Corkonians drive on to land national titles: From Jimmy Bruen to Peter O'Keeffe

Niall O'Shea looks at the 17 Cork golfers who have captured one of the six men's majors
Corkonians drive on to land national titles: From Jimmy Bruen to Peter O'Keeffe

John McHenry plays from the bunker during the Smurfit Irish PGA Championship at Powerscourt Golf Club in 1998. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE.

PETER O’KEEFFE’S Irish Open and Close double guarantees him a place in the list of all-time Cork amateur golfers.

But before O’Keeffe captured his first major win in 2017 there were a few more major winners on Cork’s roll of honour.

Not a huge amount, it’s interesting that just 17 Cork golfers have managed to win one of the six majors.

The majors include the Irish Open and Close, and the four provincial championships. Several golfers have won multiple championships, and a few more achieved fame without winning one of the top six home events.

Peter O'Keeffe was the latest Cork golfer to win a major in October. Picture: Niall O'Shea
Peter O'Keeffe was the latest Cork golfer to win a major in October. Picture: Niall O'Shea

Jimmy Bruen is the undisputed number one when it comes to Cork golf, he was a prolific winner at home and abroad, and was a three-time Walker Cup player. As well as doing the Irish double he also did the British double, winning the British Boys in 1936 and the British Amateur in 1946.

He was the original long hitter, and stories of him driving the green on the first in Cork were to be heard far and wide.

His power and resultant length made him the talk of Europe and the US, and while nobody was able to emulate the Bruen Loop, he forced others to focus on distance.

He regularly competed in professional events and led the British Open after the opening round in 1938, and he won the Amateur Medal in 1939. A wrist injury in his prime cut short his trophy-winning days, if not for that and the suspension of championships for WW2, he surely would have won more.

Muskerry’s Mick Power had a really impressive run in the early ’50s, winning three majors in the space of 12 months. His first win came in Cork Golf Club when he beat the great Joe Carr on the 16th hole in the final of the Irish Close.

He went on to post a record score of at the East of Ireland (297 strokes around Co Louth), and the following year he won the South of Ireland on the 18th green in the final.

While that was his final major win, he was fiercely competitive and was runner-up in six other majors in the following years. He was a three-time winner of the Cork Scratch Cup and also had 38 caps for Ireland.

Monkstown’s Tom Egan had an early start, his house bordered the course in Monkstown and as a child, he spent many days and evenings jumping the wall to practice on the course.

Golfer Tom Egan.
Golfer Tom Egan.

In 1952 he won the Irish Close and ten years later he won the East of Ireland in style, setting a record of eight birdies in nine holes in the third round. Egan earned 54 caps for Ireland and he sank the winning putt in the 1967 European Team Championship.

Like a few others, Egan was also a prolific winner on the scratch cup circuit, winning twice in Cork and three times in Douglas.

The first Cork golfer to win a major was Cork’s FitzJames Murphy. He won the South of Ireland 100 years ago in 1921, and for good measure, he won again in Lahinch in 1923.

Redmond Simcox was another double winner in the 20’s he won back-to-back Souths in 1926 and ’27.

Denis O’Sullivan is probably as well known as a professional, having spent a decade on the European Seniors Tour and winning seven tour events. Before that though he was a fierce competitor on the amateur scene.

Denis O'Sullivan, a member of the European Senior Tour, in action in the Fota Island Resort Pro Am Weekly Alliance. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Denis O'Sullivan, a member of the European Senior Tour, in action in the Fota Island Resort Pro Am Weekly Alliance. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Stories of the Cork crew piling into a car every weekend and heading for a scratch cup were legendary, as was the fact that there was a high chance they returned to Cork with the Cup.

O’Sullivan won over 80 scratch cups but made his national breakthrough in 1985 in the Irish Close. In 1990 he won his second title in Louth when he won the East of Ireland.

There was a strong Cork presence during the ’80s and '90s and John McHenry from Douglas claimed his share of wins.

In 1986 he had a nice double when he won the South in Lahinch and the Irish Close in Royal Dublin. He was the only Irish golfer on the 1987 Walker Cup team and spent ten years on the European Tour after his Walker Cup appearance.

McHenry is back playing amateur golf now, and while he hasn’t as yet featured in any championships, he still has the ability to compete at the top level.

The West of Ireland was the one title that Cork golfers struggled with, and there’s only one who has managed to win in Rosses Point. Niall Goulding won in the West in 1990, and for good measure he went back for a second title in 1991.

That was a good period for Goulding, he also won back-to-back Cork Scratch Cups. Goulding was a serious matchplay competitor, and he performed on the international stage too, winning over half of his 40 international matches.

Eoghan O’Connell is one golfer who never managed to win a domestic major, but he deserves a place on the roll of honour.

While he played out of Killarney, he was very much a Cork man. The Ballydesmond man was a key member of the winning Walker Cup team in 1989, halving his match with Phil Mickelson and scoring a total of two points.

As well as his Walker Cup win, O’Connell is one of only three Irish golfers to win an Eisenhower Trophy. He helped GB&I to their third title in Sweden in 1988. He also won the qualifying medal at the 1989 US Amateur, beating Mickelson by a shot.

Other major winners of the 20th century include Bob McFlury, John Fitzgibbon, Bill Kelleher, Paddy Sullivan and Tom Cleary while Michael Quirke makes grade thanks to his win at the Spanish Amateur.

Winning has been a thing for Cork golfers for 100 years, and there’s every chance that will continue in 2022.

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