COUNTY ANTRIM, Ireland (July 15, 2016) -- Playing in his first major final, 20-year-old Sean Flanagan produced a nerveless putting display to capture the North of Ireland Championship.
Ironically, when it came to the final act his putter was no longer required.
It was at the 17th green that Sean Flanagan’s victory was finally confirmed but it was a succession of devastating putts over the previous three holes that crushed his opponent.
Chasing his first major crown, Flanagan had built a considerable lead by the 10th after winning three holes on the trot. Tiarnan McLarnon poured on the pressure but Flanagan never flinched. At 14, 15 and 16 he held his nerve and with surgical precision despatched putts of 12, 15 and eight feet.
Afterwards, Flanagan admitted: “If I missed those three putts, I was one down playing 17. It would have been a different story then.”
With putter in hand, Flanagan has always been comfortable and his ease on the greens at Royal Portrush was the major factor in a maiden success.
“If I play well, I’d like to think I’m confident with the putter. The putter is definitely the reason that I won this week. It saved me,” he said.
For much of the front nine, Flanagan and McLarnon were inseparable. All square after seven, Flanagan won the eighth with par and took the next in par as well.
“When I saw it was wet and breezy, it didn’t faze me,” said Flanagan. “I knew I didn’t have to play flashy golf and it settles you when you know you don’t have to play flashy golf.”
Playing in the worst of the weather during his morning semi-final against Jordan Hood, Flanagan plotted his way to an impressive 4&3 victory. As the rain abated in the afternoon, pars were not always going to be enough.
McLarnon had taken out Ballymena international Dermot McElroy 3&2 in the semis, and he made birdie at the second to take an early lead in the final.
Flanagan responded immediately, holing from 25 feet for a two at the third. It was a sight that would become all too familiar to McLarnon, one that he would lament.
The Massereene man put it simply: “He putted better than me.”
Had things gone his way on the back nine, McLarnon might well have been leading coming down 17. When his tee shot went right into the Big Nellie bunker, the end was nigh for the Irish Close Champion.
“It was a tough day but I will come back again,” vowed McLarnon.
The winner meanwhile was celebrating on the double as he became the first Co Sligo player to succeed at a championship since the great Cecil Ewing
“Massive, massive,” said Flanagan, describing his victory. “It’s a big stepping stone for me and hopefully Home Internationals will be the next thing on my schedule.”