2017 Irish Professional Golf Review
It has long been recognised that the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) scene in Ireland is the busiest in the British Isles.
None of the other regions has as much activity during the year and the Irish players make full use of the opportunities offered them.
There were 57 tournaments on the Irish schedule last year with over seven additional events organised by the Northern Branch.
Those northern competitions stretched throughout the year, keeping the local pros active in between the national action.
Making full use of the opportunities presented to him was former European Tour player Damien McGrane from Kells.
For the second year running he topped the Irish Order of Merit, proving the former China Open winner's brave decision to quit the European rough and tumble battles was a wise move.
McGrane won eight times in Ireland last season and he is now set to return to club pro life and continue plying the Irish Tour.
The former Wexford club pro will take the reins at Carlow on the spring retirement of long-serving Andrew Gilbert.
“That will be an exciting new phrase in my career,” said McGrane (46) who will, of course, continue to play the Irish Tour. “I'm looking forward to getting back to the retail side of the business, as well as, to coaching young and old.”
It is the pro-am business in Ireland that boosts the professionals' bank balances and among the six of those that the Meath man won in 2017 were at Waterford Castle, The Heritage and the 36-holes Irish PGA-organised Down Syndrome pro-am, played in Abu Dhabi.
Most of the leading pros played 20 events last year and McGrane topped the Order of Merit with 27,175 points. The winner came strong in the second half of the season while Waterville attaché David Higgins, began the year on a high by winning the Irish Club Pros' Tournament, at Dromoland Castle, with a level par 140. Thy Kerry man finished the season second to McGrane on 23,241 points.
As usual, the Irish Championship was the shop window event of the year and it was played at Moyvalley in June. After Round One, Richard Kilpatrick (Banbridge), Tim Rice (Limerick) and Colm Moriarty (Drive Golf Performance) were tied six-under-66 and it was Rice who shot out of the pack with a seven-birdie-67 for an 11-under 133 total to snatch the winner's trophy and cheque. He had three shots to spare over Moriarty and five ahead of Kilpatrick.
Michael McGeady is a former winner of that event and last year he won the Assistants' Championship, at Nuremore in July. He now plays out of the Seamus Duffy Golf Academy and was helped to victory by a Golden Eagle and four birdies in his 67.
The Derry man also climbed the winner's rostrum after the new Walled City pro-am at City of Derry and Foyle clubs. He had just one bogey in his 12-under-129 for the 36 holes. His scores were 62 and 67.
“That was my best score at City of Derry since it was changed to par 70,” reflected McGeady. “I didn't hole any really big putts but I holed out well from around six and seven feet.”
McGrane's championship success was achieved in the Southern event at Headfort when, with a five-under-67, he headed off challenges from joint second placed Simon Thornton, Dara Lernihan and Liam Whelan.
Down-based Thornton missed much of the early season play because of problems with his feet but he came strong once he returned to the fairways and polished off his season by helping Ireland to victory in the International Team Championship in Greece. Thornton, Mark Staunton and David Higgins combined beautifully to sweep to victory 16 strokes ahead, at 19-under, of Scotland and Holland.
Probably, the shock of the season came in the North of Ireland Championship at Spa. Playing in his first pro tournament, former Clandeboye amateur Nicky Grant (Blackwood) stormed to victory on two-under-142, one stroke ahead Chris Carvill (Belvoir Park) in October.
A feature of the season was the performances of female professional Tara Delaney (Eddie Doyle Academy). The former Curtis Cup player had a number of high finishes and finally, shared top-of-the-leaderboard on 67 (-3) with Damian Mooney (Damian Mooney Golf) and Tim Rice (Limerick).
PGA in Ireland Order of Merit 2017:
1 – D McGrane (unattached) 27,125;
2 – D Higgins (Waterville) 23,241.67;
3 – S Thornton (Simon Thornton Golf) 19,399.67;
4 – C Moriarty (Drive Golf Performance Ltd) 19,273.09;
5 – M McGeady (Seamus Duffy Golf Academy) 18,109.43;
6 – T Rice (Limerick) 16,978.17;
7 – R Kilpatrick (Banbridge) 16,142.16;
8 – M Staunton (Delgany) 13,542.68;
9 – D Mooney (Damian Mooney Golf) 13,112.76;
(They all played 20 tournamants)
10 – B McElhinney (North West) 11,044.35
(He played 15 tournamants)