By Ronan MacNamara
Aine Donegan. Photo by Golffile
Aine Donegan of Lahinch stole the show on the opening day of the match play section at the 118th Women’s Amateur Championship at Kilmarnock (Barassie) as she led a six-strong Irish contingent into round two.
Donegan’s race appeared to be run after a triple-bogey seven on her 8th hole, but she rallied to shoot level par on the back nine to edge her way into the match play stages on the number after shooting a 36-hole total of 13-over to make it through as the 64th and final qualifier after a countback. She took full advantage, sending shockwaves through the field on Wednesday as she dispatched top seed Ragnhildur Kirstinsdóttir of Iceland 4&3 in the top match.
Donegan recovered from an early deficit to take control of the match on the back nine winning three consecutive holes from the 11th to 13th to stamp her authority and leave her opponent with a mountain to climb.
“I am feeling good now, much better than how I felt yesterday after seeing my name 64th,” Donegan said. “Although I was delighted to see that as well because there was a lot of refreshing of Google to see if I got that last spot and thankfully, I did.
“I really like match play and I feel like no matter how bad you play one hole, it doesn’t really matter. On the 1st, I hit it (tee shot) way right and lost my ball, and I had to hit a provisional. I lost the first but thankfully kept the driver in the bag for the rest of the round, hit the 5 wood and tried to keep the ball in play, and luckily it worked out, and I’m delighted with how it went.
“I made a good halve on the 8th and won the 9th, then it kind of switched, and I started to put a bit of pressure on. I was first on the tee and birdied 11 and I ended up parring 12, but I had two putts from five feet to win the hole so, 11 and 12 won them, and I won 13 as well. I won three in a row, which really helped, and I think that was the turning point.
“The top qualifier is under all the pressure, and everyone expects them to go on and win or get quite far. I spoke to my coach last night on the phone and he said just go out and play, don’t let your mind go racing, just stay calm and comfortable, and thankfully I did that, so I’m delighted now.’’
Teenage sensation Beth Coulter continued her dazzling form to edge out Scotland’s Megan Ashley in a tight and tense affair, eventually registering a 2&1 victory. It has been a week to remember for the 17-year-old from Kirkistown Castle who spearheaded the Irish Challenge in the stroke play section, qualifying in fourth place, shooting rounds of 73 and 70 to post a three-under par total.
Beth Coulter. Photo by Golffile
The momentum spread through the Irish players as Kate Lanigan, Rebekah Gardner, Canice Screene and Sara Byrne all recorded comprehensive wins in round one. Lanigan of the Hermitage breezed by Scotland’s Chloe Goadby 4&2 while Gardner who hails from Clandeboye like European Tour pro Jonathan Caldwell, went one better thumping Mia Eales-Smith of England 5&4. Screene matched Gardner as she cruised past Scotswoman Jennifer Rankine, before Douglas native Byrne made it six from six for the Irish as she downed Englishwoman Nicola Slater 4&3.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be a magnificent seven for our girls as Lisburn’s Paula Grant suffered a shock loss to Scotland’s Carmen Griffiths as the former Curtis Cup player was on the receiving end of a 5&4 hammering, bringing her Amateur Championship campaign to an end.
The second and third rounds commence tomorrow, and opportunity knocks for Ireland to have strong representation in the third round as all six girls have avoided each other in the last-32.
Donegan will be in the top match once again as she takes on Scotland’s Shannon McWilliam at 8am. Three Irish girls are in matches five to seven as Coulter, Lanigan and Gardner – who faces 2019 Champion, Emily Toy - look to book their places in round three in the afternoon before Screene and Byrne tee it up again before 10am.
An exciting weekend lies in wait for the six girls all looking to add their name alongside former champions Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire.