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The last putt - that wasn't!

What you are reading is not a blow by blow account of the recent "5th European Team Championship", (if you need that, go to Michael Murphy's excellent piece on the PPUI web-site), and it is certainly not an official, detailed report on the event. It is a few heart-felt reflections, jotted down during a wonderful holiday in southern Sardinia by a privileged spectator. It was a great event and Pitch and Putt made yet another historic step forward in its international development.


Assembling  well over 150 people in a luxury resort on a Mediterranean island and ensuring that close on 100 players and coaches, (don't forget the ladies!), were on the first tee at the right time on the right day was a major logistical feat that our Italian/San Marino hosts successfully carried out with barely a hitch. It was a magnificent event and I came away literally uplifted by all that I had experienced and learned during these few days, so rich in poignant moments. As I would like to finish on a high, I'll start with the down side! 



Ireland retained their European Pitch and Putt Team championship title with an ultimately comfortable final victory over old rivals Catalonia at Chia in Sardinia (6.5 matches to 2.5).  Foursomes victories by Sean Downes & William Buckley and by team captain Ray Murphy along with Derek Courtney had given Ireland a vital 2-1 halfway advantage.  In truth, the foursomes could have gone either way with Courtney forced to hole a tricky par putt on the home green in the bottom foursomes to secure a one hole verdict.  In fact, all three of the foursomes went the full distance with Downes pitching close at the 65 metre eighteenth to clinch the other foursomes win. 

In the singles, European championship debutant Paul O'Brien romped to an eight birdie 7&6 win over Joan Poch.  Simultaneous singles victories by four-time European championship winner Liam O'Donovan (by 2&1 against Marc Lloret) and by Ireland's record international points gatherer Sean Downes (by 4&3 over David Sole) gave Ireland the required number of points.  Derek Courtney edged out Daniel Coleman by 2&1 while Ireland's only singles loss came when William Buckley, fighting a recalcitrant putter, fell to Jordi Serra.  After an enthralling battle, which produced seventeen birdies, Ireland's no. 1 ranked player Ray Murphy offered a generous half to Fernando Cano, who had earlier produced a 96, the leading individual score in Friday's qualifier.

Elsewhere, Great Britain stunned Holland with a singles fightback to take third place on a countback after 4.5-4.5 tie.  Andorra defeated Norway to place fifth on their maiden championship appearance.  Italy were too good for France in the 7th/8th place play-off while San Marino pipped Switzerland for ninth.


The European Pitch & Putt Association (EPPA) stages a biennial European Team Championship and the 5th playing of the event will be in Chia, Sardinia, from October 19-21 August. Ireland has been crowned champions on all previous occasions and travel to Sardinia eager to retain their title. This year the biggest number of countries - 11 in all, will compete for the European title including Great Britain, Andorra, Catalonia and Holland. The standard of Pitch & Putt continues to improve across Europe with the Catalans and Dutch hot on the heels of the Irish. Both are determined not to let the Irish take the trophy for the 5th time.  Andorra, who burst into prominence in the 2006 World Cup, will also travel brimful of confidence.

A 36 hole Strokeplay qualifying round will be played on Friday October 19 to determine the seedings for Matchplay on Saturday and Sunday.  Also on Friday, the Ireland ladies team will take on host country Italy and a team representing Rest of Europe (featuring players from Britain, Catalonia, France and Holland) in a 36 holes Strokeplay international ladies challenge exhibition match.

The Irish European championship team boasts just one survivor from the sextet that won the 2005 European Championship at Arnhem in Holland.  Liam O'Donovan will be seeking a record fourth European championship medal at Chia, having played on the 1999, 2003 and 2005 winning teams.  The Irish will be led by the country's no. 1 ranked player Ray Murphy, who was also playing captain when the Irish were victorious at Lloret Papalus in 2001.  The Irish team boasts a total of six European championship medals.  Sean Downes was a member of the Lloret Papalus winning team, the year he took the medal for leading qualifying score.  That feat was replicated by Derek Courtney at McDonagh in 2003.  The Irish newcomers to European championship action are 2003 National Strokeplay champion William Buckley and this year's National Matchplay championship runner-up Paul O'Brien.  Non-playing captain of the Irish will be Paddy Browne, who also filled that role at Arnhem in 2005.

Holland were runners-up on home soil two years ago and field three of that side.  Patrick Luning (winner of the medal for the leading qualifying score in 2005) is a superb performer and he is joined by the vastly experienced Rolf Kwant and the youthful Henrik Koetsier.  The Dutch have improved steadily since their debut in 1999 and this could be their time.  Luning, Kwant and Karl Berg formed the three man Dutch side that lost to the Catalans in the 2004 World Cup final.

Catalonia (World Cup winners in 2004 - at this year's venue, Chia and in 2006) have run Ireland close in past European championships, notably in 2001 at Lloret and again at McDonagh in 2003.  Catalonia is definitely the most developed Pitch and Putt country after Ireland.  They always felt they would be the first team to beat Ireland internationally and were somewhat miffed when their near neighbours and newcomers, Andorra, beat them to the punch at the World Cup in 2006.   Marc Lloret survives from original World Cup winning side at Chia while David Sole, Fernando Cano and Lloret won the World Cup for Catalonia last year.

Andorra will be full of confidence after beating Ireland in the 2006 World Cup semi-final and subsequently playing well against Catalonia in the final but will they have the strength in depth in the six man format?  Much interest will centre on teen prodigy Marc Armengol and how he will perform on the big stage.

Great Britain will feature the Deebles (father Steve and son John), who have played successfully on the Irish circuit, but one suspects the British may also lack the strength in depth necessary to challenge for ultimate honours.  An Irish native Anthony O'Brien will play for Great Britain.

Home country Italy finished third in the first two European championships and will be anxious to top that on their own turf.  France too have happy memories of Chia (third in the first World Cup there three years ago) and powered by the likes of the experience Jean-Claude Richard and Christian Auziere and will be confident of topping their third place at McDonagh in 2003.

San Marino, Norway and Switzerland have had their moments in the past and will be itching to make an impact.  Denmark make their maiden European championship appearance.


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