St Andrews. PA

'The worst two hours of my life!' - The Galway qualifier for The Open at St Andrews

Salthill’s Ronan Mullarney makes his Major debut this week.

“MISERABLE. OH MY God, so miserable.

“I can’t tell you how bad it was. The worst two hours of my life!”

Before the joyous news was delivered, the confirmation for Ronan Mullarney that he had hit a milestone in his golfing life, came the agonising wait.

12 days ago he walked off the 18th green at Prince’s Golf Club, the Kent course adjacent to the more illustrious Royal St George’s.

The 26-year-old from Galway signed off with a 71 to go with the 70 from the previous day. It was the last stage of a grinding process. In the middle of June he had left home in Salthill, steering the car that his local Toyota Garage, Tony Burke Motors, had provided and headed to England, via the ferry to Holyhead.

When the golf began more than 1,800 players had teed off at regional qualifying for the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews. Mullarney was one of 142 who advanced to the final qualifying and now he was chasing one of the priceless 16 spots available across four courses.

He was three-under after his two rounds at Prince’s, reasonably confident he would be in the shake-up for the four places on offer there, but an element of uncertainty remained at play.

As an early finisher, all he could do was wait.

“There’s two hours minimum golf to play once you finish, so anything could happen. A lot of people asked, ‘Did you go hit balls?’

“But both of my feet, there weren’t even new shoes I was wearing, had big blisters, so when the adrenaline left me after the round finished, it was like someone stabbed me in my foot.

“I was hobbling around the car park hoping I didn’t have to play more golf.

“I was trying to take my mind off it. I’d go and sit in the car. I’d be a big fan of boxing, so I thought I’d distract myself listening to something on that. Then I’d go to the toilet. Go back to the car. Go for a walk. Go and have a drink.

“You look at the clock and five minutes have passed. It was miserable.

“But it was a good feeling when it was all done.”

When all the cards were signed, Mullarney was celebrating. He finished in a tie for second, a safe passage through and avoiding the five-way play-off for the last spot.

He could savour what was to come.

A first Major appearance at an iconic venue in a seminal staging of the event. Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, all winners in the last 15 years, will be there, along with the World number 36 Seamus Power.

And they’ll be joined by the qualifiers in Castleknock’s David Carey and Salthill’s Mullarney, a pair that once made their debuts for Ireland together in a foursomes match against Wales in Rosslare, and are now climbing to a major height.


Timing is everything. Sometimes it can fall for you, sometimes it can bounce the other way.

Ronan Mullarney weighed up his options and felt the time was right to take the plunge to turn professional.

January 2020 and he was embarking on a new direction.

Two months later and the world was buckling under the strain of Covid-19.

“I timed it perfectly,” he laughs now.

“So I spent my first year as a pro being locked up at home.”

He grew up immersed in the game. His father Tom has been a professional golf instructor for almost two decades. As a youngster Ronan would walk the fairways of Galway Golf Club in Salthill, throwing a few clubs into his father’s bag. Soccer with Salthill Devon had a firm grip but gradually his sporting focus narrowed.

“I was obsessed with soccer. But golf is so time consuming that the soccer took a backseat. The summer I went into secondary school, I probably spent every day that summer up in the golf club. From then on, it hasn’t really changed.”

When Covid ripped up carefully laid-out plans for his first year as a pro, he was able to fall back on a welcome sanctuary.

“I was very lucky because Dad gives lessons at the house. We have a cabin in our back with a simulator in there. I got to constantly stay hitting balls and Galway Golf Club, because it’s my job they allowed us to use the golf course, so we had that to ourselves.

“One of the lads there, we would compete against each other but you really do need others to try to compete against or improve. Don’t get me wrong, I could think of thousands of people who would have loved to have been in our position, so it was brilliant to have it.”

His college days were in Maynooth, availing of the Paddy Harrington Scholarship and the culture Barry Fennelly created. There was a good group of contemporaries and they played around the globe – Peru, Chile, USA, Scotland and England – learning as they went along.

The opening up of the world in 2021 saw him head off to compete on the EuroPro Tour, a tier below the Challenge Tour, in courses dotted around England. It’s an arena where persistence is required in the pursuit of progress.

“From when I get to plus handicap, I would have always said if I felt I was good enough, or could be good enough, I would turn pro. Then you just have to put in the work and see where it goes.

“Lots of people put in the work, it doesn’t necessarily get better. I’d have stages of that since I turned pro. I’ve never practiced more, I’ve never played more, never put more time into it.

“It doesn’t correlate like. Sometimes you have to be really patient. That’s the game it is. It’s the weirdest game in the world.”

This was his third attempt at qualifying for The Open. He tried as a teenager with little success, then last year made the final hurdle.

“On paper I wasn’t close but in my head I was. I played nice golf, I just didn’t putt great. That was actually quite important, I really felt it was well within reach if a certain standard of golf was produced.”

This year was the moment for a breakthrough. A 69 at Filford Heath outside Oxford propelled him through the regional section. Then came the two rounds at Prince’s that secured the precious ticket to the bigtime – 29 pars, five birdies and two bogeys in solid displays of consistency. The critical burst came on day two after he stood on the 15th tee, one-over for his round’s work. He knew he needed a powerful closing kick and he produced it, picking up shots at that par-five and the par-three 17th.

The reaction since has taken him aback.

“Same as when I won the (Irish Amateur) Close in 2019 (in Ballybunion), it’s only at times like that you realise the amount of people that are following you. People you wouldn’t have seen since school or people you came into contact with a couple of times.

“Like I went on a train trip in Spain, met this guy from Norway, he was onto me. I only played with him twice. It is mad the people that follow you.

“Brilliant though. People are very good. From what I gather, most of the West of Ireland is coming over!

“I don’t want to play it down or anything but in my head, I really haven’t achieved anything. I’ve got the opportunity to achieve something.

“You need the opportunity first I suppose.”

open-golf-package The 150th Open at St Andrews. PA PA

The course is weighed down with history but he won’t find it daunting.

“I’ve played St Andrews probably close to 20 times. Outside of Ireland, I haven’t played a course more than that. So it’s no excuse not knowing how to play every wind you can imagine.

“I actually played it when Zach Johnson won, the very next day we’d a college event there. So we played with the stands open, the same pins, similar green speed.

“I couldn’t be any more prepared course wise but I’m sure there’ll be subtle changes to it absolutely.”

The Open was always an event he was glued to.

“Tiger hitting irons off every tee in Hoylake and still winning, Molinari winning in Carnoustie a couple of years ago, Oosthuizen winning by God knows how many in St Andrews 2010, all the Irish winners. I’m a bit of golf nerd, so I would remember a lot of them.

“Funny enough I always used to hope they’d get the worst weather, wet gear on, miserable, umbrellas breaking, all that stuff. You play amateur golf in Ireland, that’s what we used to have to put up with all the time. I used to love if they got a taste of that, just to see how did they deal with it or how did they cope with it.

“Needless to say this year, I won’t be hopeful for the same.”

golf-the-135th-open-championship-2006-day-four-royal-liverpool-hoylake Tiger Woods after The Open win at Hoylake. EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

It’s been a few weeks of thrilling moments in the Galway sports cycle. Mullarney has been consumed by it, the hurlers epic collision with Limerick, the football journey to reach the All-Ireland showpiece.

He knows the Finnerty family and has been delighted with the growth in Robert’s stature as an attacker.

The twin Galway sporting threads of Gaelic football and golf have intertwined to remind him of the significance of this coming week.

“When I was a junior, Jimmy Duggan, the former Galway footballer, he used to look after us in the golf club.

“I sat with Jimmy last week up in the club. We were just going through some of the stories. He used to pick us up from school a couple of times, we used to play on a Thursday or a Friday, play a practice round for a club competition we’d be playing that weekend. There was three of us he’d pick up from The Bish where we were in school.

“We’d be driving to Tuam, to Ballina, to Ballinrobe, playing these practice rounds. He’s a real character like. It was brilliant thinking back.  It’s amazing, some of the best memories.”

Now he has the chance to create new memories. He heads to Scotland early this morning. Practice rounds until Wednesday.

Then Thursday will represent lift off.

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