CORK'S Paul Buckley became golf’s first winner of 2021, after success at the Omega Emirates Amateur Open last week.
The Kanturk native held his nerve during the closing stages of the elite amateur event to become the second Irishman to win the title.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the win and totally taken aback with all the attention, it must be a lack of Cork sport at the moment,” said Paul after arriving back in Cork on Sunday.
Paul along with Karl Bornemann travelled out to Dubai two weeks ago to take in two tournaments. Buckley who spent over a decade in Australia prior to 2019 had played in a few Australian events in early 2020 but the Covid restrictions meant he had to look in a different direction for competitive golf this year.
“We had been looking at winter events for some time.
“Last year I had played the Australian Amateur and New South Wales Amateur however that was not possible this year so when we looked at potential events The Dubai events were the safest options.
"I had been playing the Portmarnock Winter Series leading up to the trip as much as I could, that was great as the course was still playing quite firm.”
With courses closed for January and possibly beyond, this was an ideal opportunity for the Cork pair to get in some early season events.
The Emirates Amateur was played at one of the most famous European Tour destinations in Dubai, and both championship courses were set up to mimic the pro tour conditions.
“The Faldo Course was set at 7,400 yards and the Majis course was also playing to its full length of 7,300 yards. That was set up the same as the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic so all I definitely put of the fitness work with Peter O’Keeffe to good use.”
After using an earlier tournament to acclimatise to the conditions, both Buckley and Bornemann were set for the prestigious event.
“When we arrived into Dubai we definitely both struggled with the grain on the greens and the grass type. However by the Emirates Amateur we were well up to speed, I started my first round with three straight bogeys and playing with Karl his calmness and supportive nature helped no-end.
"I was six under from the fourth hole to the 18th, to shoot what I would consider my best ever round of golf and a 69 on a long testing golf course.”
That 69 had Buckley tied for the lead, and he was confident that he had the game to compete for the title over the final 18 holes. It was a tough round made up of bogies, double bogies and an eagle all on the opening nine holes. A birdie on the 15th proved crucial to the win, getting him into a share of the lead before taking the outright lead on the 18th.
“I saw in the clubhouse that Michael Hoey had won the event in 2000, I would be a fan so that probably added to the excitement. I have been following Joshua Hill since he was 15-years-old, so being paired with him in the final group was something that made me excited more than nervous.
"My attention was focused on grinding out a score, and the nerves really only happened when Zubair put his second shot in the water on the 18th and it was mine to lose.
Buckley took his two putts and claimed the prestigious title, his biggest win to date while Karl Bornemann finished in a creditable 10th place among the international field. Paul is now back at home, restricting his movements in line with the regulations, and like all other golfers, he’s looking forward to the reopening of the courses.
Whether that happens at the start of February or later, everyone will be hoping that this is the final set of restrictions that will see courses closed. Buckley has targeted the West of Ireland at Co Sligo as his first competitive outing at the start of April.
Golf Ireland have yet to launch their 2021 national and regional schedule, it’s thought that the new single governing body for amateur golf in Ireland has a schedule prepared and ready to go once a clear timetable on the lifting of restrictions is available.