HomeGolfHow the bitter taste of defeat turned Matthew McClean into a winner...

How the bitter taste of defeat turned Matthew McClean into a winner – Irish Golfer Magazine


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Malone’s Matthew McClean was the nearly man of Irish golf, but rather than lose heart after a series of close shaves, he used them as fuel to drive him on  to greater success.

In September 2022, McClean won an all-Irish final in America when he edged out Hugh Foley to win the US Mid-Amateur Championship at Erin Hills. 

It was his first championship win and one would think it opened the floodgates for his Irish Amateur Championship win in Rosses Point last month, but for McClean, the touch paper was lit a few months previous to his Stateside win at the site of his most painful loss.

Leading the 2022 Flogas Irish Men’s Amateur Open Championship by four shots coming down the stretch, McClean stumbled to the clubhouse and was pipped by Colm Campbell in a playoff on a thrilling final day in the Island Golf Club.

It was a loss that hurt, but rather than sit and wallow in the disappointment, McClean has gone through the gears and he avenged his loss of two years ago at County Sligo Golf Club to win his maiden Irish championship.

“An Irish championship was the main thing I was trying to achieve after the last few years,” says the Belfast based optometrist. 

“It didn’t really matter which one it was. Obviously nice that it was the Irish Amateur and get a bit of revenge for 2022!

“That was a tough one to swallow at the time but it’s great to get your name in the winner’s circle. I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season more now.”

McClean has been Ireland’s most consistent amateur and the 76th ranked amateur in the world has also been a strong contender in the United States since his mid-am win in 2022.

Amazingly, he often thinks back to that harrowing loss at the Island and uses it as motivation.

“Winning is a big hurdle to get over. I go back to the Irish Am in 2022 because that was the first time I was really in contention and leading one of those high-class fields. I learned that this was one of the first times I was in that position, and I struggled to get over the line.

“I felt the disappointment was quite high, but I always say if I had won that week, I don’t know how the rest of the year would have gone. It was one of the biggest negatives that I turned into a positive to use to my advantage.

“I keep going back to that week. I was quite high in Brabazon and the East, so I was on a good run then won the US Mid-Am at the end of that year.”

Over the last two and a half years, McClean has registered two wins and 16 top-10 finishes in events all over the world. 

A guaranteed contender, he may not be the serial winner his golf has perhaps deserved but that’s more down to the depth in Irish amateur golf more than anything.

His consistency is remarkable, and the 30-year-old has quite a simple golf swing that is very repetitive and needs little tweaking.

“It’s nice to be playing well and coming inside the top-5 in those tournaments means you’re obviously playing very well. Coming top-5 and not getting the win was frustrating but it was good to get that win and the idea behind that is when you get that first win the gates will open and you can go ahead and play aggressively and try to win another one.

“My golf is pretty natural, there’s nothing overly structured – it’s just going out and playing. The swing doesn’t change that much and that’s probably the reason for the consistency, my swing and my game doesn’t really change too much.”

Entering the final round in Sligo, McClean trailed Liam Nolan by four shots. The gap disappeared after three holes. While it would have been a shock for Nolan to give up such a lead so early, McClean also had to battle to keep his emotions in check.

“It’s very easy to try and think positively, but most of the time you can have these negative thoughts thinking ‘if I get off to a bad start and I’m two- or three-over through four and Liam is two- or three-under then it’s essentially over’ so you have to play aggressively and it can be over pretty quickly if you have a bad start.

“I was just trying to hit decent shots at the start and not make soft bogeys and try and give myself chances. My idea was to start off solid and ask the question by playing more aggressively towards the end of the round. The way it worked out I played solid from one to 18 and shot a pretty decent two-under.”

The big turning point was on the 15th. With McClean trailing by one, he rolled in his birdie putt before Nolan, who was inside his playing partner, subsequently missed his. A potential two shot gap was now level. 

McClean took the lead for the first time on the 17th.

“Those last four holes in Rosses Point are always the area of the course where things are decided. Looking back on the Saturday and the first two rounds, we were tied all day then through 14 on Saturday. I got a flier on 15 and made bogey, then he birdied 16, 17 and 18 to go ahead by four that evening. Then I got the benefit of the last four on Sunday. 

“The only time I felt like I was slightly ahead was when I hit the tee shot at 16, because I birdied 15 to go level and I was 12-feet away on 16 so at that point he had to hit a good shot to stay level, which he did. 

“I just about got ahead on 17 so it was pretty last minute which was nice because the less time you are in the lead the easier it is to win.”

McClean was keen to get back on the winning trail after a bucket list 2023 that saw him tee it up at the Masters and US Open. Now with a more domestic summer to come, he has turned his attention to the Amateur Championship in Ballyliffin this month as he aims to emulate James Sugrue in 2019.

“Last year was a bit mad, they all came in a quick period of time. I don’t have those bucket list events this year but a couple of great amateur events. Really looking forward to getting back to St Andrews I love going back there for the St. Andrews Trophy.

“The Amateur Championship in Ireland is the gold ribbon event of the year so everyone will be trying to have their game in great shape for that. A couple of great events in America too with the US Amateur and Mid-Amateur.

“The Amateur is the number one amateur event for someone from GB&I. It’s the one everyone would take. It’s number one by a distance. Being in Ireland for the first time since Sugrue won in 2019, every Irish golfer is trying to use that as inspiration and trying to follow what he did. It’s certainly possible for somebody to repeat that.”

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