I must confess that I knew nothing at all about Seamus Power when it was announced that he and Padraig Harrington would be representing Ireland at the Olympics in Rio. I’ve since discovered that the 29-year old from Tooraneena, a wee village in county Waterford, is some cookie and we shouldn’t be surprised if he wins on the PGA Tour before too long. He made his debut in California last month, was in contention in Mississippi until a bad last round scuppered his chances and is now playing in Las Vegas on the trail to secure his card and take on the big boys.
Power, a member of the West Waterford club, won the Irish Youths Championship three times and represented Ireland before taking up a scholarship at East Tennessee State University when Rory McIlroy decided to give the college a miss and turn pro instead. A clever and talented lad, Power starred on and off the golf course, graduating with a degree in accounting, magna cum laude (the tops), before starting a less than seamless career as a professional golfer.
He honed his game on the eGolf Tour in South Carolina (no, to my shame, I had never heard of it either) but fell foul of Q-School on several occasions before making it on to the Web.com Tour last year. It wasn’t easy but the Irish Sports Council helped with funding and there was lots of support from the members of West Waterford and particularly the owners Pat and Nora Spratt, who opened the course in 1993.
He also had his father Ned, a farmer, in his corner. Seamus’s mother Philomena died when he was 8 years old and his twin brothers Willie and Jack were 10 and to fund the golf and other activities, Ned worked shifts laser-welding defibrillators, as well as running the farm. He wanted his sons “to follow their dreams” and Seamus, a strapping six foot plus, who had been a hurler as a boy and excelled at racquetball, applied his exceptional hand-eye co-ordination and enquiring mind to golf. He also developed the sine qua non of a successful sportsperson: an unshakeable belief in his own ability and a single-minded determination to succeed.
“If I ever had the moment where I felt like I wasn’t good enough,” Power said, “I would have quit on the spot. I never had that feeling. The thing that was going to get me was the financial side of it or the feeling that it was just taking too long. Because you have to live your life too and you have other important stuff going on.
“I know deep down I can win, otherwise I would have no interest in playing. When you put yourself in the actual position, it definitely gives you a bit more added confidence. I wasn’t at my best [in Mississippi] but with 18 holes to go, I still had a chance to win a PGA Tour event, so it was very encouraging.”
In Rio, Power finished in a tie for 15th place, two shots ahead of Harrington, another accountancy graduate with an enquiring mind and surely a kindred spirit. The time spent with Harrington, his caddie Ronan Flood and Paul McGinley, the team captain, another thoughtful, meticulous man, should prove invaluable.
Power is proof that there’s more than one route to becoming a successful professional and that there’s no need to panic if you haven’t won at least a couple of tournaments, let alone a major, before you’re 25. I’ll be following his exploits with interest via IrishGolfDesk.com, westwaterfordgolf.com and @power4seamus. It’s already been quite a journey.
Last week, as a newly minted member of Delamere Forest Golf Club, I attended a fundraising event for a fellow member, a young British international player, Gemma Clews, who is hoping to turn her dream of becoming professional into a reality in 2017. Several thousand pounds were raised and this will go directly to, and be managed by, the England Golf Trust fund set up for her use in travelling to compete in events at home and abroad. Talented though she is, in all likelihood, the road ahead for Gemma will not be an easy one.
It is thirty years (help!) since I was poised to take the same step and become the first Irish woman to join the Ladies’ European Tour. In those days turning professional did not demand the same high standard of play. A maximum of a three handicap and the ability to identify the correct dotted line and sign your name sufficed. The landscape has really changed…..or has it?
Common to all touring professionals is their office. It moves…and frequently….and it’s bloomin’ expensive to chase after it. Once I’d joined the tour in 1986 at least I knew I had a tour to play on – if I could afford it. Nowadays, those who don’t survive the rigours of Qualifying School have a raft of smaller stages on which they can try their luck to create a pathway to the Tour and a guaranteed entry into a number of events. These smaller stages, however, tend to be in far flung places with the prize money coming from the players’ own entry fees and, therefore, the rewards are fairly small beer, barely covering expenses. But valuable experience IS being gained.
After finding tournaments to play in, the next big, central question for the player is “can you afford it?” This challenge hasn’t changed over the last thirty years. It’s the reason some of my peers slept in cars and Ian Woosnam survived on eating cold baked beans out of the can for his dinner. If you have a dream you do what it takes and resilience is key.
On one occasion when I was bemoaning my lack of a sponsor Dad told me I couldn’t expect anyone to invest in my game if I didn’t put my own money where my mouth was. So, I got on with my part-time job of working for a golf promotion company, saved hard to fund my tournament life and spent the rest of my time working on my game as much as I could. Elsewhere in this blog (in Mo And The Marvellous Marquesa) you can read about my lucky break in meeting a sponsor, but it certainly doesn’t happen for everyone.
Nowadays when you make it on to the Tour you may find you are ineligible for the big tournaments because of a lowly ranking and/or position on the money list. So, welcome to the classic catch 22 situation – players above you get into the big money fields, then have a good week and move further away from you in ranking points and money lists and the gap widens. This is not the time to consider booby-trapping the locker room – just keep working hard and remember why you’re doing this. You do love it, don’t you?
Just what are some of the ingredients for success for Gemma and her like? An incredible work ethic; first-class time management; a clear vision of the path that needs following to achieve designated goals; capacity for travel; resilience; an ability to score, no matter what; and wholehearted dedication. Oh yes, and a bit of luck wouldn’t go amiss.
We all know that very few players manage to make a living from playing but if you’ve done your homework and decided it’s for you, then, take a deep breath, Gemmas of this world, step into the exhilarating, exciting, privileged world of professional sport and give it your all.
It was terrific to hear that Padraig Harrington had won the Portugal Masters at Vilamoura last week, in front of hordes of delighted Irish supporters. The last time I saw him play was at the Open at Troon when his opening tee shot went soaring off over the grandstands towards the 18th fairway. It looked like being a long day but Caroline, Padraig’s wife, was her usual equable friendly self, unfazed by the unorthodox route. She’s well used to the ups and downs of a professional golfer’s existence and Padraig has never been orthodox.
The Dubliner, an accountant by training, many years ago, has now worked his way back into the world’s top 100 after falling a long way from the glory years of 2007 and 2008 when he won three major championships and the years when he was a fixture in Europe’s Ryder Cup teams. His autobiography, should it ever appear, will probably run to several volumes, not least because Padraig is anything but taciturn, always willing to share his current theories and, more often than not, baffle more simple souls with the twists and turns of his thought processes.
A modicum of research reveals that Paul Keane has written a book called Obsessed: Inside Padraig Harrington’s Head. I look forward to reading it but can’t imagine how Keane managed to survive the experience and squeeze everything into a mere 240 pages. That’s a bit of a cheap crack from someone who loves listening to Padraig’s interviews and trying to make sense of the convolutions of a man who is always on the move mentally, thinking and tinkering, ever open to new ideas. He also works his spikes off, physically and psychologically and will try anything if he thinks it will help him be better, even that ice cold cryo-wotsit-thingy that speeds recovery from strains and stresses. And, of course, he does twice as long as anyone else.
I think it was the Irish journalist Brian Keogh who once suggested that Joseph Heller, who wrote Catch 22, should be Harrington’s biographer but perhaps James Joyce, author of Ulysses and famed for his singular way of thinking, would have been the man for the job.
Dave Alred, who helped Johnny Wilkinson hone the skills that kicked England’s opponents to oblivion, has written a book called The Pressure Principle: Handle Stress, Harness Energy and Perform When It Counts and Harrington credited it with helping him win in Portugal. He also putted the lights out after picking up a tip from playing with Matt Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan. The ever-curious Irishman noticed that the two Englishmen had a black line round the ball and just rolled it along the line. If you roll the ball the ball down the line, that’s good and if the ball misses, you’ve misread the line. If it’s not rolling properly, it was a bad stroke/strike. Simples, as a certain irritating meerkat might say. “I’m having an obsessively good time practising it,” Harrington said.
He has always been his own man and is always open to new ideas but keeps an eye on the numbers, as befits his accounting background: “I keep my own stats because they show what’s good and what’s not and what it takes to win. It’s never been about hitting fairways and greens. Holing putts, getting up and down and pitching, those are the things that matter to me in a competitive week. When I go back and look at my stats for scrambling this week [in Portugal], I would say I was better than 100 per cent.”
Way to go Padraig.
On a sad note, Dr David Sheahan, one of Ireland’s great amateurs, died this week at the age of 76. Our condolences to his family and friends. Learn all about the good doctor and his exploits by seeking out a copy of Shane O’Donoghue’s lovely book Legends In Their Spare Time.