Golf

Dunluce and Portstewart to host North of Ireland Amateur Open

Tony McGee

THE Cathedral Eye North of Ireland Amateur Open Championship will tee-off next Monday, with one big difference.

The 36 holes of qualifying will be held at Dunluce and Portstewart, with the Valley now out of the loop because of ongoing work and a rearrangement of holes at Royal Portrush. This year, there is also an entry from New Zealand, probably the first ever in the history of the championship, which was launched in 1947 and won by Johnny Fitzsimons (Bushfoot).

The history-maker is Fionntán Lawlor, who plays out of the Titirangi Club in Auckland. He grew up in the north of England, but moved to Auckland for eight years. He completed his studies there and then worked as a gym manager, during which time he increased his interest in golf.

“Due to commitments to my studies and work, I was unable to play in a lot of the major events based around New Zealand and, although I never managed to succeed in a victory, I was still able to contest and post some very respectable top-five finishes," Lawlor said.

“However, since my studies are now completed and I have graduated, I have been able to put more time into my game, which is showing signs of vast improvement and more consistency."

Lawlor, who has his eyes set on a pro career, recently moved back to Ireland: “That has always been where my heart is, mainly due to the majority of my family living within and around Dundalk,” he added.

“Managing the gym within Auckland was a great experience as a 23-year-old. However, my passion was always golf and chasing a career within that. The road for me to chase that dream has not been easy as I lost eight stone in body weight.

“Due to that loss of weight, I had to rebuild and redevelop my swing. The feelings and motions I had before had to change also because of the loss of weight. Anyhow, I am very excited and honoured to be able to play at such world class courses such as Royal Portrush and Portstewart. They showcase Irish links golf."

Lawlor has sampled Irish Championship golf before, as he recalls: “I did compete in the South of Ireland Championship in 2013, but I was gracefully beaten and it showed me the standard which I would have to get to in order to compete at this level.

“The first goal I have next week, besides hitting the fairway off my first tee, is to qualify for the matchplay. After that, I am in my element as, due to my competitive nature, I thrive in matchplay situations. I am ready to bring my Irish-Kiwi flair onto the course and further help to prepare myself for Q School in March, when I hope to turn professional.”

Lawlor is not the only overseas entrant for the bulging 300-strong draw. Adam Toth (Golf Ontario), Sam Sweeney (Vista Valencia), Eoin Leonard (Wandsworth), Stephen Jeffers (Castletown) and the ever-present Foley Gort (also Castletown) will also compete.

Former Balmoral player Matt McKnight is entered from the LPGA International Club in the US.

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