Two summers ago 15-year-old John Ross Galbraith watched on in awe as his hero Rory McIlroy gave a masterclass at the Ulster Branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland’s new state-of-the-art practice facility at Greenmount.
He was there as part of a specially selected group of talented up-and-coming Ulster boys to greet McIlroy after his maiden European Tour win at the Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy has, of course, since gone on to join the ranks of major winners with his US Open triumph last month at the Congressional Club.
And John Ross has emulated his idol by matching his Ulster Boys’ Amateur Open win with a scintillating performance of his own at Malone this week.
The Whitehead teenager beat the field by seven shots — and he’ll be back to defend his title next year, and aim like Rory, to win the event twice after his victories in 2003 and 2004 at Donaghadee and his home Holywood track.
Although not everyone who has managed to capture that crown has gone on to international fame and fortune, there is one other major winner on the list of past Ulster Boys’ champions — Graeme McDowell, who won the crown in 1996.
Portstewart’s Paul Cutler, who won the title four years ago, is on course to also emulate McIlroy and McDowell and represent Great Britain and Ireland at this year’s Walker Cup.
The standard of amateur golf is rising year by year as witnessed by the level set for this month’s North of Ireland Amateur Open at Royal Portrush where the cut mark of plus 2.6 this year was the highest ever. That facility at Greenmount, which is open to the public as well as members of the various Ulster representatives teams, is part of the reason for the surge in success of Ulster golf.
But there’s a great deal of good work also being done by the coaches and professionals at clubs around the province.
Clubs like Whitehead are churning out talented young players like Galbraith who only want to follow in McIlroy’s footsteps.
Castletroy’s Chloe Ryan was celebrating yesterday after winning the Ulster Girls Open Championship (Fred Daly Trophy).