarnan McLaron (Massereene) and showed no signs of nerves against one of the favourites as he trounced the Ulsterman by 6&5 and he proved it was no fluke in the afternoon when he defeated Royal Dublin’s Richard Knightly by 3&2, impressing everybody as he came from two down with a tremendous run of winning holes to close the match on the 16th.

Rafferty also had a good day at the office on Easter Sunday as he saw off Tandragee’s Ross Dutton by 2&1 in the first round and then beat Andrew Hickey (Ballyhaunis) by 3&2 after lunch to reach the last 16 for the second successive year.

Unfortunately for Murphy, his magnificent run came to an end on Easter Monday morning when he was beaten 6&4 by local favourite David Brady (Co Sligo) but he certainly left his mark on the competition and showed that he has the ability to play at Irish amateur golf’s highest level.

Rafferty drew on all his experience to make the quarter-final as he was two down with four to play against Colin Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire). He birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th to go one up and also won the 18th to win the match by two holes and earn a shot at making the last day of the West.

Rafferty faced Portmarnock’s Jack Pierce in the last eight and came up against a player in the top form from tee to green. Pierce, who helped Portmarnock win the World Club Golf Championship in December, opened up a three shot lead but although Rafferty birdied the 12th to reduce the deficit to two with six to play but he was unable to reel in Pierce who won by 2&1 and was level par for his round when it finished on the 17th.

While obviously disappointed that he didn’t make the semi-finals and the final day of the Championship, Rafferty can take a lot of satisfaction from his opening major of the year having gone one better than he did in 2016.

Grant and Rafferty reach last 16 at West of Ireland

Elite golfers Aaron Grant and Caolan Rafferty proudly flew the flag for Dundalk Golf Club at the West of Ireland Golf Championship in Rosses Point over the Easter Weekend.

Both reached the last 16 of the first major amateur championship of the 2016 season and claimed some notable scalps along the way.

The Dundalk duo qualified for the Matchplay stage of the tournament after finishing among the top 25 of the 64 qualifiers. The qualifying round was reduced to 18 holes after high winds caused the second round on Easter Saturday to be abandoned so Grant’s 77 and Rafferty’s 79 from Friday saw them qualify comfortably inside the cut.

In Round 1 on Easter Sunday morning Grant beat Andrew Morris of Belvoir Park 2&1 while Rafferty defeated James Pierse of Portmarnock by 1 hole.

On Sunday afternoon in Round 2 Grant had a one hole victory over William Russell of Clandeboye while Rafferty came from two down after 11 holes to beat Portmarnock’s James Fox with a birdie on the 19th hole.

That left only Dundalk and host club Co Sligo with two representatives in the last 16 on Easter Monday morning. Rafferty faced Matthew Kane of Whitehead and, after losing the opening hole, was unable to get back on level terms. He was two down after 11 and eventually succumbed to a 3&2 defeat.

Grant faced Daniel Holland of The Castle and found himself two down after 11 holes. They were all square by the time they walked off the 14th green but after halving the 15th, Grant lost 16 and 17 to lose the match 2&1.

Rafferty’s conqueror Kane was beaten in the quarter-finals by the eventual winner Jonathan Yates of Nass who defeated Holland in the final.

Reaching the last 16 of the West represents a good start to the season for Rafferty and Grant and everybody at Dundalk wishes the boys well for the coming season.

One of the big targets for both players in the coming weeks will be the annual Dundalk Senior Scratch Cup, sponsored by Jeffers Sports Turf, which is scheduled for Sunday, April 24. Entries are now being accepted by the Pro Shop on 042-9321731.