Friday 19 December 2014

Man of many talents shooting the breeze in a whirlwind existence

Precocious Nick Mullen has had to learn quickly in meteoric rise from Clongowes to achieving his American dream, writes Dermot Gilleece

Dermot Gilleece

Published 22/06/2014 | 02:30

Nick Mullen: 'One of the greatest gifts my mum and dad gave me was to introduce me to golf' / SPORTSFILE
Nick Mullen: 'One of the greatest gifts my mum and dad gave me was to introduce me to golf' / SPORTSFILE

Imagine a leading gynaecologist delivering a baby girl who was destined to become his daughter-in-law. Or an Irishman at the tender age of 23 being entrusted by an American sports group with their burgeoning golf division.

In the fascinating world of Nick Mullen, it seems that anything is possible. An interest in sport is immediately evident by a right ear which has been re-shaped by the rigours of scrummaging in the second row. And a suitably athletic physique is no more than to be expected, given that he is still only 25.

Mullen is at Fota Island in his capacity as Director of Player Management North America for Chubby Chandler’s ISM. And the main focus of his attention has been former Irish international Kevin Phelan and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, making his professional debut there, having captured the amateur medal in the US Open at Pinehurst.

Such things are liable to happen in the world of Mullen, whose genes embrace two of the most iconic figures in Irish sport. He happens to be the grandson of the great Karl Mullen, who became equally famous for his rugby prowess and gynaecological skills. And it was in the latter capacity that he delivered Freda Harty in Mount Carmel Hospital, Dublin.

Her father was Eddie Harty, who rode Highland Wedding to victory in the 1969 Grand National before going on to become a successful trainer. And two of his sons have followed in their father’s footsteps by also becoming trainers.

Through a family friendship, Karl Mullen wound up delivering Freda, who went on to marry his own son, Paul. Then there’s Paul’s sister, who happens to be the mother of Olympic showjumper Cian O’Connor, making him Nick’s first cousin. If all of this sounds terribly confusing, it is only through my inadequacy in conveying the enthusiasm and pride with which Mullen traced his family tree.

He also takes pride in the time he spent at Clongowes Wood College where current Ireland rugby winger Dave Kearney was a classmate, and fullback Rob Kearney was every pupil’s sporting hero.

Against this background, it was interesting to hear him say: “One of the greatest gifts my mum and dad gave me was to introduce me to golf. They took me and my older brother Gerard out with them on the golf course before we had the strength to properly swing a club. That was at The Curragh and Rathsallagh, fairly near to our home in Kilcullen.”

He went on: “I remember being involved in all sports from an early age, including Gaelic games; golf became something of a favourite and I got good enough to play off scratch. In that circumstance, it was a bit of a shock to discover that there were peers who were better than me. A lot better. Like Shane Lowry.

“Shane won’t remember this, but I had a good first round in the Leinster Boys which he went on to win at Skerries GC. And a week later, I represented Curragh in a Fred Daly match against him at Millicent. If memory serves me, we were level after nine or I might have been one up. That was when Shane woke up, engaged the after-burners and beat me on the 16th. I think he had something like four birdies and an eagle after the turn.”

On leaving Clongowes, a career in law beckoned, but he was knocked back when failing by only six points to make the faculty in UCD. So he did the next best thing and went to Griffith College. Meanwhile, his rugby career continued at underage for Leinster and as captain of Lansdowne’s under 20 side before he drifted from the game having made only one appearance for the firsts.

“From my time at Clongowes, I now realise that Rob Kearney demonstrated the difference between a good athlete and a very good athlete. He helped me appreciate what it took to be fairly special at sport, in terms of commitment, like staying behind for extra training. Not unlike a straight-As student who continues to study harder than anyone else, simply to become the best he possibly can be. This helped me massively in my career choice.”

He went on: “While we in Ireland seem to be very good at identifying excellence in academics or the arts, we don’t appear to have the talent of the Australians or the elite US colleges in recognising elite sporting achievement at a young age. The Americans are especially good at it, as I’ve discovered while living there for the last four years.”

His current home is at the Old Palm GC in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen are among the celebrity residents. “Americans embrace winners, which can be brutally cruel to non-achievers,” he said. “But that’s the way professional sport is. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Take this weekend here at Fota. Half the field will head off from here without a cent; actually losing money after failing to make the cut. That can be hard to take.

“But golf at this level is a business, driven by numbers and money. In America, for example, the PGA Tour now owns the Web.com tour and they’ve bought the Canadian Tour and the Latin American tour. Which has almost totally eliminated the mini-tours over there. And I believe this will ultimately prove to be a good thing. It’s a meritocracy in which only the strong will survive.”

As a young man in a hurry, Mullen has learned quickly on the job. His first important break came in a highly productive chat in 2007 with Dublin solicitor Dougie Heather, who was then chairman of the ISM board. His advice to Mullen was to pursue his dream — in the US.

So he signed up as an intern for six months with the Blake Sports Group in New York. A modest operation, their client list includes golfers such as Ricky Barnes, Jeff Quinney and others. With no income, he had to rely on money from home, but it represented a priceless foot in the door.

Then, on returning home to renew his visa, he went back to Griffith College and got a master’s degree in international business management. By 2011, he was back working for Blake’s, now full-time as “their runaround guy for golf.” Then came another big break: their golf man departed, paving the way for Mullen’s appointment in his place. At 23, he had become head of the company’s golf division.

“While Blake’s was a great company, it wasn’t long before I realised it was time to move on,” he said. “I had been approached by a few people in the industry but I kept thinking of Chubby, whom I had got to know through Dougie Heather. The upshot was that on sitting down with him for a chat, I concluded after only 20 minutes that his company was where I wanted to be.”

That was in January 2013. Now he’s ISM’s full-time man in the US with Chesson Hadley and Phelan among his top clients. “If I have a talent for this job, I believe it lies in my general love of sport and my understanding of people’s needs,” he said. “And I consider myself a good sounding board.”

With Mullen, you’re never tempted to think of youth being wasted on the young. Rather it is the wonder of where a whirlwind existence will take him next.

Sunday Indo Sport

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