Lurgan’s David Sutton struck a blow for the working amateur by reaching the semi-finals of the Cathedral Eye sponsored North of Ireland Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush on Thursday.
The 34-year-old father of two held off 19-year-old Rowan Lester (The Hermitage) to set up an all-Ulster meeting with reigning Irish Close Champion, John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead).
In weather conditions that worsened throughout the day, Sutton’s experience and relaxed approach helped him stem an early onslaught before gradually working his way back into the tie.
“I played good in the rain. Sometimes I don’t play so well in the rain but I managed to hole a couple of decent putts.
“I knew I had to, he was doing nothing wrong, he is a class wee player,” said Sutton, an export sales manager for local golf firm MD Golf.
The Lockerbie native, a North of Ireland semi-finalist in 2011, was two down after six but won the seventh and ninth in regulation pars to turn for home all square.
Lester, beaten in the final of the British Boys Amateur last year, responded immediately with birdies at the 10th and 11th but once again Sutton showed no signs of panic.
He clawed another hole back at the 12th, lost the 13th but birdied the 14th and 15th to level matters with three holes remaining.
The 16th and 17th were halved in par and then, with both players in trouble off the tee, Sutton somehow managed to salvage a par to win the tie, rolling in a par putt from 15 feet on the last.
A former Scottish international, Sutton’s work and family commitments keep his championship appearances to a minimum these days.
The North of Ireland tournament doubles as a family holiday and he admits it is a hard balancing act.
“I love coming up to the ‘North’ because if the golf doesn’t work out it is a great wee holiday.
“My mum and dad are here. My Dad – Brian - always caddies for me as well,” said David.
“We have been very busy in work this last few months and then when you get home you spend time with the kids so I don’t get to practise or play that much.”
On a day which saw a number of the favourites lose out, amongst them Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint), Robin Dawson (Faithlegg) and Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Sutton had earlier edged out leading qualifier Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock) in the last 16 by a single shot.
Galbraith also found things more taxing yesterday and was forced to dig deep to see off Knock’s Colin Fairweather in the last 16.
One down through 16, John Ross, chipped in for eagle at the par five 17 and then birdied the 18th to eventually edge home by a single hole.
His quarter-final against Ronan Mullarney (Galway) was nip and tuck over the opening nines holes before he took charge around the turn, eagling the 10th to go one up and chipping in at the 11th to extend that lead.
Mullarney dragged one back on the 12th, the 13th was halved in pars before Galbraith bagged a two at the 14th firing a four iron in 10 feet.
The 15th was halved in par fours and then Mullarney found trouble at the 16th and eventually conceded the hole.
Friday’s second semi-final pitts Gary Collins (Rosslare) against Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) who claimed the biggest scalp of his career in beating McElroy by one hole in the last eight.
It was a great performance from Rafferty.
JR Galbraith v D Sutton
G Collins v C Rafferty
Final – 12.30pm
S Coulter lost to R Dawson 19th; G Collins bt C Campbell 2&1; C Rafferty bt F Mason 5&3; D McElroy bt W Hanna 3&2; JR Galbraith bt C Fairweather 1hole; R Mullarney bt P McBride 19th; D Sutton bt G Lenehan 1hole; R Lester bt D Holland 3&2
G Collins bt Dawson 3&2; C Rafferty bt D McElroy 1hole; JR Galbraith bt R Mullarney 3&2; D Sutton by R Lester 1hole