Once upon a time there were two Irish golfing pals, one from Belfast and one from Dublin, and after many years of working hard at their games and playing all over the country in various teams and championships, they decided to plan a very big trip indeed – to the United States of America.  They decided to travel to Wisconsin to play in the US Mid-Amateur Championship, a competition for those over 25 years of age and with a handicap index of 3.4 or lower.  The crock of gold they were seeking at the end of the rainbow was the Robert T Jones Jr Memorial Trophy (see pic at top.)  Despite the fact that they were very good players indeed and had both played for Ireland they were nervous about taking their games overseas to America.

So they began to plan their trip months and months in advance and they worked out all the details of their big adventure.  They were going to play at a course called Erin Hills.  That was surely a great omen for, according to folklore, Erin was the name given to the island of Ireland, being named after the goddess, Eriu.  And the emblem of the club was a shamrock!  Surely that was another omen for a successful trip?  Even so, they were nervous and wondered if they would even make the cut into the match play stages.

When they got there and found where they were staying, they went out to look at the course.  They both liked it very much indeed and the rolling hills and waving grass reminded them of home.  And there were shamrocks everywhere they looked.  They began to think they might do OK.  But they had another course to look at as well because all 246 competitors had to play 18 holes on each course and only the best 64 would get through to the match play stages.

Stewart Hagestad, defending champion and one of the favourites to be successful at Erin Hills. [Steven Gibbons/USGA]

There were many famous people playing in the championship including the defending champion Stewart Hagestad, who had played three times in the Walker Cup.  When the press was handed information about players likely to contend for the title, neither of the Irish boys was mentioned on the list, but they didn’t mind.  They were enjoying themselves, travelling and staying together and finding great places to eat.

On the first day of the championships, a Saturday, the defending champion started with a marvellous score of 64 on the additional course used in the qualifying, the Blue Mound Golf & Country Club.  One of our Irish boys was thrilled to open with a 66 on the same course and his friend shot a two over par 72, which was a bit of a miracle given he was five over after his first six holes.  So they were both in pretty decent shape with the famous Erin Hills to play the next day.

That’s when mother nature decided to play a part.  Up to five inches of rain fell on the second day and no play was possible because both courses were flooded.  Our two players idled away the hours waiting to see if the weather would lift.  Some players were getting more and more nervous with all the waiting but if you come from Ireland you get quite used to that sort of thing.

The next day, Monday, no play was possible until the afternoon and virtually all the players had to finish their second qualifying round on the Tuesday.  Thankfully, our two Irish lads coped very well with all the waiting and hanging about. “It was four days for the two rounds and some uncomfortable waits, but I am glad to get it done,” one said after shooting 70 for a five under total that saw him tied fourth in the qualifying.  His pal shot a brilliant 66 at Erin Hills to be tied sixth on three under.

The big adventure was going rather well and both felt they could relax a little and enjoy themselves going into the matchplay stages.

Huge storms delayed play during the championship. [Steven Gibbons/USGA]

They were delighted to see they were in opposite sides of the draw to each other and they thought to themselves, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could meet in the final?” even though they knew the odds were against them. They hadn’t much time to dwell on that thought, however, as they had to go out that afternoon in their first round matches which they knew wouldn’t get finished because of all the storm delays they had suffered.

Wednesday dawned with some decent weather and proved to be a day of almost non-stop golf for our heroes.  When they did, finally, get back to the house they were staying in, they were both unbeaten, having successfully finished off their first round matches in the morning and then won another match apiece in the afternoon.  There were now only sixteen players left out of the 246 who had started out on Saturday and still no one in America mentioned either of the Irish lads as potential winners of the trophy.

The magic continued the next day with each player recording two more victories apiece (one of them at the 20th) and now they were in the semi-finals.  They had to pinch themselves to make sure they weren’t dreaming….and they weren’t!

Against all the odds the fairytale continues. [Steven Gibbons/USGA]

On the Friday morning each of the two semi-finals was contested between one Irish player and one American player but Erin Hills was well and truly favouring the Irish by this stage and our boys each won on the 16th green.

They looked at each other in disbelief – were they going to wake up to find it all a dream and that in reality they hadn’t actually left Ireland yet?  But, no, it was all true.  They were making history in lots of ways, not least because the 36-hole final was due to be contested with a night’s break between the two rounds – all down to the storms that had disrupted the normal timetable.

After the first 18 holes one of the lads was 2 up and they wearily packed the clubs away and went home and enjoyed a steak dinner together, getting ready for an early start the next morning.  The leader did well the next day, too, rushing through the first nine holes to be four up with only nine to go and then five up with only six to go.  It looked all over but his friend began to produce birdie after birdie after birdie and suddenly he was only two up with three to play.  Both players were very tired and very tense at this stage, giving of their best but it was too big a deficit for the chaser to make up and the match finished on the 35th green.

It was the end of a very long, tiring, exciting, history-making week for the two friends.  They had planned a dream trip and had a great adventure and it had as perfect an ending as possible.

Take a bow, Matt McClean, of Malone and Hugh Foley, of Royal Dublinn.

Hugh [Steven Gibbons/USGA]

….and Matt. [Steven Gibbons/USGA]