British Open - Ian Dillon and Darren Keogh reflect on their visit to Dagenham

Darren Keogh and Ian Dillon have been friends for a long time, ever since they emerged on to the Co. Kildare Pitch and Putt circuit in the 1990s.  And they made their overseas international open bow together – at the 2016 British Open.  Moreover, they finished tied on 156, near the top of the leaderboard – Ian taking third place on the final eighteen tiebreaker.

Ian Dillon’s understated assessment of his top three position?  “I was delighted with 3rd place myself. I was hoping to finish in the top ten!”

The Dagenham tournament had been on Darren’s schedule for some time.  “The biggest reason to travel to the event was that John and Steve Deeble have been such great supporters of Pitch and Putt in Ireland and internationally. They have been great supporters of Pitch and Putt in Kildare, coming over to play in the Shortgrass Scramble almost every year and being members of McDonagh. They have stayed with me and my extended family on occasion and we were all well aware of their dream to host a British Open, and more importantly the personal effort involved getting it up and running. It was nice, and only right to be able to support them in achieving this!”

Liam O’Donovan took fourth spot, also on the countback.  Speaking after his fifth place finish, Darren continued.  “I thought it would be very interesting to see how the event was run and what standard of course lay across the water, in addition to the fact that I personally I never played abroad and it was something I had wanted to do. It is also nice to get away with family and good friends for bit of a break!!”  And it was a family and friends occasion. Liam and Mary Sherry, Marian and Derek Courtney and Darren’s wife Margaret were also in the party. “All the Kildare crowd travelled over together on Thursday and stayed in the Premier Inn in Romford,” recalls Ian.

Keogh adapted very capably to the sprint Friday knockout tournament that has recently become a feature of some international opens. “I thought the Matchplay event was fantastic. It was really well run,” says Darren. “Our group were all agreed that we could not have run it any better. The idea that you don’t return to the clubhouse after winning games, but just move to your assigned tee box, works brilliantly. To think that you could run a 64 person, 6 hole Matchplay (with additional holes in some cases) in just under 31/2 hours is incredible. It was quick and fun, while still being really competitive and it also gave you the chance to meet different people and competitors that you might not have otherwise.”

Although Ian was JR Crangle’s first ‘victim’ in Friday’s warm-up, he relished the experience.  “The 6 hole Matchplay on Friday was enjoyable to play in.  The shot gun start was a good idea to get all the players out quickly.  It was well organised with no delays.  Everything ran smoothly.”

Darren was delighted to reach the Matchplay final but ran into the genius that is John Ross Crangle.  “JR was just superb. Interestingly, in the first round of the Matchplay, when two matches took place at each hole, the opposite match to myself and Maurice Stuyvers was JR and Ian Dillon, so I got to see first-hand how well he was playing. His pitching was superb and given the conditions he made it look a lot easier than it was. He continued that through to the final and I just could not keep pace with his excellence.”

Darren considered Central Park an ideal venue.  “I thought the course was an excellent and a really different challenge. There is a huge premium on accurate pitching and the ability to chip well. A badly hit pitch was severely punished, as it should be. It is a massive area to keep maintained and the work involved in the last year must have been never-ending. The greens were fine and definitely rolled a lot better some would have thought. The location was very accessible with ample car parking and their on course Kiosk kept everybody ticking over when needed.”

Darren’s good play continued into the weekend.  “After playing so well in the Matchplay event, I was particularly happy to back that up with a good performance in the Strokeplay event. Without doubt, I felt I could have been a lot closer to John, as my putting let me down all weekend. I just could not get the pace of the greens and continually left putts short that were in the middle of the hole.”  There is also a generous tribute to the inaugural British Open winner.   “Having said that, I had the pleasure of playing with John for two of the three rounds and I do feel he had the capacity to make a few more birdies if they were needed.”

Darren and Ian concur on the complexity of the Central Park test combined with capricious weather. “Scoring conditions on Saturday were very difficult, possibly as difficult as I have ever played in,” says Darren.  “The fairways were rock hard, the greens would hold, but only to a very good pitch and some of the longer holes played extremely long. Having played the practice round, our group felt that 3 rounds of 53/54 would be very good. Conditions on Saturday were even windier than the previous days so I think the number of people who broke par accurately reflects the difficulty of the course. It is a course where you certainly needed to score on the first five and last three holes, as the holes in between were incredibly hard and very open to the prevailing conditions. Sunday was a little easier and that was probably reflected in the scoring.”  Ian’s succinct assessment?  “Conditions weren't easy on the Saturday but the course was in good condition.”

Darren reserves plenty of kudos for the organisers.  “The (recommended) hotel and surrounding area in Romford was outstanding and I would definitely return there. The event was well run, timesheet ran very well, presentation was ready to go as soon as play was finished, the prizes were excellent and nice for all prize winners to receive trophies. It was great to see the Junior lads involved and getting their trophies as well. The commemorative shirts were really nice (thanks to the sponsors Active Plant Hire).  Given the extremely positive experience that we had at the weekend, I would certainly think that I might now be encouraged to play other international opens and will certainly return to the British Open in the future.”

Dillon made up significant ground on Sunday with a best individual round of the event – a 48.  Was third place as good as Ian could have achieved?  “It would be hard to beat John on his home course.  If the wind wasn't as strong on the Saturday, I might have got a bit closer to his score.”

Ian contested his final round in Dagenham with World Cup winner John Ross Crangle and Irish Strokeplay champion Liam O’Donovan.  “I enjoy playing with JR and Liam.  They are to great players and good company to play with.”

A regular Scratch Cup and local championship winner in Ireland, Ian is determined to move to the next level.  “My main ambition is to win a Leinster and All Ireland title.”

Ian Dillon’s previous international open experience has come on home turf. “I only played in the Irish Open before.” His best performance was a top 20 at Royal Meath seven years ago.  His horizons have broadened after the 2016 GB trip.  “I hope to play in more international opens as we all had a great weekend.”