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'It has been an eye-opener and it did get me down, but I know I'm good enough'

Gavin Moynihan has endured a difficult start to life on the European Tour, but is hoping to find a spark at this week’s Irish Open at Ballyliffin.

IT CAN BE a lonely crusade, this golf business. Travelling the world playing professionally ought to be the dream, but, beneath the surface, it can quickly unravel.

Talent will only bring you so far, because at the top level it is a game which requires incredible mental fortitude, and the ability to pick yourself back up off the canvas more often than you find yourself standing on top of it.

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open - Day Two Moynihan in action at Ballyliffin. Source: Jan Kruger

Gavin Moynihan has experienced his fair share of knockout blows during his rookie season on the European Tour having struggled to find form and consistency, leading to a run of results which has chipped away at his confidence and left him searching for a spark to ignite his faltering campaign.

A tie for sixth place at the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge last month broke a sequence of 14 consecutive missed cuts across the European and Challenge Tours, and opened his account for the year with a cheque for €7,300.

It has been a steep learning curve.

Victory at the GolfSixes event alongside Paul Dunne in May had provided a brief reprieve, and a considerable boost for his bank account in the form of €100,000 payday, but the cut-throat nature of life on Tour has been a real eye-opener for the 23-year-old.

“When you’re missing those cuts, it’s never nice,” he tells The42. “It did get me down a bit a few months ago.”

The thing about golf is that it can offer you an olive branch of confidence one week, and snap it just as quickly the next.

Moynihan has already endured those highs and lows, the fleeting moments of self-assurance only to find himself back at square-one again.

He came out of nowhere to finish tied for 14th at last year’s Irish Open in Portstewart, carding a stunning final-round 64 on the links having received a sponsor’s invite three days beforehand.

It was a major fillip, not just because he left €85,000 richer, but because he was able to channel and lean on the confidence gained from such an encouraging performance to win a European Tour card for this season via the unforgiving Qualifying School system.

After a couple of hit-and-miss years in the pro ranks, it was the big moment Moynihan had waited for, but eager to get going he launched straight into a busy, and demanding, schedule over the Christmas and New Year period.

“This year probably has been the toughest,” he admits. “I didn’t really have any time off. I played seven or eight weeks in a row then I got two weeks off for Christmas and I was gone again. That was a bit new and it does taking getting used to.”

It was a tough start. T120, T100, T130, T70, T114, T135, T90, T134, T126, T96, 88, 156, T90, T90. No weekends, no cheques, no fun. And then doubts reverberate, you question yourself, you question your swing, you question everything.

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open - Previews The 23-year-old during today's practice round at Ballyliffin. Source: Ross Kinnaird

Moynihan became all too familiar with the fine margins between success and failure because as difficult as those results are to read over, he always felt he was never too far away.

But it just wasn’t happening.

Perhaps it was his inexperience, or a chink in his mental armour, but a momentary lapse in concentration, or a poor decision, or poor shot, began to define his rounds. 70s were turning into 75s, positions of promise were turning into positions of frustration and it became a mental challenge more than anything else.

Every golfer knows it’s so easily done, but at the top it’s the difference between sinking and staying afloat. And Moynihan was struggling to find his feet when the world was moving at a million miles an hour around him.

“It has been an eye-opener, and looking back it’s just one or two holes every round that were killing me,” he continues. “I was making doubles from nowhere or getting a plugged lie in the bunker and making a triple or missing putts.

“It’s not that I’ve been playing particularly badly, it’s just one hole — the standard is so high, one hole will do you in. Last week in Scotland I played lovely, it was the first time I’ve had four solid rounds and it was nice to get a bit of confidence there. Just mentally it was good for me really.

“It’s really never nice missing cut after cut but I knew my game wasn’t far away. I just needed one round to trigger something and hopefully that week in Scotland can do that. Golf can be one round or one tournament that gets you back on track and hopefully that’s the case now.”

The hope was that his victory for Ireland alongside good friend Dunne would be the catalyst for a surge in form, but he struggled to replicate that level of performance the following week as he missed another cut in Austria.

Back on the canvas again.

With a stacked schedule ahead, including a sixth Irish Open appearance this week, Moynihan made the decision to take 10 days off before his last event in Scotland and enjoy a break from the sport. He needed it.

The Malahide native didn’t use the time out of competition to work on his swing, or search for incremental improvements on the range in the hope it would translate onto the course, but instead put the clubs away and didn’t touch them for that 10-day period. To clear his head.

He then pitched up at the Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club, played nine holes on the Tuesday, the pro-am on the Wednesday and then produced the best and most consistent golf since his success at Q-School the previous November.

“It was the best thing I did,” he laughs. “It just shows you.”

It would be somewhat ironic if the story of Moynihan’s season paradoxically turned for the better because he scaled things back, or essentially stopped caring so much.

That’s his approach this week, anyway.

GolfSixes - Day Two Moynihan won the GolfSixes event with Paul Dunne back in May. Source: Getty Images

Not that he doesn’t care, but a last-minute invite to join the field at Ballyliffin means it is very much bonus territory for the world number 465, who is hoping to seize this opportunity ahead of a crucial period which will see him vie to retain his Tour card for next season.

With the eyes of the home support on the likes of Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington, Moynihan is happy to go under the radar again and play with the freedom a late invite brings. There is no pressure, no expectations.

“It’s always a fun week, and this will be my sixth Irish Open as I played three as an amateur,” he says. “I’ve played nicely the last two years and I’m relaxed and just going to enjoy it.

“I’ll obviously be nervous but it’s a win-win for me. I have been struggling a bit this year so it’s a chance to try and just have a good week at home. It was good to show a bit of form in Scotland and I’m just glad to be here.

“I only found out three days before last year that I was playing and finished top 15 so it’ll be fairly relaxed again. If I have a good week, great but if I don’t it’s one of those things, I’m not going to be too stressed over it.”

He adds: “I’m not expecting anything, and I think that’s a good space to be in. Last year I expected nothing because I played nicely the first few days and had a good Sunday, so it’s just the same approach this week. I’m starting to hit the ball a bit better and I’m looking forward to it which is good.”

After giving up hope of an invite and then only finding out he would be playing at the back-end of last week, Moynihan wasn’t able to secure accommodation along with the other Irish players, but will instead stay with a family friend who is a member of Ballyliffin and lives 10 minutes from the course.

It is an ideal situation, he says, as familiar faces and surroundings have helped make it a relaxed and low-key build-up to Thursday’s first round, as he prepares to tee off alongside Canadian Austin Connelly and Dean Burmester of South Africa at 12.50pm.

Moynihan is one of several young Irish golfers afforded the chance to gain further experience at such a high-profile event this week, with the likes of Cormac Sharvin, Ruaidhri McGee and Neil O’Briain also among the field.

While the last seven months have been challenging, big things have always been expected of Moynihan and he stood out from the rest by winning the Irish amateur championship either side of victory at the Scottish amateur during his formative years.

A promising hurler and footballer with St Patrick’s in Donabate, he reluctantly gave up both to concentrate on golf in secondary school and it soon became obvious that he had the talent to forge a professional career for himself.

“Golf wasn’t in my family,” he explains. “My Dad played a bit and my Grandad socially but nothing serious. My Dad brought me up to the local course in Donabate when I was seven and I caddied for him. Then I started playing and got lessons from Hugh Jackson [who finished eighth at the 1970 Open at St Andrew's].”

Moynihan became the youngest home winner of the Irish amateur open at the age of 17 and after completing his Leaving Certificate, continued to add to his impressive CV whilst studying at the renowned University of Alabama. As the years rolled by, so too did the accolades.

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open - Day Four Moynihan is hoping to replicate his performance at last year's Irish Open. Source: Ross Kinnaird

He top-scored for Europe at the Junior Ryder Cup in Chicago in 2012, helped Great Britain and Ireland to Walker Cup success in 2013 and 2015 and then turned pro in 2015.

“When you win those tournaments, you know you’re good enough. The likes of Shane and Paul [McGinley] tell you; if you’re winning those big amateur events, you can make it as a pro.”

A technically-brilliant short game is often cited as one of Moynihan’s strengths, but his level-headed temperament, laid-back demeanour and general golfing intelligence cannot be overlooked in his rise up the ranks either.

Even when results haven’t been going his way, Moynihan has maintained that composure and in his assessment of the season to date, knows he is getting closer to hitting his straps and performing the way he — and everyone — knows he can.

“I don’t really say to myself I have to finish top 10 this week, or top 20 this week. I just go in relaxed and whatever happens, happens. I’m not really one to set goals. Just enjoy the new challenge and see how it goes because I know I’m good enough, it’s just getting over that line and putting a few good rounds together. I feel my game is coming along nicely.”

After this week, the focus will mainly be on the Challenge Tour as he bids to climb the rankings — currently 110th — and retain his card for 2019 without having to go back to Q-School.

“If I can produce some consistent golf, I’ll fly up the rankings like I did last year,” he says.

“That’s my goal; just to find consistency in my game and if I can do that, I feel I can get my Tour card for next year no problem. It’s close, I know it.”

As for this week in Donegal. It wouldn’t be a bad place to kickstart his season, and pro-career.

“Yeah, it’d be nice to play well,” he smiles. “The big thing I took from last year is that I can compete with the big lads. I always believed it but when you do it, it’s a big thing.

“I’ll just go out, play golf and see what happens. I’ve nothing to lose.”

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Ryan Bailey

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