Flying like a birdie

 
 

Matthew Morrow talks to UCD golfer Stephen Walsh about his recent success, and what the future has in store for his fast developing career

Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke. These are all multiple winners on the European and American Golf  Tours over the last fifteen years, who also began their golfing careers by winning the South of Ireland Championship in their amateur days.

The most recent winner of this prestigious accolade, who hopes to follow in the illustrious footsteps of Major winners like Clarke and McDowell, is Stephen Walsh, a twenty-year-old recent graduate from UCD with a degree in Sport and Exercise Management.

Walsh hopes that this will be the start of many more chances to win such titles, if he continues to apply himself and work hard at his game. His route to this level hasn’t followed the path of say, Rory McIlroy, who was identified as a child prodigy at the age of seven. Walsh admits to not taking up golf seriously until he was fifteen or sixteen, and was taught the basics by his grandfather, who took him to play at his local club in Baltinglass.

“I missed out on watching Tiger at his absolute best as I only started playing and watching golf in 2006”, Walsh says. “I played soccer until that point, but my knees weren’t able to hold up so I started to play golf instead and immediately loved it.”

It is a decision that has paid dividends. Aside from his success in July at the South of Ireland Championships, Walsh also had the privilege of representing UCD at the World University Games in August, which were held in Shenzhen, China.

“We played at the Mission Hills Golf Club”, says Walsh. The course was where Rory McIlory and Greame McDowell finished runners-up in last year’s Golf World Cup, and has courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Vijay Singh. “It was such a good experience to play such a big course. The locals treated us like celebrities and it was great to experience the atmosphere in the Athlete’s Village.”

Walsh wasn’t able to prevent his playing partner, Japanese amateur sensation Matsuyama Hideki, from walking away with the title. Nevertheless, he describes the experience as “incredible” and hopes that he will benefit from it in the long run.

So what are his future plans in both the short and long term? “Well I’m going to Florida for the winter to train in the warmer climates. I’m hoping to sharpen up my game, get some coaching under my belt, as I’ve never actually had a golf lesson in my life, I’ve only really ever been taught by my granddad.”

The long-term aim for Walsh is to make the Walker Cup team. “That would be my ultimate goal at the minute, that’s why I’m playing and working hard. The standard is so high; it would be great to make that team.”

He cites missing out on the Irish Amateur team recently as a major disappointment and one that he is determined to rectify in the coming twelve months.

His long-term aim is an ambitious one, and for the moment remains just a dream, but Walsh believes that with more practice and experience, he can break into the European circuit. “I’d love to be out on tour playing week-in-week out. I need to get my head down and work hard at my game over the winter, and I’ll probably be in a better position to tell where I’m at and where I’m going as a golfer next summer.”

He admits that it’s a difficult path given “the incredible standard of European golf at present,” but gives the impression that he would relish the challenge of a chance to play against the top players of Europe.

To reach the standard that he has without any top level coaching is an outstanding achievement, and with the prospect of spending the winter in Florida getting lessons and practice under his belt, Walsh’s potential to reach greater heights is unquestionable.

Golf is a game of precision, and his advice to golfers of all abilities is that regular training is essential. “If you put the work in, you’ll get the reward out.” With only a couple of years of experience under his belt, practice really could make Stephen Walsh’s career perfect.

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