2021 proved to be a testing year for Royal Dublin’s Hugh Foley on and off the course. He struggled to find his best golf for much of the season with the untimely death of his father David still raw. The loss of such a figure in his life and golf career took its toll.
But Foley is a grinder and a fighter. After battling his way to an emotional win at the West of Ireland Amateur Championship before enjoying success at international level, he is looking forward to the upcoming year after a fruitful pre-season in Spain.
Foley’s first introduction to golf was caddying for his late father David when they lived in Holland. He was just four years of age. Dr. David Foley was a cardiologist but also a talented golfer playing Senior Cup level golf after picking up the game in Ballybunion aged 21.
Whether Hugh was used as a bargaining chip to get 18 holes in will remain a mystery, but he was more than happy to come along.
“I think it was to take the pressure off Mam and get away with golfing!
“When he came back to Ireland he was a two or three handicap and he was playing Junior Cup when I was nine or ten so definitely my first memories of golf are caddying for him,” added Foley.
When it was established that the Royal Dublin golfer had an aptitude for golf at the age of 18, his father went in search of some elite-level coaching and came across Geoff Loughrey who is the head professional in Roganstown and the pair have been inseparable over the last six years.
“Geoff Loughrey coaches me and he has been a big aspect in my golf. When I turned 18 my dad went looking for proper coaching and top coaching and that was one of the decisions that changed my life. Dad got in touch with Jeff and Michael Bannon who is with Rory McIlroy, and Jeff has been inspirational for my golf career and life off the course.”
The 24-year-old played football up until minor level with his local GAA club, Clontarf, winning U15, U16 and Minor B football championships. It wasn’t until he turned 18 that he decided to give all his attention to playing championship golf.
“I was late in that regard which is probably why I am a bit further on than a lot of other lads, a lot of them turn pro at 21 or 22 but I think getting into it late I have had to play catch up. I think that’s why I am here at 24 still playing full-time amateur,” said Foley who is a long-time member of Royal Dublin Golf Club where competition for places on the Senior Cup team is fierce.
Hugh Foley. Photo by Golffile
“It’s rich in history with Christy O’Connor Snr and they have the room there and he was always knocking about when I was playing at 16 or 17. He would always come up to you and everyone has a story of him giving you a lesson or watching you hit balls.
“When I got to a five handicap when I was 16 I got involved with the Senior Cup panel which had a rake of players from all over the country. It was only really Richie Knightly and Gary McGrane that were the locals but we had twelve plus handicappers in the club.
“When I got down to 2 I was still around 12th on the panel. We still have a great team with Max Kennedy and Richie Knightly has been playing full time for the last year or two. There’s always news being shared around the club with Niall Kearney doing well on the European Tour or some of the amateurs so it’s great for the club.
“This year’s captain is a great person, Brendan O’Malley. He is an avid golfer playing off 2 in his late 60s, early 70s. He will really drive the club forward in terms of performance and wanting to do well in Senior Cup,” he added.
From speaking to Foley on numerous occasions during late spring and early summer, he had expressed his dissatisfaction with his performances, stating he was playing with his ‘B’ game after a fifth-place finish at the AIG Irish Amateur Close in what was a spirited defence of the title he lifted twelve months previously.
“I didn’t really feel in control when I stood over the ball, I didn’t feel in tune last year. July going into August I got knocked out of a couple of things and missed the cut in the Mullingar Scratch Cup,” he said.
The Clontarf native’s fortunes began to turn after he played his part on Roganstown’s Senior Cup-winning side last summer giving him a renewed sense of confidence and drive to tackle the rest of the season. And how. A second major title followed at a rain-soaked West of Ireland Championship before an appearance on the Challenge Tour and a solid week at the Munster Strokeplay was followed by Ireland’s sensational win at the Home Internationals in Hankley Common.
“Yeah it’s funny at any level it doesn’t matter what handicap you are you can get a couple of weeks where everything goes your way and the bounces go for you and the putts drop and I don’t know is that you’re a-game or just a run of luck.
“It has been weird for me, the club would be good for going and supporting their own in a semi-final or final but for the tournaments I have won, there were no supporters because of Covid. It has been a strange time for support.
“Winning the Senior Cup with Roganstown was a big confidence booster and that gave me some momentum. The Irish Close was a good result, but I didn’t feel like I played great, but coming fifth was nice. Then I went on to win the West which was great then I had a good Home Internationals, Munster Stroke, and Irish Am, things started to click for the last couple of months,” he added.
Foley’s West of Ireland win at Rosses Point in September was significant for more than one reason. After the passing of his father that January he couldn’t hold back the tears in the teeming rain at the end of a gruelling 72 holes.
Hugh Foley. photo by Golffile
“I dedicate everything I have and the life I have and the reason I play golf to my dad so you know when you lose such a big figure you dedicate everything to his memory so I would nearly go as far as to say I dedicate every day of my practice to him.
“It was highly emotional. I was stressed. 36 holes in one day is tough and I had never done it while leading so the night before you are thinking about winning and thinking about what you will do in certain situations.
“I had an unbelievable third round where everything went for me then you start to think about it. I had a five or six-shot lead and I spent the final round trying to drag myself back to stay in the moment and what I would think about if I won.
“I spent the whole day fighting the emotions and by the end, I was just so tired and the weather was terrible and I had family there supporting me and I tapped the ball in and felt ok. Shook hands with the hands and then my uncle was in tears when he came on and then it all just hit me. I had nothing left it was hard to speak afterward. It’s a victory but when the person you want to share it with the most isn’t there that would hit anyone. It definitely hit me hard after winning it,” he added.
While he may not admit it, Foley is quite a formidable match player and reached the quarter-final of the Spanish Amateur Championship last weekend before he was agonizingly denied a semi-final berth on the 20th hole by eventual champion John Gough.
The Dubliner did taste success in match play format at the end of last year, playing a key role in Ireland’s dramatic Home Internationals win, as John Carroll’s charges scooped the Raymond Trophy for the first time since 2017.
It was his Medinah moment.
“That was great fun. It was two weeks after the West and I had played a Challenge Tour event where I was absolutely wrecked and didn’t care how I did, I was just on a high.
“The mood in the camp was good, we had good craic I shared a room with Alan Fahy who I get on great with and we played foursomes together. I just really enjoyed the week. I wouldn’t say we were favourites by any means I would have thought England were definitely favourites and ourselves and Scotland would have been evenly matched.
“We were a bit deflated after the morning foursomes against England but we weren’t too bad. When you go out in singles everyone wants to win regardless and the lads were in that mood. You could see they were focused on winning their own match and I find that in team events the team that loses the morning foursomes come out in the singles with their tails up and want to get back at you and in golf anyone can win over 18 holes.
“We were fairly stuffed in the foursomes and all of a sudden we come out angry and maybe England are a bit complacent and there were loads of scoreboards out there so it was great fun to see all the green on the board it was gas.”
Foley picked up a crucial point against English Men’s Amateur Stroke Play champion Sam Bairstow in a match that went the distance. Little did he know when he held out for the win on 18 that he would be celebrating around an hour later.
“I had a really tough match against Sam Bairstow who is a top, top player and that was tight. I couldn’t afford to make a bogey. I had a four-footer left to right to win the match on the last. I didn’t know if it was important at the time but I heard Rob Moran shouting and celebrating so I knew then that it meant something.
“Liam Nolan’s match was unbelievable, we all watched it playing out and it was tense trying to figure out the scores and the points difference while Callan Barrow for England has a 12-foot putt to beat us and give the title to Scotland. You almost want to tell him to miss it there’s nothing in it for you, but he just missed it.
“There was great craic after.”
The win was made even more special as retiring captain Carroll bowed out on a high before handing over the captaincy duties to his loyal lieutenant Niall MacSweeney.
“He’s funny, he says it how it is. He wouldn’t sugar coat anything,” Foley laughed. “There was no panic from him at all, no change in mood. He wouldn’t get angry or anything. He told us if the morning foursomes went badly and he’s such a nice and genuine man there was definitely a sense of trying to win it for him given it was his last year as captain. I think everyone was so delighted when he was making his speech and holding the trophy.
Hugh Foley. photo by Golffile
“Niall MacSweeney will be captain for the next two years and I think the lads will really enjoy that.”
Foley isn’t a results-based player by his own admission but that doesn’t mean his hunger for silverware this year is lacking. Keen to add to his two Major titles and continue his reputation as a strong match player, the big goal this year is to earn a spot on the Irish team for the World Amateur Team Championships at Le Golf National in September.
“In terms of writing goals, I would write overall goals but they are more for something to look back on after the year is done. I write goals and then I write how I want to achieve them. I try to focus on what I need to improve.
“I’m not too results based I would be thinking my short game needs the most improvement and how am I going to do that week by week, day by day.
“I have written down to get to a match-play final, get into final groups of championships again and compete for more silverware.
“The World Amateur Team Championships are at the end of the year and that’s a three-man team, so that’s another goal which would be a really nice reward if I can achieve all my other goals. It would be a great way to round off the year in Paris in September.”
After a fast finish to 2021, Foley will be looking to hit the ground running when the Irish Amateur golf season heats up.