HAS Scotland’s loss been Ireland’s gain? Most definitely, if Shane Lowry’s rise up the world rankings and the presence of five players from the Emerald Isle in the Great Britain & Ireland team for this weekend’s Walker Cup are anything to go by.
Instrumental in both notable achievements, after all, has been Edinburgh man Neil Manchip, who is celebrating his tenth anniversary as the Golfing Union of Ireland’s national coach with a real spring in his step.
He recently watched Lowry, his star pupil, back up a string of eye-catching performances in the majors by winning the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, a display that rubber-stamped his credentials as one of the leading contenders to be a rookie on next year’s Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine.
Lowry, the world No 22, described Manchip as a “great influence” during the Scottish Open at Gullane earlier this year and now the man who cut his own golfing teeth at Turnhouse is working wonders with a new wave of Irish amateurs, as the presence of Paul Dunne, Jack Hume, Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan and Cormac Sharvin in the GB&I team taking on the Americans at Royal Lytham this weekend testifies.
“Exciting times,” admitted Manchip, who moved to Ireland after a spell as an assistant professional at the capital club and was the head teaching professional at Royal Dublin before he took on his current role. “It was great to see Shane record such a fantastic win at Firestone, one of the toughest courses they play on all year, while it’s amazing, really, to get five players in a Walker Cup team at once.
“Having said that, it’s not as though any of them scraped in. All the guys are there on merit, having played some great golf over the past couple of years. Two or three of them were maybe on the fringes of selection at the start of the year, but they’ve done well in the big events. Paul Dunne, for instance, at The Open. For him to be leading after three rounds at St Andrews was so exciting for all of us.
“Irish golf is really strong at the moment. A lot of the guys have come up from the under-14 squads, the exception being Cormac Sharvin, who only started playing for Ireland at senior level. A lot of them have been around the squads the last few years and have matured together, albeit it at slightly different phases. A lot of them will be turning pro this year and it will be a case of rebuilding again.”
Manchip, who also looks after the male members of Team Ireland, a group of fledgling professionals that are funded by the Irish Sports Council, added: “When I started as GUI national coach, I think there were seven or eight provincial coaches. Now we have just over 25 at the grassroots level, so it is a lot more robust than it was. Our competition programme has also improved and got bigger over the last six or seven years. We’ve added tournaments abroad and we’ve got good players coming through that can compete in those events.
“It’s also been great, of course. that we’ve had Irish players winning majors [nine between Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke] and Rory getting to world No 1. We also had Shane winning the Irish Open [in 2009] as an amateur. It’s been a great run and all these fellows have earned this chance in the Walker Cup. As we showed when winning the Home Internationals at Royal Portrush last month, we also have a couple of really good players coming up behind them.”
Sadly, perhaps, from a Scottish perspective, there seems little likelihood of Manchip, who is heading over to Royal Lytham with his son, Hugo, to take in the first day’s play before returning home to accompany an under-18 squad on a trip to Prague, leaving his adopted homeland, having set down roots after marrying an Irish girl. “I’ve certainly not got any intentions of leaving Ireland as I love living over here,” he declared with gusto.
“It’s a great golfing environment. It’s a great sporting environment all round, in fact. I’m really into the Gaelic Games and we were at both of the big matches at the weekend, when Paul McGinley’s team (Dublin) beat my team – my wife is from County Mayo – in the All-Ireland semi-final.”
Having also been at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday night to see the Republic of Ireland beat Georgia to boost their hopes of qualifying from Scotland’s European Championship group, he insisted there was no real secret to the country’s recent successes in golf. “It’s about providing an environment where the players can get the best out of themselves,” said Manchip, who beat both Clarke and McGinley to win the 1999 Irish PGA Championship at The Island before deciding to focus on coaching rather than pursuing a playing career. “When they come into squads, a lot have their own coaches already and we are very keen for them to continue working with them. We just fill in the gaps where and when they need it.”
It sounds simple but, the man overseeing the programme still deserves some credit.