Tuesday 12 November 2019

Power play turns heads in the US

Kilkenny ace shining thanks to short game, writes Brian Keogh

Proud moment: Ireland’s Mark Power celebrates becoming the first freshman to win the individual strokeplay title in the East Lake Cup
Proud moment: Ireland’s Mark Power celebrates becoming the first freshman to win the individual strokeplay title in the East Lake Cup

Brian Keogh

Kilkenny's Mark Power is quickly making a name for himself on the US collegiate scene after he became the first freshman to win the individual strokeplay title in this week's East Lake Cup.

The Wake Forest star (19) made eight birdies in a five-under-par 67, fist-pumping as he drilled home a 12-footer for a closing birdie four and a two-shot win over Texas duo Pierceson Coody and Travis Vick.

The win marks Power's first individual triumph for Wake Forest and it was seen all over the US on the Golf Channel as he achieved one of his golfing dreams by winning on the course where he has watched heroes Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods claim the Tour Championship.

"It's amazing," said Power, who credited an improvement in his putting as the key to his success. "The minute we got here this week… I have seen this place on TV so many times watching Rory and Tiger. Actually getting here was amazing but to be standing here now after winning the individual is crazy altogether."

Asked how he managed to make eight birdies on such a tough course, he told Golf Channel: "I really don't know. After the practice round yesterday I was talking to the guys and thinking, this is a hard course. I was thinking what holes you'd call birdie holes.

"Once I started hitting greens, I started to get a really good feel on the greens and started rolling some putts good, and once they started going in, I got really confident. Even the putt on the last, that 12-footer, I thought I was going to make it. When you have rounds like that, I guess it is just meant to be."

With the win, he follows in the footsteps of some PGA Tour stars in 2016 winner Scottie Scheffler and Norway's Viktor Hovland, who was a sophomore when he won the men's individual title last year and is now a contender for Ryder Cup honours.

A two-time former Irish Boys champion whose parents Eddie and Eileen Rose won the Irish Close and Irish Women's Close title three times each, Power went out in two-under 34 as he mixed a bogey at the fourth with birdies at the first, fifth and sixth.

He then birdied the 10th to get to three-under, and while he double- bogeyed the 211-yard 11th, he recovered with birdies at the 12th and 14th, then picked up two more shots at the 17th and 18th.

He put his win down to an improvement in his putting, which deserted him after he began his collegiate career with a tied ninth finish at the Rod Myers Invitational in September.

When Wake Forest hosted its first event of the season, the Old Town Club Collegiate Invitational, Power finished 35th but struggled on the greens and didn't make the team's next event in Oregon.

"I played good but putting destroyed me that week," Power told Golfweek in Atlanta. "That just kind of gave me a kick in the behind to just get myself (right).

"You can't survive out here if you're not making putts so I practised really hard on the greens."

He returned for the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate in Alpharetta and finished what was a career-best tied third until Monday's heroics.

The East Lake Cup showcases eight of the top teams from the 2019 NCAA Division I men's and women's golf national championships with Castlewarden's Lauren Walsh tied 16th for Wake Forest's women's team and Forrest Little's Julie McCarthy 19th for Auburn University.

The individual strokeplay element of the event was followed by a two-day matchplay event which was scheduled to be finishing up late last night.

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