Luke O'Neill (Irish Golfer Photo)
, a rising senior at Kansas State University who will be heading back to Kansas shortly to start the season, won the 2023 Mullingar Scratch Trophy by four shots after back-to-back rounds of 68 on Monday saw him come from two shots behind.
“It probably won’t fit in the Polo!” joked the 22-year-old O'Neill, referring to his Volkswagon car, who etched his name alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, and Padraig Harrington with a thirteen-under total in Mullingar Golf Club for his first senior Irish championship win.
“It’s great it has only sank in the last few minutes when I got my hands on the trophy. It’s cool to see all the names like McIlroy, Lowry all the major champions it’s unreal,” explained O’Neill who was making his third start in the event.
“This is my third time, missed the cut in my first year, then came fourth, and I was ready to try and win this one this year. When I was growing up, there used to be a poster in Connemara of Mullingar and you could see the pictures of major champions, so growing up you always want to play it and it’s got bigger since Golf Ireland has taken it over.
“It’s my first senior win in Ireland my biggest boys win was German Boys in 2019,” added O’Neill who won the Colleton River Collegiate in USA last year.
After opening rounds of 4-under 68 and 1-under 71, O'Neill trimmed the two-shot gap to Evan Farrell and Jack Hearn down with a third round of 4-under 68 including five birdies and a single bogey on No. 15. He continued in that vein with a barnstorming start of four birdies in five holes. An opening birdie was the ideal start as he tied the lead before rolling in a hat trick of gains from the third with no putt outside of 15 feet as he put on a ball-striking clinic early on.
“I didn’t really play well yesterday took a lot of notes and had to clean up a lot for today, didn’t miss anything short today and played two solid rounds. Just the one mistake this morning and then ball striking this afternoon was good, held a nice par putt on No. 2 to keep momentum. Longest putt in the three birdies was probably 15 feet.”
O’Neill made light work of the par-5 14th, drilling a long iron into the heart of the green to leave the easiest of two-putt birdies before rolling in a 25-footer on the par-5 16th to stretch his lead to five on -15.
A stumbling finish of back-to-back bogeys made for a nervy wait with Co. Louth’s Farrell just two back with the par fives 16 and 18 to play, but he finished with three successive bogeys to leave O’Neill as the last man standing.
“I knew after the good start I was in a good position, but I didn’t look at any leaderboards even walking off No. 18, just played each shot as it comes. I knew I was a good bit ahead after No. 16, all the crowd was with me so you get the feeling when you are out there without even looking,” said the Kansas State student who had to lay up on Nos. 17 and 18 after missing the fairways with his tee shot.
“I hit driver all week on No. 17 and I just thought that I was way ahead and I could afford a bogey at that stage. Tried to hit 3-iron down the middle I only had 150 in if I hit the fairway which is not a long club, maybe 9 iron and I just tugged it a bit into the bunker and I couldn’t go at the green. Hit a nice third shot, and there was a big break on the putt.
“Just flared the third shot on (No.) 18 a little bit the distance was good but just flared it and it spun a lot because the greens are so soft. I saw his broke a lot and I thought it would be right edge it broke more than I thought. Whatever happens, happens, play every shot like it’s the last and if he comes in with a few birdies to make a playoff or win fair play.
“It’s one that at the start of the year, you want to win. All the major champions have won it. It’s stroke play on a good golf course. It hasn’t really sunk in yet because I’m just off the high of finishing it off.”
Tramore’s Jack Hearn was the overnight co-leader with Farrell and Monday rounds of 1-under 71 saw him claim solo second at nine-under with Farrell a shot further back with rounds of 3-under 69 and 2-over 74.
According to the official website, the history of the trophy and cup was decided that the event would be staged over 72 holes, noting that at the time most of the Scratch Cups were held over 36 holes. The late Tommy Whelehan, who was a lifetime member of the club, suggested the club contact his brother, Kevin (of Whelehan’s of Finglas, no more in existence, alas) to sponsor the new competition, to which he readily agreed. The cup was purchased in Weir’s of Grafton Street, Dublin, and Mr. Whelehan picked up the tab.
Read full story here