Brian McElhinney of the North West club in Co Donegal and John Gallagher from the Swanston club in Edinburgh will meet tomorrow in the final of the Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale. Both won their semi-final matches by one hole - McElhinney beating 16-year-old Oliver Fisher and Gallagher coming out on top against fellow Scot Lloyd Saltman.
McElhinney, aged 22, won the European Individual title at Nairn in 2003 and is the current Irish Amateur Match Play champion. This is only his second appearance in the Amateur, having failed to qualify last year.
Gallagher is a 24-year-old greenkeeper at the Merchants of Edinburgh Golf Club and has taken a year out to play full-time golf. He plays with his left hand below the right and his ambition is to win a place in the Scottish team. "My grip lets me hit the ball low and that's been very effective throughout the week. My swing isn't pretty, but I get the ball round," he admitted. "I'm more of a grinder than a golfer."
McElhinney's appearance in the final exceeds all his expectations. "My short game has been strong," he said. "It needs to be round a great course like this. You must be able to chip and putt." He went two up after a birdie at the fourth against Fisher, but was brought back to square after 14 holes. He went two ahead again with birdies at the 15th and 16th and although he lost the 17 he held his advantage to the end.
Fisher, who takes school exams next week before flying to Japan to take part in the World Junior Boys Championship, said: "I played alright but didn't hole enough putts to win."
Saltman, back-to-back winner of the Brabazon and St Andrews Links events said: "I've had three very intensive weeks of competitive golf. I didn't putt well. I've holed nothing over 12 feet all week." He hit the 547-yard 17th with a drive and three-iron for a winning birdie, but was still one down playing the last. A drive into the right rough left him with a bad lie and he conceded when Gallagher had three putts from the back of the green for victory.
The 36-hole final gets under way at 8.30 tomorrow morning with the second round due to start at one o'clock.
Please click the tournament link at the top of this story for results and more information on the British Amateur (amateurgolf.com Membership required)