'It wasn't in the very, very back of my mind' - Irish golfer Seamus Power free to dream of gold
Irish golf expected to be showing up at this Olympics with all the star power. Instead, it has Seamus Power. For what Power, the world No 295, lacks compared to Rory McIlroy, the world No 4, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm. Indeed, he is the living, dreaming proof that one superstar's indifference can be an underdog's fairy tale.
Here is a 29-year-old who has, remarkably, played only one event on the two main tours in six years as a pro - the Irish Open on an invite in 2013 - but he is one of 60 players with a chance to earn immortality as his sport's first gold medallist in 112 years.
Little wonder, then, that Power could be found pacing the Olympic Course yesterday, with his eyes wide, repeating the word "unbelievable". Just two months ago he never thought this possible, with so many of his countrymen ranked above him: not only McIlroy, but Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington.
"It wasn't even at the back of my mind, not even at the very, very back," Power said. "Then Paul rang."
Paul is Paul McGinley, the victorious 2014 Ryder Cup captain entrusted with captaining Ireland here. "He told me Rory was going to pull out that afternoon and that Graeme was also not going, and that I was first reserve," Power said. "I got a bit excited, but then Paul said Harrington was a certainty and that Shane was almost a certainty, so I forgot about it again.
"When Paul texted a few weeks later to say Shane was out and I was in, it was an incredible feeling. When you set out playing golf you don't think you'll ever be playing at an Olympics."
Of course, McIlroy used that very line to explain why this event was way down his priority list. His brutally honest assessment inevitably brought dissension, but not from Power. "Well, I'm not going to criticise him or Shane, because if they'd come I wouldn't be here," the West Waterford golfer said with a smirk. Power has understood that McIlroy is different ever since they were children.
"We played on junior teams and went on training camps. He would stand up and hit high draws with a driver when he was 11 or 12. You knew he was special even then."
Power made his name at East Tennessee State University, then scratched around on US mini tours until he graduated to the Web.Com Tour, the main feeder for the PGA Tour. When, in May, he won the United Leasing and Finance Championship in Indiana, where he collected a cheque for £80,000 his elevation was all but guaranteed.
Power believes this first trip to dreamland can acclimatise him for the next. He was at the opening ceremony, has been to see other sports and he loves the athletes' village.
"This week will be something I'll never forget," he said. "But it will also get me used to being around these top guys. I also don't have a thing to lose. There's only four possibilities - gold, silver, bronze or nothing."