Golf

Six Irish Region players to play in Irish Open

Damien McGrane plays from a bunker during a practice round at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport
Tony McGee

Six PGA Irish Region players will rub shoulders with the world's elite at Portstewart next month, as they play in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, in association with the Rory Foundation. They gain their places in the draw via the PGA Irish Order of Merit.

The six are former European Tour player Damien McGrane, David Higgins, Colm Moriarty, Neil O'Briain, Simon Thornton and Richard Kilpatrick.

All but Kilpatrick have played in qualifying before so, for the 35-year-old Banbridge man it will be a unique experience.

“The crowds, the buzz, the field that is being assembled. I can't wait to tee it up, let it go and see what happens. It will be some test,” said Richard.

“It means a lot to get to play in my first Irish Open at Portstewart. My aunt has a place in the town and I played the course a lot as an amateur.

“Even now, during the winter and when I can in the summer months, I try to get up there and play. The club professional, Neil Graham, has been very good in accommodating me.”

Richard spent the best part of eight years playing on the Challenge Tour, Alps Tour and EuroPro Tour before opting to follow the PGA route.

He is in his third year of PGA training and is based at his local Banbridge Golf Club, working under Jason Greenaway.

“I knew that I wanted to stay involved in golf and for me to do that, the PGA has been a good path,” he says.

“I'm learning a lot, both in terms of the technical side and the business side of the game, and I'm still getting a chance to play.”

He has performed impressively on the PGA in Ireland circuit in recent seasons, having two wins to his name in 2017 - the PGA Irish Club Pro-Am and the Ruddy Cup for Young Professionals.

Former Wexford club professional McGrane played the Challenge Tour and the European Tour for quite a few seasons before deciding to quite the hustle and bustle of the extensive travelling and competing against the top European players on a continuous basis.

He returned to play full-time on the PGA Irish Tour.

Waterville man Higgins and Down-based Thornton have, also, played the Challenge and European Tours, while Moriarty tried his luck on the Challenge Tour for a time. O'Briain has had a few starts, as well.

To date, apart from Shane Lowry, who shocked the world when, as an amateur, he won the Irish Open at Co Louth, home-based Irish players have not done too well in the Irish Open.

To, at least play in it, is a valuable experience, however, and there could be another surprise placket like Shane Lowry lurking in the shadows.

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