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The South Revisited - A Caddies view of a day at the 1997 South of Ireland Amateur Matchplay Championship
By Gerry Madden

THE CURSE OF SAINT MUNCHIN

It's that time of year again, heading for the west coast of Ireland, rubbing shoulders with the best amateur golfers that this little island has to offer, not to mention the few who come across the sea to compete.

Nolan borrowed a caddy car from Dinny, 'twas either that or train an ass to haul around the monstrosity that he calls a golf bag…I often wondered how Fanny does it but I suppose if I was getting the cut that she gets from Nick, I'd manage too. In Nolan's case, my cut amounts to a bar of chocolate and a coke, so Dinny's cart it was.

He'd been playing well in recent weeks, made the Senior Cup team in Limerick and had a good run with Ger Vaughan in the Barton Shield, the Irish Senior's Foursomes Championships. But deep down, he still had a point to prove to a few people, the knockers, a common trait in Irish people, especially Limerick people, who hate to see their own doing well. They even have a name for this attitude, the Curse of Saint Munchin…let the foreigner thrive and the native survive…or words to that effect.

This was a major part of Nolan's problem, for donkey's years he'd been listening to the know-alls hinting that he just was not up to it. After a while, he began to believe them. Fortunately for him, a few of us knew the truth and were prepared to stand up and be counted when the knockers and the know-alls began pontificating. Funny thing about it was that none of them had ever got anywhere near as low as Nolan's handicap. Maybe that was part of their problem.

Enough back biting, to the golf. His first round match against Derek Maguire from Douglas in Cork was to be his last. The "experts" gave Nolan no chance. Maguire, as nice a fellow as you'd meet in a day's walk, was a phenomenal player and a great ball striker. As a boy golfer, he had many honours and was on the fringes of the international team.

And let me assure you, he could play. But so could Nolan and from the time he swung his Great Big Bertha on the first tee, it was my job to continually remind him of just how good he was…and of course, pull his abomination of a golf bag. I suppose my role on the day could be described as a cross between a golf psychologist and a pack mule. A kind of a muleologist.

The Dell is the 6th hole, a short par 3....160 yards...it can require anything from a nine iron to a 1 iron, depending on the wind. The hole presents a blind tee shot with the green surrounded by huge mounds and the pin position indicated by a white stone on top of the hill. Click for larger image.
A missed par putt on Lahinchs' difficult opener cost Maguire the hole. Nolan chipped from 50 yards to six inches on the second for a conceded birdie and a two hole lead. At this stage, Maguire's entourage of caddy and supporter seemed to become a little uneasy, almost as if the inevitable was unfolding before their eyes. As I stood alongside them on the third tee box the strong familiar smell of last night's drink wafted towards me and I realised that perhaps the South was not their primary reason for coming to Lahinch. I wondered if the same applied to Maguire but this could not be so…

After a short debate with Nolan on the teebox, we reached consensus and an eight iron was the chosen weapon. I joined my hands and prayed silently as he went through his routine…he wanted seven but all the trouble was long. He hit it perfectly, straight at the flag. It seemed to be in the air forever. Front of the green, short 12 yards, but on the green. Safe. Maguire hit seven, nailed into the breeze, over the flag, one bounce, then checked. Looked close. It was. Six feet. A loud shout of "Ya boy, you" went out. I looked at the entourage to see which of this bloodshot pair had left out this mighty whoop…to my amazement, it was Maguire himself who had made the cry, perhaps in an attempt to relieve the tension that consumes golfers in matchplay.

I handed Nolan his Rossie 2 putter and headed down the shortcut to the fourth tee. When I climbed back up to the green, he was standing over his putt, thirty odd feet from the hole. He pulled it left and charged it six feet past. It was still his turn. I had a quick look with him at the line, he steadied himself and sank the putt. This seemed to shake Maguire and he missed the birdie. Hole halved in threes. This was to be the story for the rest of the match for Derek Maguire. The ball simply refused to go in the hole.

Both hit centre fairway on 4. Nolan wanted another debate about what to hit to the green. I reckoned 165 to 170 yards to the pin with a stiff breeze off the sea not helping much. I handed him a 6 iron, told him hit it full out and walked away, ignoring his mutters. The ball hit the green, had one bounce and sat down. 8 inches from the hole. I looked at Maguire. He didn't look too good, a little pale, I think. He hit a fairly decent shot but missed the green and failed to chip in.

Pat Nolan hitting his tee shot at the par 4 8th hole watched by Derek Maguire and half of his entourage...... Click for larger image.
We were three up and it was at about this stage that I noticed that Tommy Dalton, our good friend and driver for the day, was getting into the spirit of things. His eyes were beaming with delight at our early progress.

After that, things just got better and better for Nolan. A combination of Pat's good golf and Derek's cold putter had us still 3 up playing the short par 4 thirteenth. Both were in good shape off the tee. It was Nolan to play first, a simple 50 yard lob wedge. It was not a shot that he'd care to remember, but at least it was on the green, albeit 20 feet from the flag. It began to look a little better when Derek's attempt took a nasty bounce off the side of the elevated green and rolled down the hill, away from the green. His recovery chip was better than average, leaving himself an eight footer for a possible half. The mounding behind the 13th green is a famous viewing point where spectators can cover three greens simultaneously. I watched Nolan study the faces in the gallery while he waited for his turn. And I saw the look on his face change as he recognised of couple of his detractors. This was his chance.

As we lined up the putt, I simply said "Nothing foolish. We are three up, it's he has to do the fancy stuff. Safe par." But I knew, my words had fallen on deaf ears. The ball went straight at the hole at speed, hit the back of the cup, jumped up, appeared to wave at some in the gallery, and disappeared.

As I said slapped him on the back, I felt Dalton's breath on my neck. He had been right behind me when we read the putt, wanting to offer advice but knowing better. Nolan muttered as only he can "Does he think that he's at a football match or something?"

Putting out on the 15th green, a long and difficult par 4, plays into the prevailing win and always requires two great shots to get home.
Two holes later, it was all over. 4 & 3. It had not been Derek's day. Nolan had got the win that he so badly needed for his confidence. After a well-deserved shower and a few pints with Derek and his pals, it was back to Limerick for the three of us. A few more ciders in town before we went to our respective homes for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, we would meet Lee Dalton, a current youth international and a very good matchplayer. We had our work cut out for us but by the time we got Nolan home, we had him convinced that he was ready for Tiger. But that's another story.

Pat Nolan was beaten in his second round match at the 18th hole. It had been a great match, with Lee Dalton chipping in at the 17th hole to take the lead at a vital stage. He stayed in the competition until the last eight. The 1997 South of Ireland Amateur Matchplay Championship was eventually won by 20 year old Patrick Collier, who is a member of Limerick Golf Club and the first Limerick member to take the title since Vincent Nevin in 1978. So you see, we still had cause to celebrate.

Gerry Madden is a 9 handicapper at Limerick Golf Club where he also holds the position of Competitions Secretary. Gerry says; "I love golf and I'm always happy to provide any help or information to golfers coming to Ireland. Contact madden@iol.ie.

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