Tuesday 23 January 2018

Stars in their eyes

Today's heroes inspired by the amateur greats of old

Garth McGimpsey (left) was a source of inspiration for Darren Clarke who in turn inspired Rory McIlroy.
Garth McGimpsey (left) was a source of inspiration for Darren Clarke who in turn inspired Rory McIlroy.
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

GOLF needs heroes to inspire the next generation and Ireland has always been blessed with star quality players who set new levels of achievement.

Right now Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy are the hottest Irish players on the market and they are already having an influence on the young stars of the future.

Padraig Harrington has achieved iconic status with three Major titles under his belt, while Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley set many an Irish youngster's pulse racing, particularly through their Ryder Cup performances.

Ambitious young amateur players in the girls' scene would have been inspired by Mary McKenna, the greatest Irish champion of them all, during her heyday of the 1970s and '80s.

And even the 16-year-old Cavan twins Leona and Lisa Maguire are finding 10 and 11-year-olds swarming around them for autographs after big events such as the Ladies Irish Open.

It all goes to show that hero worship remains an enduring trait among the young, and right now Irish golf needs every hero and heroine it can muster to go on punching way above its weight.

Interesting, then, to be reminded of the golfing DNA wired into the system of the amateur game, particularly since World War II, by the informative and entertaining book 'Legends in their Spare Time' by Shane O'Donoghue.

The volume features the stories of Jimmy Bruen, Joe Carr, Jody Fanagan, Noel Fogarty, Philomena Garvey, Garth McGimpsey, McKenna, Arthur Pierse and Dr David Sheahan.

Broadcaster O'Donoghue has re-issued the book with a CD of interviews and it's all the more poignant in that some of the golfers featured have passed on to their eternal reward.

Any golfer with an interest in the history of the sport will appreciate the stories behind the names, as we are unlikely to see their like again. Nowadays, the professional tours offer a living that, in fairness, might well have attracted many of our amateur legends if they lived in these times.

But they deserve to be hailed, nonetheless, for the hidden contribution they have made to Irish golf for generations.

By their success at home and abroad, these golfers, who combined achievement with making a living in 'ordinary' employment, set high standards for those who followed them into the competitive arena.

As O'Donoghue's book reveals, hero and heroine beget more of the same. For example, crusty and idiosyncratic BBC commentating legend Peter Alliss reveals that, of all people, Joe Carr was a hero of his.

Many have forgotten that Alliss, nine times a Ryder Cup player and winner of 21 Tour titles, was a serious tournament professional who could have achieved more had his putting matched his game from tee to green, so he wasn't easily impressed.

Of Carr, Alliss says: "When I was a young man, one of my few heroes was Joe Carr. Why? I thought he had the most wonderful lifestyle. Joe was gallant and dashing. He was handsome enough and he played golf in a cavalier fashion. He used to play with the big boys, Nicklaus and Palmer, and he'd play them for £50, which was an inordinate sum of money then."

Des Smyth, as a young boy setting out in the game, would see the likes of Carr and Fogarty arriving at County Louth GC for the East of Ireland championship in big cars and exuding class and confidence.

They made a huge impression on Smyth and that was a factor in lifting his sights to the lifestyle possibilities which golf could offer him.

Walker Cup player Arthur Pierse reflected on Carr's influence on our 'golden generation.'

"I think without him you wouldn't have the Clarkes, McGinleys or Harringtons," said Pierse. "In the 1980s the money started to come into golf, the affiliation levies went up at golf clubs and our international players benefited from that."

Ryder Cup hero Philip Walton said Carr was a hard taskmaster as a GUI team captain and selector, but that JB helped push him towards performing in top British events and eventual Walker Cup selection. From there, he turned professional and carved his own place in international golfing history at Oak Hill in 1995.

Darren Clarke's local hero growing up was Garth McGimpsey, 1985 British Amateur champion and winner of 14 major amateur titles.

"Garth was my golfing idol growing up. He was unquestionably the dominant player of his era and his record is astonishing. Garth always led by example, he was the one you looked up to," said Clarke.

And in turn, what superstar of the future idolised Clarke? None other than Rory McIlroy.

McKenna had such an honours-laden career and had a huge appreciation for the icons that went before her -- Kitty MacCann, Clarrie Reddan and Philomena Garvey, aka the Big Three of Irish women's golf.

McKenna, in turn, was the standard bearer for the likes of Maureen Madill, now a BBC Radio golf commentator, and Claire Hourihane, one of the finest women golfers produced by this country.

Hourihane, a five-time Irish champion, Madill, a British Women's amateur title winner, and Elaine Bradshaw, who won the Irish championship three times, were also influenced by Garvey who was an ILGU selector in the late 1970s.

The wheel turns, inexorably. Golfing equipment changes, courses lengthen, the balls go further, science and bio-mechanics delve deep into the mysteries of the human body in relation to the game, but one aspect stays the same -- when little boys or girls see a star golfer in action and say: "I want to be like them."

And that's how important Irish amateur golf is to the continued production line of Harringtons, Clarkes, McDowells, McIlroys and, even though they're still very young, the Maguires.

Long may it continue.

Irish Independent

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