- Caolan Rafferty of Ireland is the oldest player in GB&I team at 26-years-old
- R&A Foundation Scholar credits going back to college as amateur career turning point
- Dundalk golfer ranked inside world’s top 30
Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards. For Caolan Rafferty, reaching the Walker Cup and the pinnacle of the amateur ranks is justification for his decision to go back to college and work even harder on his game as part of Maynooth University’s golf programme.
From wondering where his future may lie in the sport, the amiable 26-year-old has enjoyed a whirlwind two years that now sees him as the ‘elder statesman’ in Craig Watson’s team of ten players to face the United States of America at Hoylake this week.
“It’s strange to be the oldest and only 26,” says Rafferty, one of three Irish players in the home team alongside Conor Purcell and 2019 Amateur champion, James Sugrue. “The younger generation are so good now so they make up most of the team. I can’t wait for it all to start and get going.”
After a breakthrough win at the South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Lahinch in 2018, Rafferty rose out of the Walker Cup chasing pack with a number of excellent results this year.
Indeed, he has racked up seven top-10 results – including top-five finishes in the South African Amateur Championship, The R&A Foundation Scholars’ Tournament, the European Nations Cup and the St Andrews Links Trophy. He was also back in the winner’s circle when he pipped Purcell to the West of Ireland Amateur Open title at County Sligo in April.
While Purcell and Sugrue have perhaps grabbed more headlines, Rafferty has gone about his own business to rekindle his love for the sport and highlight his abilities.
“A few years ago, I was looking at the PGA training route, worked in a shop for a year but realised shop life wasn’t for me,” he recalls.
“I decided to go back to college two years ago and that year was around the time of getting in the Irish team for the first time. It’s amazing how this has all come from that over a short space of time. Part of what enticed me going back to college was the golf and their programme. That has definitely helped.”
Formula for success
Rafferty entered his final year of college as part of the Padraig Harrington Golf Scholarship Programme at Maynooth this month. Together with working with his coach, Dougie Bell, they have found the formula for success – with student golf playing its part too.
The R&A Foundation scholar, who came close to victory in the Scholars event at St Andrews in April after leading going into the final round, added, “I started working with Dougie, who is originally from Glasgow, probably around three years ago and that has made a big help.
“We’ve worked on knowing what the club face is doing – it makes golf a lot easier! It has made me aware of how to control certain areas of my swing that I wasn’t doing very well before. Student golf also helps you keep competitive over the winter months, keeps you ticking over with a scorecard in your back pocket.
“I got a win last year which gave me a lot of confidence and I’ve pushed on with a really good season this year. This is a nice reward coming up at the end of it at Hoylake. You have to give the selectors a headache and luckily enough I did that. Every amateur golfer would like to make the Walker Cup team.”
At home on links
Given his links pedigree, the Dundalk player is relishing the coming days on the Wirral. Ranked inside the top 30 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR™), Rafferty hopes his accurate play from tee to green can continue at the famous Wirral links.
“We’ve played Hoylake a few times now at team get-togethers and I’ve really enjoyed it each time,” he said.
“You have to be straight which is kind of what I enjoy. I like Royal Lytham too, you have to drive the ball well there as well so I’m a big fan of links golf. I enjoyed Portmarnock this year for The Amateur, it was a good test and we’re all looking forward to Hoylake now – the golf course as well as the match. Hopefully the recent trend of home wins continues.”
And what lies ahead in the future for Rafferty? Perhaps a crack at the pro game where the Irish are not short of inspirational figures.
“Shane Lowry has been a big inspiration,” he notes. “I’ve looked up to him since he won the Irish Open (as an amateur in 2009) and The Open this year at Royal Portrush was the icing on the cake. It was so good to watch it – unbelievable. He gives all the Irish lads a lot of confidence to go and try to do what he has done.”
For more Walker Cup information visit walkercup.org