2016 South of Ireland champion Conor Purcell
(July 24, 2016) -- Conor Purcell swept to his first major championship in some style, beating Rowan Lester 4&3 at the South of Ireland.
The 19-year-old from Portmarnock clinched his maiden title with all the grace and guile of a seasoned campaigner. Back-to-back birdies at eight and nine gave him a two-hole cushion at the turn and the gap continued to grow at 11 and 12.
With six holes left and Purcell four up, Lester was in desperate need of birdies. In truth it was a struggle for the Hermitage star, himself a relative novice at 20. His long game was uncertain and pars were not going to be enough to catch Purcell down the stretch.
Lester made a valiant attempt to keep the match alive but when his birdie putt failed to drop at 15, Purcell ended the contest with a par. Watched by his dad, Joey and mum, Mary - who served as caddy for the week - the teenage Purcell added his name to an illustrious list.
“The first of many hopefully,” said Purcell describing his victory. “I knew I needed to make a statement this week.”
In his first season on the men’s circuit, Purcell has been juggling study and sport. With his Leaving Certificate out of the way, golf has had his full focus for the last month. His current run began at the Interprovincial Championship at the start of July when he holed the winning putt for Leinster.
“I knew I was playing well,” he said, reflecting on his heroics at Lahinch. “It’s about stringing it together. I felt match play would actually suit me. Stroke play I tend to have nine bad holes in a week and you can afford to have some sloppy holes in match play. I think this week suited me.”
From the opening round, Purcell looked supreme. He had not gone beyond the 17th until Colm Campbell forced him to dig deep in the semis. The final was stress-free by comparison. One down playing 16, Purcell stood on the brink with three holes to play against Campbell.
“That was the only match that went to the last,” Purcell reflected.
And it took a stunning birdie two at 16 for Purcell to ensure the match did go that far. Campbell had control until that moment but the birdie seemed to break him. He bogeyed 17 and Purcell pounced. In the context of the championship, it was a pivotal stretch.
Although nothing seems to faze Purcell, he admitted: “16 was big.”
Four birdies and one eagle later, he was clutching the trophy.
“The last 18 went pretty quick,” said Purcell describing the final. “It was a good game against Rowan, it was tough early on. He was holing a few putts and then I managed to break away. At 12 I went four up and that’s when I started to feel I had a chance.”
Both players started bogey-birdie and the first win came at the third when Purcell saved par. Hitting full stride at the Klondyke, he made eagle look easy. Just as quickly, the course took one back when he failed to save par at the Dell.
Lester scrambled a bogey for a half at the sixth and squared the match with a par at the seventh. The momentum shifted again.
The eighth has been kind to Purcell this week and the picturesque par-three yielded another birdie at a crucial stage.
“Funny, I had eight iron on eight and I had stiffed it twice already this week so lucky enough I hit it to the same distance again. That was a nice one,” he said of an approach that ran four feet past the cup.
The ninth went Purcell’s way as well, holing for birdie from 10 feet after Lester lipped out.
There was a chance for Lester to pull one back at the 10th but a bogey allowed Purcell escape with a half. A regulation par at 11 pushed Purcell further ahead and a two-putt birdie at the 12th dealt Lester another devastating blow.
From there, Purcell parred his way to the title and what he hopes will be a senior cap.
“I was hoping just to put my name in the hat for Home Internationals. We’ll see what happens next week,” said Purcell, reluctant to tempt fate.
Surrounded by his Portmarnock teammates after sinking the final putt, Purcell will return to club action next weekend in the AIG Barton Shield before attempting to capture the Mullingar Scratch Cup at his dad’s old stomping ground.
Beneath a sun-drenched sky, Purcell left Lahinch with the trophy under his arm and his parents by his side. A son come of age, a bright future to beckon him ahead.
-Editors Note: Article by Golfnet.ie