Wednesday 21 February 2018

Vincent Hogan: Power surge fades but golf proves an Olympic winner

Seamus Power in action at the Olympic Games. Photo: Reuters
Seamus Power in action at the Olympic Games. Photo: Reuters
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Paul McGinley was quoting Lee Trevino just as the wheels began to loosen.

We'd been doing the maths and thinking fairytale, Seamus Power edging to within a stroke of bronze under the tropical steam-press of a blotchless Rio sky. Six under for the day, Power was playing the par three fourteenth, the faintest kink just beginning to insinuate itself into that elegant, college-buffed swing.

Justin Rose of Great Britain celebrates winning the Men's golf competition at the Olympic Golf Course. Photo: Sportsfile
Justin Rose of Great Britain celebrates winning the Men's golf competition at the Olympic Golf Course. Photo: Sportsfile

He'd scrambled difficult pars on twelve and thirteen and was now in a greenside bunker. McGinley reckoned that he had arrived at what Americans like to call gut-check time. The Waterford man splashed out to twelve feet, but you could sense a rope gently tightening here.

"What is it Trevino said?" whispered McGinley. "Two things that don't last are dogs who chase cars and pros who chase pars!"

The putt slipped agonisingly by and, fifteen minutes later, Power's double-bogey on fifteen had sedated any lingering murmurs about an Irish medal being taken from the manicured ribbons of lawn cut into Marapendi Nature Reserve.


As it happened, the podium places on golf's return to Olympia would fall to some of the superstars who decided that coming here did not have to amount to some kind of needless philandery. Justin Rose (inset) on sixteen under edged out Open champion, Henrik Stenson (14 under), for gold with Matt Kuchar (13 under) claiming bronze and the lowest round of the day, a stunning 63.

So the medals went to men who, essentially, took the Olympic course by its lapels and smashed it into submission.

Even had Power birdied his last five, it wouldn't have been enough to get there but, as McGinley surmised, "He gave us all a buzz, gave us the chance of a medal with four holes to go in the Olympics."

In the end, Power's 67 brought him home tied fifteenth whilst an ailing Padraig Harrington, nursing a neck injury that hurt on impact, trudged home joint 21st and palpably subdued after finishing with an uncomfortable 73.

Afterwards, Rose's visible emotion at claiming gold ran counter to the indifference of those contemporaries who stayed at home, having seemingly concluded that a trip to Rio might represent the equivalent of being packed off to the woods. "A dream come true for me" beamed the new Olympic champion.

The galleries had come out in force to Marapendi and, pointedly, stayed behind for the sport's first Olympic medal ceremony for 112 years.

And it wouldn't be preposterous to say that Harrington's infectious enthusiasm for the idea of becoming an Olympian helped uproot any lingering weeds of cynicism that might have been within the locker-room here.

Golf can seem a place of largely lugubrious faces with rules from the Middle Ages imposed by blazered gentlemen who look like they've swallowed hardback Bibles. Large swathes of the planet regard it from a distance as no more than a slow drudge in the countryside, exercising men of indeterminate age who are invariably poorly clothed, overfed and ever so slightly self-absorbed.

Harrington gets that. He understands how pompous and insular it can look and how too many in the pro game go to work with a gravity more appropriate to a courtroom.

On Wednesday, he spoke of golf's need to sell itself a little better. It was, he said, stigmatised as a game for old people, something akin to a gentle amble through the countryside before Sunday roast and the reading glasses toppling onto your considerable paunch as the afternoon snores draw cackles from the grandchildren.

The idea that it belongs in this context of flowering senility agitates Harrington who, at 44, was the third oldest player in the field.

Whether this tournament changes anything is a moot point. The absence of so many of the game's billboard names clearly places a question-mark over whether the appetite will be there to retain golf in the Olympic schedule beyond Tokyo.

Yet, for 29-year-old Power, the force of the Olympic experience left him beaming. "You know I had a shot at the bronze with eight holes to go which I guess, at the start of the week, you would take" he said.

"I was six under after ten, but it could easily have been two or three more. And if I picked up two or three more, you just don't know. I might just have sneaked a bronze medal.


"But it was nice to be in this company this week. You see these guys on TV and sometimes you think they're doing things that you can't do. So just to see it up close was great. Just to even play the practice rounds with Padraig...that was probably the most nervous I was this week.

"I learned a lot about myself and my game."

After unravelling a little on the back nine during Saturday's 74, he'd headed back to the village listening to an RTE radio feed from the All-Ireland hurling semi-final replay between Waterford and Kilkenny in Thurles. That evening they dined with some of the Irish athletes, among them Ciara Mageean.

And the selflessness of those for whom sport never offers a pay-cheque has made an impact, especially on Harrington and McGinley.

Yet, the former would have coveted a more eloquent sign off to his week. "It was a pity" he said of the injury that curtailed him. "It really hasn't been something that's got to me for a long time, but it didn't help matters today. A bit of a dodgy pillow caught me out this week. Just the right-hand side of my neck is tight so I can't brace on impact.

"It's a long day when you're not shooting a good score. It just wasn't very comfortable today, but it happens. For four or five years, I played three out of every four weeks like this so it's not something unknown to me. I've been playing very nicely and it would have been nice to go out there today and shoot a good score.

"I would have liked to have been healthy and have a clear mind to be able to blame myself rather than the injury, but I'm just not too sure which was the one cause of the errant shots today.

But it's been exciting, that's for sure. And I'm here for another week, going off to see Usain Bolt this evening."

McGinley believes that, whatever golf's Olympic future beyond 2020, the week will have left a legacy for those who made the trip to South America.

"I think the players are going away having learned a huge amount, both as people and as sports people" he suggested.

"And that will help them when they go back into their own sport again, to see a bigger picture. Sometimes in our own sport, we only see the small picture."

Irish Independent

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