SEAN Desmond took full advantage of a South of Ireland that was full of shocks to become the 118th winner of the famous championship.
An outside bet at the start of the week, the Monkstown man took it one round at a time as he watched all of the favourites fall. Desmond was a part of those shocks, beating Irish Internationals Conor Purcell and Tiarnan McLarnon.
His good run started last Wednesday when he shot a five-under-par 67 in the fine conditions in Lahinch. Although he followed that with a 78 on day two it was enough to finish in the top 30 to get safely through to the matchplay.
There was an impressive list of golfers in the top 64, but after just two rounds of matchplay ten of the top-ranked players were gone. Desmond was part of that cull, he beat Walker Cup panelist Conor Purcell on the 18th green in the second round.
And later on Saturday afternoon he took out another international, he beat Tiarnan McLarnon in the fourth round when the match went to the 19th hole.
With a place in the semi-final secured, and all the favourites gone, Desmond was now in with a real chance of winning the famous provincial title.
And a bit of self-belief went a long way according to the winner.
“I just believed in myself the whole time so even when things weren't looking great I knew I had more in the tank,” said Desmond.
“I was really focused, more focused than I've ever been at a golf tournament before, I knew what I had to do and just went out and did it.
“There were big crowds there, especially Sunday and I just had to stay in my own bubble and ignore the noise and distractions of the crowd as much as I could.
“To be honest I didn't even think about it till Sunday morning, then Sunday morning came and I said sure look I've to win two matches, if I do that, I'll win.”
With his cousin Eoin Sawyer on the bag for the week resilience seemed to be Desmond’s theme for the tournament, whether it was a big gun opponent or a few bad holes, Desmond took it one hole at a time and battled when he needed to.
He put his winning performance down to good golf and mental strength, the core elements of most winning performances.
“Well you always need a bit of both to shoot good scores,” explained the UCC student. “You need to obviously play good golf and hit good quality shots but you're never going to hit perfect shots for all 18 holes, so every good round consists of both.
“This week in particular, when you're past the qualification rounds and into the matchplay you need both more than most days. Playing two matches a day against such high-quality opponents on such a good and tough golf course, you need to hit the shots, but also stay mentally strong.
“I managed to do that well all week. I silently knew I was playing ok coming in, and managed to play really well all week. But to win the matches, especially the close ones took a serious mental effort.”
Desmond hit two great shots in the semi-final. When he was one down on the 17th, he hit a great 225-yard recovery shot (from the wrong fairway) to within 25 feet of the hole. That levelled the match and he bettered that on the 18th. A great escape from a greenside bunker set him up for a four-foot birdie putt to win the match.
While there were many great shots over the weekend, Sean’s favourite was in the quarter-final on Saturday.
“The shot of the week for me was against Tiarnan on Saturday evening. We were all-square on 18, I hit it long left, shortsided near the wall and he hit it into 30 feet for eagle.
“I then hit one of the best flop shots of my life, an all or nothing shot, particularly in those circumstances, to inside a foot to halve the hole in birdies and went on to win on the 19th to get me into Sunday.”
A number of Monkstown members were in Lahinch on Saturday, and when he made it through to Sunday, there were a huge number of members there to support their friend. There were also a few Ceann Sibeal members watching, Sean is also a member of the Dingle links, playing much of his summer golf in west Kerry. In fact is caddy Eoin is also a Ceann Sibeal member.
“Eoin is my cousin and we'd be quite close and play a good bit of golf in Ceann Sibeal in Dingle where we're members. He caddied for me last year at the South, and at the East this year so he came along this week again.
“We had a good laugh all week and I'm happy he was there the whole way.”
And what about the moment that sealed the win? Unsurprisingly it’s a little bit fuzzy for Sean given the enormity of the moment.
“I was just trying to get the ball stone dead and halfway there when I realised it was going to finish no more than a couple of inches away. I kind of blacked out and just remember shaking hands with Keith and having Eoin and my parents running at me.
“We stayed up in Lahinch on Sunday evening, we'd a big table of family and friends in the golf club and had food and celebrated there for a while which was really nice.
“Driving home on Monday I still think it hadn't sunk in and probably won't for a while but I'm just proud of the way I played and handled myself. I’m just still in slight disbelief that I won the matches that I did, and ended up with the cup.”