Northern Ireland’s Ronan Rafferty, who finished European Number One in 1989, has just reached the milestone of his 50th birthday and immediately turned his attention to a debut in the Senior Open Championship at Royal Porthcawl, South Wales, from July 24-27.
Rafferty (pictured), who retired from competitive golf a decade ago, is relishing the opportunity to return to the limelight as an excited rookie on the European Senior Tour.
And the seven-time European Tour champion, a genuine aficionado of links golf who has played no fewer than 156 links courses in the UK and Ireland during an illustrious career, believes that Royal Porthcawl represents the perfect venue to host Wales’s first Senior Major.
Rafferty said: “Although I retired from the Tour in 2003 I’ve never actually stopped playing the game. In recent years I’ve done a lot of corporate days and kept my hand in by playing on mini-tours in various places. However, I am aware that I will be facing people who are still extremely competitive at the highest level and am under no illusions about how difficult it’s going to be.”
To that end, Rafferty is planning a series of ‘reconnaissance’ visits to several venues on the European Senior Tour in 2014 ahead of the tournaments in order to familiarise himself with the courses. He added: “This will be like starting all over again – travel, hotels, pro-ams, practice and tournament golf. It’s important that I slot back into that old routine and I can’t wait to get started. I am travelling to Portugal on Tuesday, the day after my 50th birthday – to play in a couple of small events to try to get my sharpness back.”
The Northern Irishman from Warrenpoint was something of a teenage prodigy, winning the British Boys title at 15 years of age representing Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup at the age of just 17 years and seven months.
His career reached a peak in 1989, when he won the European Tour’s Order of Merit – as it was then – with his third victory of the season at the Volvo Masters at Valderrama. He also represented Europe in the Ryder Cup halved match with the United States at The Belfry that same year and retired with seven Tour titles and career earnings of €3,145,980.
Rafferty added: “I am really looking forward to going back to Royal Porthcawl. I played in the 1980 Amateur Championship there and also the Coral Welsh Classic and amateur Home Internationals. It’s stunning to look at and equally great to play. I know there are some changes since my last visit and we are playing it slightly differently to the usual lay-out but it will be a fantastic test of links golf for the only Senior Major to be played in Wales.
“It’s all new and exciting again. Year One on the Senior Tour is very much about learning the ropes again, getting used to the routine and getting to know the courses which are new to me. I am keen to get started here in Europe and hopefully I will get some starts in the US based Majors.
“Funnily enough, we have a regular ‘boys’ fishing trip to Wales, with Roger Chapman being part of the group. Just a couple of seasons ago Roger joined us for the trip as the US Senior PGA Senior Champion and the US Senior Open Champion. That was brilliant – two major victories in the States in just over a month. It made me realise that if Roger can do it, then there’s no reason why I can’t if I can get everything together.
“Porthcawl was one of 156 links courses I’ve played from 200-odd in the UK and Ireland. I played some when I was still competing on Tour and most of them since I retired from competition. I’ve loved the challenge and I love links. I played out of Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland and won the Irish Amateur at Royal County Down and am now an Honorary Member of that incredible course.”
To recognise Ronan’s milestone birthday, the pre-Christmas ticket offer for The 2014 Senior Open Championship has been extended until January 16. That means fans booking before that date can enjoy large savings, with season tickets costing just £60 – a 25 per cent saving on the gate price of £80.
One day tickets purchased before the deadline cost £20, a saving of £10 on the gate price, while Wednesday practice day tickets are also available at the reduced price of £10, a saving of £5 on the gate price. Under 16s are admitted for free when accompanied by an adult and parking is also free.
Andy Stubbs, Managing Director of the European Senior Tour, said: “As a former European Number One, Ronan is a welcome addition to the Senior Tour, and his participation in this year’s Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex at Royal Porthcawl further enhances the quality of an already outstanding field. His love of links golf is well known and he is sure to relish the challenge posed by Royal Porthcawl.”
*Tickets for The 2014 Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex can be bought online via www.senioropengolf.com or by calling 0800 0232557, with details of hospitality packages also available.