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Arnold Palmer Cup – Bringing the cream of the college crop to Lahinch – Irish Golfer Magazine

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The third leg of the spotlight international amateur events in Ireland ends with the Arnold Palmer Cup at Lahinch Golf Club from July 5-7, and the massive Irish involvement is set to be centre stage.

Sara Byrne (Douglas), Kate Lanigan (Hermitage), Max Kennedy (Royal Dublin) and Ryan Griffin (Ballybofey & Stranorlar) will tee it up for the International team looking to win back the title against a star studded United States of America side.

Barry Fennelly (Maynooth University) will act as co-head coach of the International side and he will be assisted by Aaron O’Callaghan (Wake Forest), completing a strong Irish presence in county Clare.

The Arnold Palmer Cup was co-founded by the man affectionately known as ‘The King’ and the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) and began at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Fla., in 1997. The event is a Ryder Cup-style tournament featuring the top 24 men’s and women’s university/college golfers from the United States competing against the 24-strong team of international players. The Palmer Cup has been played at some of the world’s greatest courses, including The Old Course at St. Andrews, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Baltusrol, The Honors Course, and Cherry Hills.

Beginning with the 2018 matches at Evian Resort Golf Club, the Palmer Cup is the only major tournament that features men and women playing side-by-side as partners including mixed foursomes and mixed fourballs.

Since its inception, over 245 former Arnold Palmer Cup alumni have gone on to earn cards on the PGA, DP World, or LPGA Tours; 44 have represented Europe or the USA in the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, or Solheim Cup and more than 90 have combined to claim 415 victories on the PGA, DP World, or LPGA Tours, including 2023 major champions Jon Rahm (Masters Tournament), Lilia Vu (The Chevron Championship & AIG Women’s Open), Wyndham Clark (U.S. Open), Allisen Corpuz (U.S. Women’s Open), and Brian Harman (The Open), as well as 2023 FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland.

The United States leads the Palmer Cup series 14-12-1.

Ireland has a long-standing history of players in the competition particularly from Maynooth University which has been represented at nine of the last 11 Arnold Palmer Cup matches, a feat not matched by any institution outside of the United States. Maynooth has produced seven Arnold Palmer Cup participants, two Walker Cup players, one Curtis Cup player, and numerous Irish men and women Internationals.

Debutant Lanigan will add to this list while Griffin is making his second appearance after both players played their way onto the team via the R&A Student Series Order of Merit rankings which they finished top of.

Meanwhile, Byrne enjoyed a sensational final season with Miami, winning twice and receiving an All-American accolade along with student athlete of the year awards.

Louisville student Kennedy impressed on his debut last year and he has been recalled for a second appearance on home soil.

Co-head coach, Fennelly has long been associated with the Palmer Cup. He served as an assistant coach for Team International’s 2022 Palmer Cup victory at Golf Club de Genève. A member of the Palmer Cup men’s selection committee in 2016 & 2017, Fennelly has been serving on the international women’s selection committee for the past five years.

The Dubliner has served as programme co-ordinator for the Paddy Harrington Golf Scholarship in Maynooth since 2012 and has finished his 13th season.

He has played a vital role in developing the R&A Student Tour Series which Maynooth has dominated since its inception.

For Fennelly, being able to lead the International team in Lahinch is a huge honour and richly deserved for his commitment and contribution to college golf outside of the United States.

“It’s a massive honour for myself,” said Fennelly who previously played in South of Ireland championships at Lahinch during his amateur days.

“I’ve been in Maynooth ever since I finished my Masters in 2011-12, starting my role in Maynooth as the programme director of the Harrington Scholarship, so it’s been a long stint but a really rewarding stint. To get the opportunity to lead the team in Lahinch is phenomenal.”

Players like Stuart Grehan, Ronan Mullarney and Gary Hurley have turned professional since coming through the Paddy Harrington scholarship programme and playing Palmer Cup while David Kitt and Allan Hill have been involved during their time studying in Maynooth.

“I am indebted to the players we’ve had in Maynooth who have played in the Palmer Cup, they have flown the flag on the international stage and their success has afforded me this opportunity,” Fennelly continued

“Thrilled to have the four Irish players on the team and it makes it even sweeter going to Lahinch. I am sure those four clubs and players’ families and general Irish amateur supporters will come out in force to get behind us.

“The four Irish have earned their spots on the team; they will bring a lot of experience and they are comfortable in a place like Lahinch. It’s a testament to college golf and amateur golf that we have a lot of quality players coming through the system.”

Donegal’s Griffin hopes the wind “blows the arses off the Americans” when the competition begins in Lahinch, but Fennelly will settle for a happy medium of unsettling conditions but good enough weather to attract a large Irish crowd.

“We all love Lahinch,” he said. “What a great place, village, great golf course. The players will tell you the South is the most enjoyable championship we have on the island. I played in the South of Ireland Championships myself, so it was always a treat to go down and to be leading the team there is really special.

“We have looked at players who have a decent track record on links and are comfortable with the conditions. I think the weather will bring out the crowds, but in terms of the conditions, we hope for what you would get in the South of Ireland and we hope that would give us an edge and play into our hands, giving the Americans something different to what they are used to.”

Fennelly’s involvement in the competition since 2016 means he has seen future major winners and world number one players from both the men’s and women’s game.

“It’s a huge stepping stone for those who want to go into the pro game to rub shoulders with the best amateurs in the world. From a developmental standpoint, it opens your eyes to the standard and the level they need to aspire to play at. We are very proud in Maynooth to have so many players who have gone through the Palmer Cup.

“I was fortunate enough to be involved two years ago with Ludvig Åberg and we know what he has already gone on to achieve. We have the future stars of the game on our doorstep so I would encourage anyone to come out and watch and get inspired. It’s a great education for young aspiring golfers.”

The star turn from an Irish point of view will arguably be Cork sensation, Byrne.

Byrne will be turning professional later this year but after receiving an email in January about her potential Palmer Cup selection she was determined to make the team and play in as many big events as possible before waving goodbye to amateur golf.

“When the email about potentially being selected came through, I knew it was something I really wanted and being in Lahinch is great, it’s the pinnacle team for collegiate golf, the best 24 international players in the collegiate system. It’s tough to get picked for it,” said Byrne.

While Byrne had a stellar final season for Miami, the Hurricanes did not progress to the NCAA Championships meaning she did not get to say goodbye to some of her regular opponents and is looking forward to bidding farewell to some of them at Lahinch, though their paths may cross in the future, of course.

With eyes on making the Irish team for the European Championships and the Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup team in September, Byrne is happy to have ticked off one of the three major team competitions she wanted to play in.

Lahinch is one of her favourite courses in Ireland and she hopes for strong home support over the weekend.

“Hopefully we will have some sunshine to get the crowds out, that would be ideal. You never know what you’re going to get but hopefully we get decent weather. Lahinch is one of my favourite courses in Ireland. I have played there for years, and I absolutely love it, so it’s going to be a very special week no matter what.”

Griffin, the boy from Ballybofey, impressed last year as the Internationals lost to the USA at Laurel Valley.

The Maynooth University psychology student took down two World Number Five players in Austin Greaser and Rachel Kuehn before taking World Number One ranked amateur Gordon Sargent to the 17th green twice.

“I remember coming back from Laurel last year and I just had so much confidence because you see your game is good enough to be with the very best in the world,” said Griffin.

“We played Gordon Sargeant twice and he pipped me on the 17th hole, but it’s fantastic to put yourself up against that because that’s the only way you get better. Those players are the best players in the world. It’s an unbelievable experience to go up against them.”

Griffin’s World Amateur Golf Ranking seems beneath his abilities at 884, but the Palmer Cup selection means he will be a fixture in all the big events this year including the Amateur Championship, so naturally making the team for a second straight year was his main goal for the year.

“It shows if you put in the work, you can reap the rewards. I remember when it was announced that Lahinch would be hosting the Palmer Cup in 2024, it was my biggest goal. I didn’t have a great start to the Student Series, I had a couple of decent rounds but wasn’t able to collect them all together.”

Griffin won the Student Series Order of Merit after winning the final event in St Andrews, the Old Course. “Getting the job done in St Andrews was special, because there was only five or six points between me and second place in the Order of Merit, so you had to go in with the intention of winning the event and thankfully I did that. It was a great feeling because you knew what you had to do and got it done.”

Accommodation in Lahinch will be tough to get and anyone who struggles with booking can blame Griffin who is set for a big following.

“Everything about it is unbelievable. It’s going to be just awesome. Lahinch itself is fantastic, the people are great and they all love golf and the golf course is literally a hundred yards from the town itself.

“My buddies booked a house on Airbnb for the week so I will have a lot of support.

“Links golf is so different from what I imagine the American guys will think. The 5th, the par-3 the blind shot the Americans will walk up and just shake their heads in disbelief. We have an advantage there because we are used to that stuff.”

The eyes of the golfing world will be on Ireland over the next few years with several elite events coming to the island with the 2025 Open Championship in Portrush and 2027 Ryder Cup in Adare the highlights.

The Palmer Cup will bring the curtain down on a superb year of amateur golf here in Ireland that will have seen the Amateur Championship and Women’s Amateur Championship dock on these shores.

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