So how do you start to build a ranking of Cork’s top men’s golfers over the past 100 years?
Rankings and lists are always subjective, and I’m sure many people will have their own opinions on the list as they work their way through it. Rankings always come down to points, and allocating points for different events can be hard. Is a St Andrews Trophy or a Spanish Amateur as good as a South, is a Close better than a Walker Cup selection. With the help of a few good men, tournaments were ranked in order of importance, and that helped to shape the project. The Irish Open and Irish Close were the highest ranked national tournaments followed by the four provincial championships. The British Amateur also attracted high points, as did selection for Walker Cup and Eisenhower teams, and points were also included for the various Irish championships. Finally points were awarded for Irish caps and wins, although some records were hard to find especially for the early years.
While it’s up to everyone to judge where each golfer is ranked, there is one golfer who will lead every ranking. Jimmy Bruen is the clear leader by some distance. I’m not sure we’ll see his like again, and in addition to his wins in amateur golf it should also be remembered that he competed against the professionals on a regular basis. Bruen’s last major win came over 70 years ago, but he is still fondly remembered in Cork. The wins from many of the top ten are more recent, and hopefully readers will have heard of and maybe even witnessed some of these. Because of the difference in the number of events, I’ve created separate lists for Women and Men, you can see the Women’s Top Ten here.
Cork golfers have been winning major titles for 100 years. The first major win happened in 1921 when FitzJames Murphy from Cork Golf Club won the South, and the most recent was in October when Peter O’Keeffe won the Irish Open. Hopefully there will be more points to be allocated in 2022, although you never can be sure when the next win will come.
Cork’s Top Amateurs – Men’s Classification – The top 10
I’ve gone through the record books to list and rank the achievements of the top male amateurs from the past 100 years. Starting with FitzJames Murphy who won the South twice in 1921 and 1923, and the finishing with Peter O’Keeffe’s Open win in 2021 there have been 34 major wins, plenty of other wins and well over 500 International caps. After much work and here’s his take on the top twenty Cork male amateur golfers.
1 Jimmy Bruen (Cork/Muskerry) – British Amateur, Irish Close (2), Irish Open, British Boys, Walker Cup (3)
Bruen is the undisputed number one when it comes to Cork Golf. He got his first handicap from Muskerry and that allowed him to access to open competitions and championships. A British Boys in 1936 was followed by a British Amateur in 1946. There was also and Irish Open and Close double in 1938 along with a second Irish Close title and three Walker Cup appearances. He also led the British Open after the opening round in 1938, and he won the Amateur Medal in 1939. As well as his impressive haul of titles and appearances, he left behind a reputation that helped shape the game. He was the original long hitter, and stories of him driving the green on the first in Cork were to be heard far and wide. His power and resultant length made him the talk of Europe and the US, and while nobody was able to emulate the Bruen Loop, he forced others to focus on distance. A wrist injury in his prime cut short his trophy winning days, if not for that and the suspension of championships for WW2, he surely would have won more.
2 John McHenry (Douglas) – Irish Close, South of Ireland, Walker Cup, Irish Youths (3)
McHenry hit the bit time early on with three consecutive Irish Youths wins, a South of Ireland and an Irish Close title prior to his Walker Cup selection in 1987. McHenry was the only Irish golfer to be selected on that team for the 31st match which was played in Sunningdale. The team of ten also included Colin Montgomerie. He won his two matches on Sunday and was one of only three GB&I golfers to win in the final singles. The Douglas man had defining year in 1986, winning the South in Lahinch, the Irish Close in Royal Dublin, and the famous Mullingar Scratch Trophy. McHenry spent a decade on tour before entering club management, he was Director of Golf at the K Club in 2006 when it hosted the Ryder Cup. He regained his amateur status last year and although he insists his championship days are behind him, he still earned a place in the Douglas Senior Cup team this year.
3 James Sugrue (Mallow) – Amateur Championship, South of Ireland, Walker Cup
One of the most recent amateur winners, the Mallow man is just the second winner of the Amateur Championship. The biggest crowd of recent times, in excess of 3,000 watched Sugrue claim a memorable win in Portmarnock in 2019 beating Scotland’s Euan Walker on the 18th hole after a tense 36 hole match. Following that win he went on to play in the Open Championship, the US Open, the Irish Open and the Masters Tournament. Sugrue was far from a one trick pony, he won the Munster Youths when he was just 17 and won the South of Ireland in 2017 when Lahinch celebrated their 125th Anniversary. He was a successful boys and men’s international over five years, and he was a frequent winner of scratch cups all over Munster. He also reached the last 32 in the US Amateur in 2019. After competing in the 2020 Masters Tournament, an invitation received on the back of his Amateur Championship win, Sugrue turned pro ending his amateur status.
4 Peter O’Keeffe (Douglas) – Irish Open (2), Irish Close, Irish Mid-Am
O’Keeffe is the only current golfer in the top ten, and he’s the most recent winner. After an impressive spell in boys, youths and college golf, O’Keeffe spent ten years as a tour professional. In 2016 he returned to the amateur ranks and has been a consistent performer since then. In 2017 he won the Irish Amateur Open in Royal County Down, the first Cork golfer to win an Irish Open in over 50 years. Several scratch cup wins followed in 2018 as well as appearances with the Irish Men’s team, and in 2019 he chalked up his second Irish title at the Irish Mid-Amateur and last year he added his name to famous Cork Scratch Trophy after winning the Munster Strokeplay. After a good run of form through 2021, he cleaned up in the second half of the season. He retained the Munster Strokeplay and became just the seventh golfer to do the Irish Open & Irish Close double. And in between those wins he also helped Ireland to another Home Nations title.
5 Eoghan O’Connell (Killarney) – Eisenhower Cup, Walker Cup, US Amateur Medal
While O’Connell played out of Killarney, he was very much a Cork man. The Ballydesmond man was a key member of the 1989 Walker Cup team. That gave Great Britain and Ireland a historic win with the Corkman playing an important part. O’Connell was unbeaten at the Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. He partnered the great Peter McEvoy for a win and a half in the foursomes while he also secured a win in the first singles and a half in the final singles against Phil Michelson. Every point counted in that Walker Cup with GB&I winning by a single point. It was the first win for GB&I in the US and only their third win in the 32nd Walker Cup match. As well as his Walker Cup win, O’Connell also has an Eisenhower win to his name. He helped GB&I to their third title in Sweden in 1988. O’Connell won an Irish Boys title in 1984, he was the leading qualifier in the US Amateur at Merrion in 1989 and was the leading amateur at the Carroll’s Irish Open in 1988 and 1889.
6 Michel Power (Muskerry) – Irish Close, South of Ireland, East of Ireland
Power had a really impressive run in the early 50’s, winning three majors in the space of 12 months. His first win came in Little Island when he beat the great Joe Carr on the 16th hole at Cork Golf Club in the final of the Irish Close. He went on to post a record score of at the East of Ireland (297 strokes around Co Louth), and the following year he won the South of Ireland on the 18th green in the final. While that was his final major win, he was fiercely competitive and was runner up in six other majors in the following years. He was a three-time winner of the Cork Scratch Cup and also had 38 caps for Ireland.
7 John Murphy (Kinsale) – Eisenhower Cup, Walker Cup, St Andrews Links
John Murphy closed out his amateur career earlier this year with a high-profile appearance at the Walker Cup. The Kinsale man energised the GB&I challenge against a stellar American team and won two of his matches. Prior to that Murphy had and impressive few years. He won the St Andrew’s Links Trophy in 2018, and won the Mullingar Scratch Trophy in 2019. He was selected on the Irish team for the Eisenhower Trophy which was played in Ireland for the first time in 2018. In addition to his wins in Ireland and he racked up four wins in his time at University of Louisville in Kentucky. The Seminole Walker Cup was Murphy’s last appearance as an amateur. He went onto the Challenge Tour and secured a full card for the 2022 season, and along the way he also scored a top ten finish at the Dunhill Links in St Andrew’s in October.
8 TW Egan (Monkstown) – Irish Close, East of Ireland
Tom Egan’s house bordered the course in Monkstown and as a child he spent many days and evenings jumping the wall to practice on the course. Just prior to his 18th birthday, he was given his first official handicap, and went on to win the President’s Prize with a 66. His initial handicap was swiftly cut in half but Egan was well on his way to scratch at that stage. In 1952 he won the Irish Close and ten years later he won the East of Ireland in style, setting a record of eight birdies in nine holes in the third round. Egan earned 54 caps for Ireland and he sank the winning putt in the 1967 European Team Championship. Like a few others, Egan was also a prolific winner on the scratch cup circuit, winning twice in Cork and three times in Douglas.
9 Denis O’Sullivan (Cork) – Irish Close, East of Ireland
While many know Denis from his successful career on the European Seniors Tour, that success was learned in amateur golf through the 80’s and 90’s. O’Sullivan amassed a huge haul of scratch cup titles when they were important events, it’s said that he won over 80. On the national scene he won the Irish Close in Westport in 1985, nine years after losing out in the 1976 Close final. In 1990 he won his second title in Co Louth, he won the East of Ireland by two strokes. When he turned 50, O’Sullivan left the amateur game to try his hand on the European Seniors. Over the next two decades Denis became one of the most popular golfers on the circuit, but his smiling face hid his ferocious competitive side. He competed in over 300 tour events, travelled the world, and won seven events along the way.
10 Niall Goulding (Cork) – West of Ireland (2)
Niall Goulding is the only Cork golfer to have won the West of Ireland. In fact he tamed the Rosses Point links twice with wins in 1990 and 1991. Only four golfers have achieved that feat and they include Joe Carr and Rory McIlroy. 90 and 91 were good years for Goulding, he also won back to back Cork Scratch Cups. He was runner up in the Irish Close in 1991, and in 1989 when he lost to Paul McGinley in Portmarnock. Goulding won caps at youths and men’s level. He had an impressive record, winning over half of his 40 international matches.
Cork’s Top Amateurs – Men’s Classification – 11-20
11 Redmond Simcox (Cork), South of Ireland (2), 32 Caps.
12 Tom Cleary (Cork/Fermoy), East of Ireland, Cork Scratch Cup (4), Munster Seniors (3), 44 Caps.
13 FitzJames Murphy (Cork), South of Ireland (2).
14 Bill Kelleher (Douglas), South of Ireland, 17 Caps.
15 John Morris (Douglas), Irish Youths (2), 38 Caps.
16 John Fitzgibbon (Cork), Irish Close.
17 Michael Quirke (Doneraile), Spanish Amateur, Irish Seniors Open.
18 Mervyn Owens (Mallow), South of Ireland, 5 Caps.
19 George Crosbie (Cork), Irish Close Runner Up (3), 24 Caps
20 Sean Desmond (Monkstown), South of Ireland
Honourable Mentions: Karl Bornemann (Douglas), Liam Higgins (Cork), Ted Higgins (Cork), Larry McCarthy (Muskerry), Brendan McDaid (Skibbereen), Bob McFleury (Cork), Aaron O’Callaghan (Douglas), Kieran McCarthy (Kinsale) Gary O’Flaherty (Cork), Paddy Sullivan (Kinsale).
So folks, that’s my take on the first 100 years of the Cork men in amateur golf. I hope it bring back a few names from from the past and jogs a few happy memories. This details behind it will remain a working document, hopefully there will be more wins to include and more names to add.