Thursday 18 December 2014

Grange golfing greats

Paul McGinley's beloved golf club was also home to the sporting legends who inspired him, writes Liam Kelly

Published 30/10/2013 | 21:30

Dr David Sheahan, the first amateur to win a Tour professional event, in 1962
Dr David Sheahan, the first amateur to win a Tour professional event, in 1962
Dr David Sheahan, the first amateur to win a Tour professional event, in 1962
Paul McGinley, Europe's Ryder Cup captain for 2014
Grange Golf Club, in Rathfarnham, Dublin

Paul McGinley, Europe's Ryder Cup Captain for 2014, has a worldwide profile as a successful golfer, but he has never forgotten his roots. McGinley remains a grounded and focused individual who has never been carried away by the so-called glamour of the international tournament circuit.

And for that he credits his family, his involvement with the GAA and particularly his golfing development at Grange Golf Club in Rathfarnham, Dublin.

The story of his football career has been well documented, how knee injuries while playing for Ballyboden St Enda's caused him to concentrate on the small ball game.

Fate did him a good turn, although it didn't look like that at the time. Once he focused on the individual sport, McGinley laid the foundations for a great career, and now he looks forward to the captaincy of Europe against the US at Gleneagles, Scotland, next year.

"Part of me will always wonder what might have been if I'd been able to stay with the GAA, but golf has been very rewarding for me," said McGinley.

"Having said that, I would always be in favour of youngsters playing team sports as long as possible, even if they are showing potential in golf. I feel it's a valuable part of a young sportsman or woman's personal development.

"The other key factor for me, apart from the support of my family, was how lucky I was to join Grange Golf Club.

"It was, and is, a club that has a great tradition in producing successful competitive golfers at international level.

"Watty Sullivan, the professional at Grange for so long, had an important role to play in that, but it was also important that there were great role models to follow.

"Dr David Sheahan (below) was a legend. He won a professional tournament as an amateur, and I had the honour of playing Senior Cup golf with him.

"Then there was Leslie Walker, who won the British Boys championship, and a competitive group of guys such as Brian Shaw, now the head pro at Doonbeg, and David Walker, Leslie's brother. He's the head pro at Foxrock. These guys all helped push me along to play better and practice hard," said McGinley.

How interesting that McGinley should reference Dr Sheahan, who beat the pros at their own game – and for that stellar achievement, he retains an enduring place in golf history.

The good doctor was a 21-year-old medical student and amateur golfer when he had the temerity to beat the best of the British and Irish golf professionals in the 1962 Jeyes Tournament, held at the internationally-renowned Royal Dublin Golf Club.

In those days, there was no European Tour as such. That was still 10 years away, so professional events, many with big prize money relative to the times, were staged mostly on these islands.

Despite the lack of a formal 'tour', the best players in the game from Britain and Ireland, and many from abroad, were attracted to perform in the big events.

The Jeyes tournament was one of those, and it was billed as an 'international pro/am' event, with all the amateurs playing off a very low handicap.

Instead of detracting from the quality of the competition, the presence of the play-for-fun brigade enhanced the occasion.

It's difficult to credit now but, for decades, amateur golf at GUI and inter-club level attracted big attendances. The legendary Joe Carr of Sutton and Portmarnock, the Craddocks from Malahide – Tom, Mick, and Joe – and other well-known personalities competed for their clubs in the prestige events, and thousands flocked to watch them in action. But only one man of that late '50s and '60s generation actually broke the barrier and took first place in a pro event.

Dr Sheahan's record on this side of the Atlantic lasted for decades until 2007, when Spanish amateur star Pablo Martin won the Estoril Open de Portugal.

Two years later, amateurs Danny Lee and our own Shane Lowry cracked the success code with their victories in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth and the 3 Irish Open at Baltray respectively.

Martin, Lee, and Lowry now ply their trade in the paid ranks, with Lowry currently the most successful of the trio.

And Dr Sheahan, the pathfinder who broke the mould? I'm pleased to report he's still playing golf in Grange GC, and continuing to practice as a GP in Rathgar.

A past captain and president of Grange, Dr Sheahan has an impressive record as an amateur. Apart from the Jeyes win, he earned a place on the GB and Ireland 1963 Walker Cup team and won three Irish Close titles, which made him the best golfer in the country in the years 1961, 1966, and 1970.

The 1970 success was particularly significant, as the Irish Close was played at Grange GC and he was a hugely popular winner. He graced the Irish and Leinster teams with distinction for many years, including on the European Team Championship-winning teams in 1965 and 1967. Recently, at the tender age of 73, he won 2013 Golfer of the Year at Grange.

"David is a thorough gentleman, and a terrific example to all the young golfers in the club. If I'm half as competitive as he is when I'm his age, I'll be delighted," said McGinley.

Apart from Dr Sheahan and McGinley, Grange has contributed handsomely to the Irish international men's and women's teams over the years. Michael McGinley, brother of Paul, played for Ireland and won the North of Ireland championship in 1996.

Club professionals Leslie, David Walker and Brian Shaw all came through the Grange ranks with distinction, as did notable amateurs Mark and David Ryan.

The sadly departed Therese O'Reilly was Irish Ladies champion and Irish Senior Women's winner. Mary Gorry won the Irish title in 1975 and 1978, and went on to captain the Irish international team. Maisie Mooney, now chief executive of Women's Golf, Australia, won the Irish, Dutch and Australian amateurs all in the same year.

Sheena McElroy played on the Irish team which won the Home Internationals, and has also captained and managed successful ILGU Home International-winning sides. Hazel Kavanagh played for Ireland as an amateur, and as a professional competed on the Ladies European Tour. She recently made history as the first woman to make the cut at the Irish PGA Championships.

As for Paul McGinley, he'll never be short of a parking space at Grange, as the club has reserved a special spot in the car park marked 'Ryder Cup Captain'. Now that's posh!

Irish Independent

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