• Sport

Rafferty setting sights on Dundalk Scratch Cup history, and professional tilt

Caolan Rafferty and the Scratch Cup
Having won three of the last four Dundalk Scratch Cups, Caolan Rafferty will be bidding this Sunday to become the first player to win three in a row. Photo Credit: Dundalk Golf Club

Local golfer Caolan Rafferty has been spending even more time than usual at Dundalk Golf Club of late and he hopes the insight gained will provide him with the competitive edge in this weekend’s One Finance Scratch Cup competition.

Rafferty has been working alongside Course Superintendent Damian English and his team on a temporary basis, with his Business degree at Maynooth University now complete and the golf season severely hit by Covid-19 leaving the young player with limited options and time on his hands.

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“When I got the exams out of the way I was obviously delighted to get the results but it opened the floodgates to just play more and more and more and you don’t realise how much golf you actually are playing,” he said in anticipation of this weekend’s event.

“Working with the greenkeeping staff on the course at Dundalk Golf Club has given me a new appreciation for playing golf. I had played so much golf and was not really fully focused on it and was getting down in the dumps by going out and shooting level par or one under or one over. I was never shooting anything outside the 70s but I felt I should have been doing better and was getting frustrated trying and trying and trying.

“But, since I started working with the lads, and getting an appreciation for everything that they do day in day out and the teamwork involved, I now appreciate golf a lot more,” he said. “I am now up early and finished early and I still have time to do my golf.

“I have a lot more appreciation for the work the lads do,” he admitted.

Rafferty finished fourth at the Mullingar Scratch Cup – with Ennicsorthy’s Jack Rackard emerging victorious – and was tied 17th at last weekend’s Munster Strokeplay Championship. However, he will start as hot-favourite on Sunday having won three of the last four stagings of the Dundalk Scratch Cup.

Only Warrenpoint’s Colm Campbell has halted Rafferty’s dominance of the Dundalk Scratch Cup in recent years, as the young golfer has become only the third man in history to win back-to-back Scratch Cups in 2018 and 2019. He also won the title in 2016, with Campbell’s 2017 win the outlier in recent years.

“It was only the other day that I realised I had won three of the last four and I know Collie (Colm Campbell) will be delighted to know that he’s the one that broke the run and he will be back down to do that again no doubt.

“It’s my home club and so you want to go and perform at your best. Normally there would be a lot of locals out watching and it is nice to play well. I have played pretty well each year and shot some nice scores along the way.

“I am just going through a patch at the moment, I haven’t really been playing great, so hopefully Sunday will kick-start me and get me going again,” he added.

Irish international Campbell will be leading a top class field hoping to prevent Rafferty from becoming the first player to win the famous trophy three years in a row and strong challenges can also be expected from the likes of Masserene’s Tiarnan McLarnon, Seapoint’s teenage star Dylan Keating and Co Louth’s Gerard Dunne who is also the course record holder.

Rafferty’s fellow clubmen, Aaron Grant and Eoin Murphy, will also fancy their chances over their home track.

Rafferty, who is Europe’s number one amateur golfer, followed JB Carr (1965-66) and Declan Brannigan (1972-73) in winning successive Scratch Cups and a win in two-and-a-half weeks time would see him become the first to win three-in-a-row.

Before lockdown, the Maynooth University student had been named as a Committee Selection on the International team, which were set to face off against the USA from July 3-5 at Lahinch Golf Club. That tournament is now scheduled to take place at Bay Hill in December.

After a promising start to the year in South Africa, Rafferty saw his golfing schedule for 2020 halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic and is deeply appreciative of the efforts of the Golfing Union of Ireland to put together a four round Bridgestone Order of Merit that will culminate with the Irish Amateur Close in Rosapenna.

“They could have very easily pulled the plug on events like other Unions did so to be able to get the four events that we have means we are kind of lucky to have a mini sort of season as such.”

Rafferty is also looking ahead to 2021 and a potential second Walker Cup appearance, with next year’s event scheduled to take place at the Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida next May but he admits it is difficult now to plan anything long-term.

“I just have to play things by ear and see how they go,” he said. “Everything is very much up in the air at the minute,” he admits but he is determined to have a shot at the professional ranks.

“I would never fall into the category of saying why didn’t I do something. I wanted to do everything I have done so far in my life and, so far, everything I have done has worked out in my favour. I said to myself why not give it a run now, especially with the last couple of years I have had.

“I have nothing really to lose except maybe a year or two of working in a different career, that’s all.”

In the last decade, the Dundalk Scratch Cup competition has been dominated by local golfers. Since 2011, only two players outside of Louth have won the Scratch Cup in Dundalk, Rory McNamara of Headfort Golf Club and Stephen Healy, from Claremorris.

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