The European Club specialises in identifying champions and while the 2021 Flogas Irish Amateur Open champion has yet to reveal himself, the great Brittas Bay links eliminated a host of title contenders with the cold-blooded eye of a sniper on Friday.
Even with soft fairways and greens and virtually no wind, just four players broke par as the field averaged 77.39 on a par-71 track measuring 7169 yards with the short second replaced by the 215-yard 12A.
Irish Close runner up Robert Moran did not return a score as he succumbed to a series of killer blows, and it was Athenry’s Allan Hill who showed the great Pat Ruddy creation can be conquered as he made up for a three-putt bogey from 50 feet at the sixth (traditionally the seventh) by knocking in a 25 footer at the 14th and a 15 footer at the 15th. He then rifled a 187-yard six-iron to within 35 feet on the 481-yard 18th before watching his putt topple in on its final revolution for a two-under 69 and a one-stroke lead over Letterkenny’s Cian Harkin, Switzerland’s Cedric Gugler and Scotland’s Ruben Lindsay.
“It was playing pretty tricky out there”, Hill said after his round. “Obviously, the European Club has the pedigree of being quite a difficult course, so I was delighted because bar one mistake on six and getting angry after missing a good birdie chance on 13, I made three nice putts coming in and played very solidly all day.”
Harkin only got into the event as a reserve and he was thrilled to find himself in the mix.
“I was just happy to be here,” he said. “I stayed calm throughout. I made a few putts and did all I could to stay out of the rough all day. It’s all about hitting fairways and greens out there.
“I’ve proven myself to the boys at home today. Sometimes I wonder if they think ‘is he good enough?’ To see my name near the top of the leaderboard is a dream come true.”
Roscommon’s Thomas Higgins shot a level par 71 to lie solo sixth with Galway veteran Joe Lyons in a seven-man logjam for sixth on one-over that includes Irish international Matthew McClean from Malone.
Irish Close champion Peter O’Keeffe, who is bidding to become just the seventh player since 1892 to win the Close and Open titles in the same year, was cruising on one-under par until he spun off the green and bogeyed the 17th, then caught a fairway bunker and double-bogeyed the 18th to card a two-over 73 that left him tied for 13th after patiently plotting his way around.
“It’s just completely about patience,” said O’Keeffe, who hit irons off the tee for most of the day but then regretted not hitting driver at the 481-yard 18th as his three wood was gobbled up by the left fairway bunker, forcing him to play out sideways. “You have to get really good shots and I did for 16 holes. It can just catch you out.”
Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship, The European Club (Par 71). First round:
69 A Hill (Athenry);
70 C Harkin (Letterkenny), C Gugler (GCC Zurich), R Lindsay (Turnberry);
71 T Higgins (Roscommon);
72 E Papineau (Canada), E Dimayuga (Walton Heath), N Gerhardsen (Breitenloo), J Lyons (Galway), M McClean (Malone), B McDougall (Canada), J Claridge (Enville);
73 K Egan (Carton House), P O’Keeffe (Douglas), R Abernethy (Dun Laoghaire);
74 A Marshall (Lisburn), G Dunne (Co. Louth), T Matthews (Aldersey Green), H Smith (The Rayleigh Club), E Murphy (Dundalk), A Edwards-Hill (Chelmsford), A Ryan (Thurles), R Cheetham (Pedham Place Golf Centre), P Coughlan (Castleknock), D Shiel (Powerscourt);
75 D McCormack (Corrstown), R Cannon (Balbriggan), C Graham (Blairgowrie), T Lecomte (Evian Resort), J Cleary (Elm Park), J McDonnell (Forrest Little), S McLoughlin (Co. Sligo), G Lappin (Belvoir Park), D McDonnell Jnr. (Monkstown), G Cullen (The Links Portmarnock), G Holland (Southport & Ainsdale), S Goldenring (MGA);
76 C Rafferty (Dundalk), K Popert (Wildernesse), J Whelan (Grange), H Foley (Royal Dublin);
77 S Cave (The Belfry ), A Hickey (Galway Bay), A Challoner (Galway Bay), J Harvey (The Kendleshire), G Ward (Kinsale);
78 J Fox (Portmarnock), L Nolan (Galway), M Boucher (Carton House), P Ulmrich (GC Mannheim-Viernheim 1930 e.V. ), S Walker (Roscommon), M Scowsill (Woodbridge), J Hill (Galgorm Castle), D Goldstein (MGA), S Flanagan (Portmarnock), S Siltala (Kankaisten Golf), J Prutthaweewat (Bern), J Skeet (Royal of Belgium), J Murphy (Douglas);
79 J Berry (Doncaster), J Rackard (Enniscorthy), S Ryan (Royal Dublin), D Kitt (Athenry), A Mulholland (Castlerock);
80 M Mullen (Rosslare), N Mäki-Petäjä (Vuosaari Golf Helsinki), S Keeling (Roganstown), A Kiernan (Forrest Little);
81 J Jämsä (Pickala), M Deasy (Douglas), R Brazill (Naas), T Randolph (MGA), M Shiel (Galway Bay);
82 S McDermott (Slieve Russell), E Sullivan (Carton House), D Reddan Jnr (Nenagh), A Fahy (Dun Laoghaire);
83 J Waaralinna (Pickala), G O’Neill (Malahide), P Keeling (Roganstown), P McKeever (Castle);
85 A Trenta (Lägern), J Hewitt (Tandragee), A Benson (West Lothian);
86 R Muir (Kilmarnock (Barassie), C Butler (Kinsale), C Sharpe (Blairgowrie);
87 N Hearns (Mountrath);
90 T Plunkett (Crover House);
WD K LeBlanc (The Island) 90;
NR R Moran (Castle);
RTD R Knightly (Royal Dublin).