Thursday 26 April 2018

The power of positive thinking working wonders for Seamus Power

Seamus Power: ‘I made 19 cuts from 25 events this year but had only one top-10 finish . . . I feel confident I can step up on that performance next year.’. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Seamus Power: ‘I made 19 cuts from 25 events this year but had only one top-10 finish . . . I feel confident I can step up on that performance next year.’. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Dermot Gilleece

It is the lot of the exile that moments of acute disappointment tend to bring aching thoughts of home. So it was for Seamus Power last weekend when the realisation dawned that failure to retain his PGA Tour card would mean missing next Sunday's All-Ireland hurling final.

Instead of being part of the Waterford throng at Croke Park, the 30-year-old from the village of Touraneena will be in far off Columbus, Ohio, competing in a $1m tournament on America's Web.Com Tour. "I'll be looking for an Irish pub televising the match and a late fourth round starting time," he said. "That'll give me an extra incentive to get among the leaders."

Had full playing rights for next year been secured in the Wachovia Championship, Power would have booked a flight home. Instead, in the last event of his PGA season, he had to come to terms with the narrow failure of finishing 130th in the final points list on the PGA Tour, from which only 125 became exempt for the 2017/'18 season.

The tough bit seemed to have been done by making the cut. But his game deserted him when the screw tightened on the Saturday, and a back-nine of 41 pushed him outside the 74 who qualified for prize money on Sunday.

Still, redemption may be at hand through the upcoming final series of four tournaments on the Web.Com Tour. Either way, Power reckons his end-of-season status will get him into 15 events next season.

I first came across Power in February 2005 in biting February winds from Sierra de Mijas, high in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean. He was at La Cala Resort in an elite panel of eight boys, organised by the GUI for a week's pre-season training.

It certainly worked for the blond, athletic figure from Waterford, who outscored his colleagues with an admirable 135 Stableford points for 72 holes of competition that week. And three months later, he was on his way to becoming the most successful youth champion in the history of the Irish game.

In June 2005, he succeeded Rory McIlroy for the Irish Youths title at Portumna; a year later, he was tied second in the same event at Royal Tara; in 2007 he regained the title on his home terrain of West Waterford and in 2008, he won yet again, this time at Lurgan.

By that stage, Power was the beneficiary of a university scholarship at East Tennessee which guided him towards a unique target for an Irish golfer: He is attempting to become the first to break through to success on the PGA Tour, without having learned the ropes in Europe. And he made a significant start in May of last year as the first Irish winner on the Web.Com Tour in which the United Leasing and Finance Championship title brought a cheque for $108,000.

This has been followed by €636,146 from tournaments this season, bringing his total earnings to €954,126 since he turned professional in 2011. And along the way, there has been the considerable bonus of representing Ireland as Pádraig Harrington's partner in last year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Notwithstanding these achievements, his earliest sporting memory is of hurling. When I wondered if he was any relation of the great Seamus Power, who spearheaded Waterford's last All-Ireland triumph in 1959, his smile indicated that it wasn't the first time he had been asked this question.

"No, but I met him," he said proudly. "He came to our school all of 25 years ago, when I was about five or six. And I remember being very pleased with a hurling tip he gave me: a new way to pick up the ball. It was a sort of a bent scoop."

It would be a further five years before golf entered the picture, making him the first exponent in his village. That was when the West Waterford club became a second home to him, courtesy of the owners, the Spratt family. "I loved the game from the start, and it became a fantastic place for us as juniors," he said. "All they wanted in return was that we respect the etiquette of the game. I can remember being there for 10 to 12 hours on long, summer days. And being fed as well."

His dad, Ned, always seemed to be on hand to do the driving, which included a trip to Mount Juliet in 2004 to see the American Express Championship. That was where he first caught sight of Tiger Woods, who was to leave an indelible mark on his golfing ambitions.

"I remember seeing Tiger at the bar during the tournament and marvelling at the muscular development of his upper body," he said, indicating that he needed no prompting to talk about his favourite golfer. "When I began learning the game, I bought his book, How I Play Golf.

"He seemed to combine all the attributes that were attractive to me - exciting to watch, so driven. He was the first modern player to really emphasise the physical part of things and I believe it helped him win a lot of golf tournaments, even if the injuries he later sustained tended to blur the issue a bit.

"Now everybody's in the gym, trying to ensure they can respond to what coaches are asking you to do. Guys are now playing almost 12 months of the year, which is a relatively new development.

"Among the specific things I learned from Tiger's book was my putting routine. He advocated two practice strokes which became part of my game. And I remember as a kid, trying to copy his crazy flop shots. I think a lot of players learned from him, including his emphasis on strategy and course management.

"I met him once, during a college tournament for East Tennessee in Isleworth, where Tiger lived at the time. Most of the lads, myself included, ran into him at some stage that week. It was a quick introduction. 'Hello'. Not much else. But it remained a memorable experience for me.

"During the Olympics, Pádraig talked a lot about the tussles they had together. And I was fascinated to learn that Pádraig had one of the best records in stroke-average of anybody playing with Tiger. And of course he beat him, which is really something.

"Then, early this year, I played at Torrey Pines where he was beginning a comeback. The buzz around the place that week was just amazing. There's a lot of exciting players on Tour right now, guys like Rory, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, but good as they are, they don't move the meter the way Tiger could in attracting different types of spectators to the game. For that alone, I'd love to see him back."

Power is understandably pleased with the progress he has made in the last two years. Though by no means wealthy - caddying and travel expenses account for about €180,000 of the prize money he has earned so far this year - he enjoys a comfortable existence from his bachelor pad in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"I'm single, for the most part," he laughed, while admitting he was dating a girl in a relatively new relationship.

There's enough in the kitty to support another season on tour, which is as far as he cares to look at the moment, clearly believing he can gain one of the 25 Tour cards on offer from the four upcoming Web.Com events. "I made 19 cuts from 25 events this year but had only one top-10 finish [Canadian Open]," he said. "I feel confident I can step up on that performance next year."

Meanwhile, a week's break in his upcoming schedule after Ohio, offers the prospect of a trip home. And the chance to reflect on an All-Ireland win? "Wouldn't that be something," said Power, before heading off to meet his coach. There was work to be done of a more personal nature.

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