Saturday 1 October 2016

I play just for fun

Published 11/08/2016 | 02:30

John Treacy. Photo: Sportsfile
John Treacy. Photo: Sportsfile

They nicknamed him The Mudlark for winning back-to-back World Cross Country Championships in muddy conditions. However, 1984 Olympic marathon silver medallist John Treacy is very much a fair-weather golfer and as Chief Executive of Sport Ireland, he’s arguably Ireland’s No. 1 sports fan.

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1. How big is golf for you?

John Treacy says he is as competitive on the course as he was on the cross country circuit. Photo: Getty Images
John Treacy says he is as competitive on the course as he was on the cross country circuit. Photo: Getty Images

I am a member of Slade Valley Golf Club, which is across the road from my house. What is it they say? The best golf course in the world is the one outside your front door. For the last couple of years, I haven't played as much golf as I did in the past. My game is hot and cold, but I really love my golf.

I can switch everything off when I am playing. All you can think about is that little white ball, so it's a great release from everything else that is going on in life.

2. So how did you get started in golf?

I was living in America and I had set a date for retirement. A friend of mine came to me one day and said, 'can you give me $500?' I asked him what it was for, but he said, 'just give me the $500'. I gave him the $500 and he came back the next day with a set of Ping irons. He told me, 'this is what you are going to be doing in your retirement - playing golf with me'.

I could never have done it when I was competing. If you are running 20 miles a day, you are not going to go out and play nine, 12 or 18 holes of golf. You just don't have the energy.

3. You have an Olympic silver medal, but do you have any lofty golfing aspirations?

I play golf for fun. I would very rarely play a club competition. My golf is confined to nine holes in the evening or the odd 18-hole competition on a Saturday morning.

I got down to 13 at one stage when I was playing regularly, but I have since taken up cycling and I'm on the bike a lot at weekends. I have to say, though, that of all the sports, I enjoy golf the best. When I am out there, I am as competitive as I was when I was on the cross country course. I might be limited by my abilities, but I am trying very hard.

4. How do you react to a slice into the trees?

When you are an amateur playing off 15, you are supposed to go into the trees.

5. Driver or putter?

I hit it pretty straight, but you need the putter to score. Putter. I like my putter.

6. A memorable shot?

When you play golf, you will almost always hit one good shot that will bring you back again. I played Naas recently and hit a six-iron there that did it for me.

7. What's the first thing you'd save from a fire? A treasured possession?

My wife talks about my toys, like my golf clubs, I have Ping irons and Cleveland woods and I treasure those. Then I have a Felt bike that might set you back a couple of grand. Those would be the first two things I'd save.

8. Not your Olympic silver medal?

That would be saved anyway. It's actually in the GAA museum at Croke Park at the moment, so I don't have to save it. They have an exhibition [Ireland's Olympians] so it is on loan there right now.

9. How did it feel to win that medal in Los Angeles in 1984?

Every athlete will tell you that the first feeling they have when they achieve something like that is one of relief, because they always believed they could do it and now they have finally done it.

Then comes the joy that goes with it. The special moment for me was meeting my family and my wife Fionnuala afterwards. Then I recall waking up the next morning and asking myself, 'was that a dream?' The realisation you have done this thing was a phenomenal feeling.

About a week after that race in Los Angeles I went out for a run and I actually could not run, I was so beat up. I walked back to the house, but I walked back laughing.

10. How often are you asked about LA?

The further south I go, the more it happens [laughs]. People still come up to me and say that was a great day in 1984 and they tell you what they were doing. It's great, I love those stories.

11. Back to golf. What's your favourite par three?

The 16th on the O'Meara Course at Carton House where you tee off by the Shell Cottage. That's a gorgeous little hole. We are unbelievably lucky to have so many wonderful courses in Ireland.

Pat Ruddy was always chastising me for never playing The European Club and I went down there last year and, my God, talk about a magnificent course. There's nothing better than playing golf for a week in Ireland - in nice weather, of course.

12. What's your greatest regret?

I would say the Seoul Olympics in 1988 [when he did not finish the marathon]. I got my timing for the Olympics wrong. I was flying that year and I just peaked too early.

The other was the Boston Marathon. I said to myself, 'I've got this race, I've got it.' Then I pulled a hamstring coming down a hill. That was probably the most painful loss of all. I was only two or three miles from home and I could almost taste the victory.

13. Who is your favourite golfer?

Paul McGinley is definitely one of my favourite people in the world. He's an interesting guy and I really like him. But, honestly, I follow every Irish golfer. If any of them are doing well I am up until the small hours watching it.

14. A course you'd like to play before you die?

I suppose we'd all love to play Augusta, wouldn't we?

15. What's your favourite major?

I've never been to a major, but watching the Masters is fantastic. Every one of us knows every hole on that course, particularly the back nine. And there is always drama. We see that even the best players in the world can implode.

16. A dream fourball?

Paul McGinley, Pádraig Harrington and Ernie Els.

17. Who is your sporting hero?

When I was running, I had Brendan Foster, I had Seb Coe, the guys who were contemporaries and were very successful. But when you are at the pinnacle of your own sport, you can't have heroes.

You have great admiration for people and great friendships. I had a great friendship with Steve Jones, who was world record holder for the marathon. Rather than heroes, it is people you admire greatly.

When I see an Irish competitor on the world stage, I am cheering as loud as anyone. Katie Taylor is a fantastic young lady. I really do admire her. And Sonia O'Sullivan and Catherina McKiernan and all these people who have done it on the world stage. Our boxers are fantastic lads. They are the people I admire.

18. So what's the John Treacy motto?

Focus. Focus. Focus. Focus. That'll work, most of the time.

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