Irish professional golf review: Simon Thornton well-suited to weather any challenge
For many years the Irish Professional Golf Championship was the richest national championship in Europe... but not any more.
Those days are gone and even the Weather Man downgraded the tournament in 2018.
The long-running competition was pushed back to October and the £24,000 event hosted at Galway Bay had to be reduced to 36 holes as the last two days of play were rained off and the scores already recorded stood.
That certainly suited Simon Thornton as he was top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage on three-under-par 141, after posting rounds of 71 and 70, and he regained the championship title which he had won previously.
It was the second championship title of the season for the Co Down-domiciled Tulfarris Golf Resort attaché as he had already won the Southern PGA title the previous month, at Rathsallagh.
Thornton and Richard Kilpatrick (Banbridge) tied on nine-under-63 in that event with Thornton birding the first play-off hole, from 15 feet, to collect the trophy and the winner's cheque.
The BMW Eastern Open, at St Anne's in north Dublin in April, was one of the bigger tournaments on the schedule during the season and it was Damian Mooney (Damian Mooney Golf) who shot to the top of the leaderboard on 69 alongside Colm Moriarty (Glasson Hotel & Golf Club). In a play-off Mooney won the title with birdie three at the second shootout hole.
Former European Challenge Tour player Moriarty had quite a successful season as he was usually in the mix, particularly in pro-am tournaments, winning a number of those, including the €10,000 Golden Jubilee Pro-am at Cahir Park, the €17,000 Pro-am at Connemara and the Roganstown Golf Hotel Pro-am.
He also shared first place with Simon Thornton at Cork but it was Richard Kilpatrick who collected the winner's cheque from the €15,000 pool at Elm Park in July.
As usual, there was a series of pro-am events throughout the length and breath of Ireland during the season with a long list of winners.
The prize pot for those events ranged from €8,000 to the €50,000 Heritage Challenge which Derry man Michael McGeady won. He posted rounds of 64, which included eight birdies and no bogeys, and 71 to be three shots clear of Moriarty.
McGeady (Evolve Golf Coaching) had a good season in pro-am events as he also won the Belvoir Park €15,000 tournament with nine-under-62, which was a new course record, and the Bishop's Gate Walled City pro-am over Foyle and City of Derry courses with 12-under-par 129, five strokes clear of Thornton. With rounds of 72 and 67 he topped the leaderboard at Cairndhu, as well – all within a few weeks.
The Irish Professionals' Club Championship, in May, was won by Neil O'Briain (Old Conna) at Dromoland Castle.
Stephen Barry (Royal Tara) won the Irish Assistants' Championship at Nuremore while Shane Jenkinson (St Margaret's) collected the Trainees' Cup at the European Club.
After all the action, it was Simon Thornton who had climbed to the top of the Order of Merit on 26,435 points, after 20 tournamants, with Michael McGeady second on 23,218 and David Higgins (Waterville), winner of the Fred Daly Pro-am at Balmoral, on 22,712 in third place.
Brave attempts for success were made by the Irish representatives in the International Team Championship in Greece and the PGA Play-offs in Turkey but the Irish came up short in both events.