Whitehead’s John Ross Galbraith edged out Rosslare’s Gary Collins on the 20th hole to win the Cathedral Eye sponsored North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush on Friday.
Playing in very difficult conditions with winds gusting to almost 50mph, Galbraith trailed by two at the 12th but clawed his way back into contention and actually led by one playing the 18th only to lose out to a par from Collins.
The duo went down the 19th and Collins had a short par putt to win but the ball somehow stayed above ground and Galbraith, the reigning Irish Close Champion, finally closed the match out with a birdie on the 20th – the only one made by either player in the final.
“You’re left thinking to yourself ‘what are we doing out in this?’ – it’s the same every time in tournaments here.
“They send you out in horrific conditions. If it was a pro event you wouldn’t be near the course,” said Galbraith who saw his ball and his opponent’s ball blown off the green at the fifth.
Ulster branch officials made the decision to water the greens as the final progressed and that helped to prevent the balls moving around, particularly on the more exposed parts of the course.
“The long game was tough, but it was playable. On the greens it was so difficult.
“Trying to get putts on-line was practically impossible,” added Galbraith.
“The watering stopped the balls oscillating which made a difference but it was still difficult keeping your balance over your putts.
“It really got to me, I felt like going crazy on the some of the greens but I reminded myself that he [Collins] was in the same boat as myself and I dug deep to try and grind it out.
“When I went two down at the 12th I thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to hole anything in this wind’.
“I was relying on Gary gifting me a hole or I was going to have to hit an approach really close.
“I just kept telling myself to hang in and something will happen and it did. I played pretty steady over those closing holes.
“I’m delighted to win it, it’s such a big tournament, especially for players from Northern Ireland. This is one trophy I always wanted to win.”
Earlier in the day Galbraith had seen off Lurgan’s David Sutton but only after an almighty fright.
Sutton was out of the blocks early and was four up after five holes before Galbraith finally shock himself awake with a birdie at the sixth.
Seemingly inspired he won the next three holes to turn for home all square.
Sutton won the 10th but JR fought back again rolling in a birdie putt at the 11th.
The 12th and 13th were halved before the match turned in Galbraith’s favour at ‘Calamity’ when he fired in a brilliant three wood to 10 feet for another birdie.
A par at the 15th put him two up and he halved the 16th and 17th to wrap up a 2&1 victory.
Collins beat Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty on the 20th in the second semi-final, clawing way his back from two down with two to play to prevail courtesy of a birdie.