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Meet Paul O'Hanlon: A decorated amateur either side of a professional stint is now back in love with the game

by Ronan MacNamara

There isn’t much that Paul O’Hanlon hasn’t seen or done in his golfing career that has spanned from junior golf all the way to professional level.

The 36-year-old boasts quite the trophy cabinet including an Irish Close championship, a Mullingar Scratch and now the Irish Mid-Amateur title that he won by four shots at Thurles Golf Club last weekend.

One would assume O’Hanlon was a childhood prodigy, but it wasn’t until his teenage years that he caught the golfing bug, and from there he excelled in a meteoric rise up the ladder.

“I was 13 or 14 when I took up golf and I was kind of rubbish until I was 16 and my coach in The Curragh got me to a really good standard and then he suggested I see the late Wayne Westner who was based in Ireland at the time and my handicap went from 15 to 2 under him in a year and a half so then I started thinking about making an Irish team at 18 and I managed to get on the Irish Boys’ team at 18.

“I won at every level, a Leinster Boys’ at 18, a Connacht Youths at 21 level and my first big breakthrough was the Mullingar Scratch Cup in 2007.”

From there the former member at The Curragh went from strength to strength. 2008 was where he really announced himself at the top of Irish golf when he won the Irish Close Championship, reached the semi-final of the West of Ireland Championship, came fourth in the East of Ireland Championship before reaching the final of the South of Ireland.

After a breakthrough year at elite amateur level, he took the same path as his friend Peter O’Keeffe and decided to try his hand at professional golf.

Despite similar financial struggles to O’Keeffe, he has no regrets over his four years on Tour where he plied his trade on the EuroPro Tour.

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Paul O'Hanlon. Photo by Golffile

“I started thinking about turning pro in 2009 and I gave it four years, but I was moderately successful.

“I was a fairly good player on the EuroPro Tour, and I dabbled a bit on the Challenge Tour but never really featured on that.

“It was a great experience, the first two years were amazing, travelling 20 weeks a year, getting away from home as a 20-year-old was excellent but at the same time, I came from a normal background where I didn’t have a huge financial backing so I knew there was a timer occurring, I knew there was a window of three or four years.

“By the third year I didn’t reach my expectations and I struggled with that and by the fourth year I knew I wasn’t quite good enough to do this for a living,” he added.

A few years in limbo followed where O’Hanlon worked in the K Club for a year while contemplating becoming a PGA Professional. He decided to take up an audit contract in Grant Thornton which he qualified from in 2018. During that period he fell out of love with golf until Brian Cunningham, the captain of the victorious Carton House Senior Cup team played a major role in rekindling the fire in his belly.

“I lost the love for the game after trying professional golf. By chance I bumped into Brian in Carton House and he asked me would I be interested in joining Carton and he introduced me to everyone and I started playing golf again and got the bug back.

“By the start of 2015 I had a handicap of +1. My first championship back was the East in 2016 which I actually won. I went up there with zero expectations. I shot 65 in the first round and the old juices came back and I managed to go from wire to wire and close it out.

“To come back as an amateur I was really appreciative of the win.”

Having won the Leinster Mid-Am in Tullamore earlier this year after almost throwing away a seemingly unassailable lead down the tough stretch at the Offaly club, O’ Hanlon stood on the 18th tee at Thurles last week with a four-shot lead eager to get over the line in less dramatic circumstances.

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Paul O'Hanlon by Golffile

Looking back on the situation now it is easy to laugh but it is safe to say after this season he won’t be focusing on leaderboards until the job is done and dusted.

“It was a strange situation. I won the Leinster Mid-Am this year in Tullamore and I knew I was going well on the back nine and I asked the question on the 16th and the last three holes are very difficult. When I asked the question, the referee said I was up by five or six and I nearly threw it away I think I won by one in the end. I finished double, bogey, bogey and won by one!

“I said this time around I would try and do my best on every hole and ask the question on 18 and they said I was up by four and I knew unless I did something horrific, I was going to win, and I nearly did. My drive nearly went out of bounds, what I was at I don’t know but the ball stayed in bounds and I made an easy five after that.

“Going forward I won’t ask where I am, I’ll just finish out and see at the end, but I am very happy to win it.

“A lot of nice texts have come through from members of Carton and the Curragh but Carton has been very good to me since I joined. There’s a lot of top people in there that are doing great work,” he acknowledged.

The occasion was made extra special by the surprise attendance of his wife and nine-month old daughter and he was happy to have a quiet night in and have a couple of deserved beers with his family.

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Paul O'Hanlon by Golffile

It has been a trophy-laden year for Carton House with O’Hanlon bringing back the Leinster and Irish Mid-Am titles to the Kildare club but neither hold a candle in comparison to the emotional Senior Cup win the club achieved this summer as they finally got the monkey off the back after five years of agonising defeats and close calls.

O’Hanlon was delighted to help win the title for Brian Cunningham who brought him to Carton in the first place and the win ranks very high in his career achievements.

“We won the Senior Cup this year so there’s a really good vibe at the minute.

“We had been knocking on the door for around five years now and everything aligned this time. We had our American scholarship players back at the same time and it was just excellent after trying for five years. We’ve gone through the ringer, getting beaten in close circumstances over the years but this year we pulled together for Brian Cunningham and he has been so good to us for years so we were all pulling for him and to see the satisfaction in his face when we won was worth all the effort and turmoil over the years.

“One of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in golf,” he smiled.

Despite a busy work and home life with a new-born baby in the house, O’Hanlon shows no signs of resting on his laurels over the winter period and is going to hook up with O’Keeffe at Golf Strong to try and generate some more speed in his swing to squeeze a few extra yards out of his driving next season as he intends to play a full schedule.

A happy individual on and off the golf course he will be a force to be reckoned with once again in 2022.

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