Co Sligo’s TJ Ford became the first man from the Rosses Point Club to win the 119th South of Ireland Championship at a sun-drenched Lahinch last week as he drained a seventh birdie in 14 holes to comfortably dispatch Dún Laoghaire’s Alan Fahy 5&4 in stunning fashion.
Ford who graduated from Maynooth University and now works in golf marketing, is still coming to terms with the magnitude of his achievement as he etched his name alongside former winners such as 2011 Open Champion Darren Clarke, 2010 US Open Champion Graeme McDowell and 2014 Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley.
“I’m slowly getting there it’s only this morning I started to take a look at the trophy and go through some of the names on it and starting to reply to text messages now, it’s unreal I’m just so happy and proud,” he said.
“It was just an incredible day so many people there and so many faces that anyone I would have loved to be there was pretty much there so it made it that much more special.
“We had an outdoor gathering in Co.Sligo Golf Club and then headed back to the house.
“I was the first one to bed I was absolutely goosed, but they stayed up for a couple of hours, but it was brilliant,” he added.
These events are always marathons with up to nine rounds squeezed into five days. Several players had to re-emerge on Saturday morning to finish off Friday evening’s matches after a weather delay saw play abandoned late on Friday for bad light.
Ford got a bit of luck as he was afforded extra rest after he managed to come through his second match of the day unscathed by the weather delay.
“I was lucky with the draw in terms of the weather delay I got my second match finished before it got dark but there’s still so much golf to play I think I played nine rounds, it’s just a complete slog.
TJ Ford by Golffile
“My feet are sitting in a bucket of ice at the moment I have so many blisters it’s just a real slog doing 25-30,000 steps a day in 30 degree heat, it was tough.”
I asked the former Maynooth scholar about his approach as the tournament switched from stroke play to match play after the first 36-holes but typically, the Sligo man spoke of a very simple approach which helped him dig deep to see off Royal Dublin’s Richard Knightly on the 20th in the quarter-final, before a superb 2&1 win over Hugh O’Hare of Fortwilliam in the semi-finals.
“You’re playing the man more so than the course but the wind was very similar all week. so I still was trying to hit the same shots finding the fat side of greens and the right sections of the fairways.
“The only difference is if you have two putts from 20-feet you’ll take them.”
Golf has been a part of Ford’s life since he was a young child growing up in Sligo but he was also a very talented rugby player at underage level often dipping in and out with Connacht during his time in secondary school.
“Golf has always been in my family, my dad would have played these events, my uncle is the pro in Galway Bay Golf Club, my granddad played as well.
“I picked up a club when I was four or five and hit balls around the garden and played underage competitions, there’s a really good junior programme in Sligo a lot of really good golfers came through in my age group it’s a proper golf course if you can play well there it will stand to you.
“I went away from it when I went to secondary school, I played a lot of rugby with Connacht during the summer which ruled out golf between 15 and 18,” he added.
TJ Ford by Golffile
Sometimes the world has a way of deciding your future for you and had it not been for a freak mistake by virtue of an email, Ford may well have packed away the golf clubs in favour of a scrum cap when he was 19.
“Yeah definitely, I was with Connacht and the Grammar and in the Junior Cup we were going really well.
“During the summer I would spend two or three nights with Connacht and I was doing OK nothing special but it was the number one sport for a long time.
“I thought I didn’t get picked for U-19 but they sent the email to the wrong address but I decided then I would stick to the golf and see what happens.
“If I had got that email I don’t know where I would be now because I definitely wasn’t good enough for pro rugby but I would have been in the club scene,” he added.
The Rosses point native attended college at Maynooth University where his golf game blossomed as he strived to match the standard of his compatriots and learn as much as possible both in lectures and on the golf course.
“When I left school and went to Maynooth I decided I didn’t fancy getting hit by lads that were bigger than me anymore, so I stuck with the golf.”
“Maynooth was so good for that, so many amazing golfers that I would have idolized then all of a sudden, you’re playing with them and living with them.
“I really improved in Maynooth, playing alongside lots of top players, how could you not?”
Ford, who is scheduled to compete in the Mullingar Scratch Cup over the bank holiday weekend might have to withdraw due to the severity of the blisters on his feet. The opportunity will surely arise next year as he has no designs on turning professional and is targeting a stellar amateur career as he sets his sights on the West of Ireland Championship at his home club in Sligo.
“I don’t have any ambition to turn pro, from spending time around lads in Maynooth who are now gone pro and are slogging it out at the moment it’s just so hard.
“I’ll keep playing as many amateur events as I can and I am working full-time for the revenue club which is nice to be able to blend my marketing studies and golf.
South of Ireland Amateur Championship results:
Semi Final: TJ Ford (Co Sligo) bt Hugh O’Hare (Fortwilliam) 2&1; Alan Fahy (Dún Laoghaire) bt Paul Conroy (Enniscorthy) 3&2
Final: Ford bt Fahy 5&4