Golf

Dermot McElroy sets sights on North of Ireland glory

Ballymena GC golfer Dermot McElroy would love to get his hands on the North of Ireland Championship trophy 
Picture by Pat Cashman
Tony McGee

DERMOT McElroy has a pretty impressively packed CV but there is a gap on it that he would dearly love to fill in this week. He has never won the North of Ireland Amateur Open Championship, despite some pretty close shaves with success.

The Ballymena minus-four handicapper will make his 10th appearance in the tournament, today, having made his debut at the tender age of 14. That was in 2003, the only year that he has failed to make the cut.

“I had a bad habit of losing in the first matchplay round, for a few years, but I have done reasonably well in later years, normally reaching the quarter-finals and semi-finals. I got to the final in 2010 but lost by 3&1 to Alan Dunbar,” Dermot (23) recalls. “I want to win that title and I hope it will be this week.”

He has rarely been out of the top 10 in the qualifying, and won the Silver Medal as leading qualifier in 2012, but in 2011, when among the favourites to win, illness struck and he had to pull out of the first round of matchplay, after suffering from food poisoning the night before.

McElroy reveals that he used to have a different approach to strokeplay and matchplay. In the latter situation, he was inclined to play the man but has learned that it is the course, as the late Fred Daly advised, you should still play in matchplay.

“I got out of the bad habit of paying more attention to my opponent's than to my own game. I agree that one should play the course at all times and that message has helped my game,” he says.

This year has been very busy, so far, for McElroy. He was a member of the Irish Nations' Cup winning team, he was seventh in the St Andrew's Links Trophy, reached the last 16 in the Spanish Open, finished 18th in the Brabazon Trophy, qualified in the British Amateur Championship and was a member of the Ulster team that went so very, very close to winning the men's Interprovincial Championship, last week.

“I got four points out of six in the interpros, at Fota Island, but I didn't play all that well. My driving and iron play was a bit off but my putting was very good. I have changed putters about four times this year and, I think, I'll stick with this one,” he stresses.

“I had a good session at Ballymena when I came back from Fota and I'm very happy with the way my game is at present and I'm looking forward to the week ahead. I'd love to fill in that gap on my CV.”

McElroy played Dunluce two weeks ago and on Saturday had a trip over the Portstewart Links, where the lower handicap players will open their bid to qualify on Monday. He says he may take a walk around the Dunluce course after the higher handicappers finish their round this evening.

“The Dunluce Links have been toughened up. It is very tight off the tee now and one must be precise with the tee-shots. There are new bunkers, new tees and greens. The 18th green has been widened, so I'd like to have another look at those changes,” he explains.

Already out of the competition before it starts are former semi-finalist Robin Dawson (Faithlegg) and Alex Gleeson (Castle). They have both scratched and there are doubts about Alan Lowry (Esker Hills) who had to pull out of the interpros with a hand injury.

The members of the Irish team that played in the European Championship last week don't have to qualify, as they didn't return home until the weekend, and some of them may wish to opt out, as well. Entrants have until this morning to withdraw.

Defending the title will be John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead), who won five points out of six in the interpros and could hardly have been faulted for not getting at least a vital half on the very last green, on the final day, when he lost to a Conor Purcell (Portmarnock) eagle, after making birdie.

Kiwi Fionntán Lawlor is not the only oversees entrant for the bulging 300 strong draw. There, too, are Adam Toth (Golf Ontario), Sam Sweeney (Vista Valencia), Eoin Leonard (Wandsworth), Stephen Jeffers (Castletown) and the ever-present Lord Foley Gort (also Castletown). Former Balmoral player Matt McKnight is entered from LPGA International Club in the US.

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