Such has been the level of success displayed by Irish golfers this past decade that it’s easy to forget the magnitude of our global achievements. We’ve grown accustomed to the names of McIlroy, Harrington, McDowell et al occupying prime real estate on PGA Tour leaderboards, yet recently our conveyor belt of Major champions and Ryder Cup heroes has stalled. It’s a timely reminder of the cruel nature of the game, something our latest PGA Tour member, Seamus Power, has never taken for granted.
A product of West Waterford Golf Club, Power was a prodigious talent on Irish shores. He progressed rapidly through the junior ranks helping his club to three All Ireland junior foursomes’ titles before claiming three Irish Youth titles. Having represented Ireland at both junior and senior level, Power received an offer of a scholarship to the renowned East Tennessee State University, a move that would spark a lasting love affair with golfing stateside.
“They had such a good reputation. I’d met the coach a few times and he’d been recruiting the likes of Rory McIlroy and Niall Kearney. I couldn’t turn it down.” Power established himself as a star collegiate player recording several wins but it’s a testament to his maturity that he also graduated with a First class honours Degree in Accounting, long refusing to pin all his hopes on golf. “I’m probably logical to a fault. Golf is one of those sports that’s tough to judge; who’s going to make it and who won’t? I knew enough top amateurs personally that for all the world looked like they’d make it and went on to struggle. I didn’t want to be 25 with no qualification or Plan B.”
With options aplenty, Power returned home in May 2010 with one goal in mind, getting back to America. “I had more success in college golf than I did in amateur golf back home so I figured if I was going to have some success as a professional, America would be a good place to start.”
Far from the affluent world of the PGA Tour where it seems harder to spend money than earn it, Power signed up to the E Golf Tour, a competitive cauldron that would stretch him to the very limit. “The E Tour was much more stressful than the golf I’m playing now. It’s basically a huge cash game. You put up 1,200 dollars of your own money each week, you get 150, 200 guys doing the same, and if you play well you take some. It was nerve racking stuff, basically playing for your livelihood. I got some great help from the Irish Sport’s Council for four or five years and without it I would’ve been in major trouble.”
With little time for transition, Power managed some strong finishes in 2011 but it was his wins in 2012 that temporarily lifted the weight of financial pressure, affording him time to take stock. Upon examining his game as a collective, he concluded that change was necessary. He felt that he was a more talented player than his results were showing and turned to good friend Ken Guilford in 2013 to inspire an uplift in performance. “The most frustrating part sometimes is when you’re doing the same thing over and over but can’t seem to fix the same problem. Kenny was a good buddy. He was the head pro at a course I practiced on when I first arrived in Charlotte and I knew he wouldn’t be afraid to tell me how it is.”
“I had more success in college golf than I did in amateur golf back home so I figured if I was going to have some success as a professional, America would be a good place to start”
The partnership soon produced the desired results. In 2014 Power found the consistency he’d craved his whole career breaking 70 an incredible 34 times in 52 rounds. He carried that form into Qualifying School, an arena he was no stranger to having narrowly missed out on his card in 2011 following a Rich Beem birdie blitz that pipped him by one. A year later he was cruising under the mark only for a bad finish to derail his hopes of qualifying, missing out by two. Did he ever doubt a breakthrough was coming? “They were tough ones to swallow. 2014 was my fourth year playing mini tours and in hindsight, if that year hadn’t gone well I’m not sure how much more I would’ve played. Qualifying school is particularly tough mentally in my opinion because as soon as you’ve finished you’ve got to wait a whole other year for another opportunity. You’ve got to figure out a way to not run out of money, play some decent golf and improve whilst playing on a tour you don’t really want to be on. It’s not a very nice feeling.”
In fact, Power describes Qualifying School as the most unenjoyable tournament he’s ever played by far, less of a welcomed pressure and more of a desperate, there’s no immediate shot at redemption here, type pressure, which makes his Palm Beach procession to qualification in 2014 all the more impressive.
“I guess it was a case of drawing on my experiences. I finished second at First Stage and then won Second Stage by five shots. I played consistently well at Final Stage and I suppose it’s about as easy as I could’ve gotten through. I remember I hit a chip shot at the last, so my 106th hole, and hit it to a foot and a half. It secured me a top ten and basically the best card I could’ve got. I just looked out over the water and an unmistakable sense of relief surged through me. I’ll never forget it.”
A new year and a new tour, but far from being overawed stepping onto the Web.Com, the Waterford man felt right at home having previously shared the fairways with many of his new playing partners. “I’d played with Brian Harmon, Hudson Swafford, guys who’d played Mini Tours and gone on to play well on the Web.Com, some had gone straight to the PGA Tour and done well. I knew I could compete with these guys. I’ve always found that with top, top golfers, there’s very few that would blow you away with their standards. A lot of them just do the little things very well and it’s all those little things added up that makes the difference.”
Despite a disappointing start to 2015, Power’s year came to life at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in South Carolina. An unforgettable hole-in-one on his 71st hole not only earned him his first top ten finish but also a brand new BMW X4, a car he held for a fleeting moment. “You won it but you still had to pay taxes on it. So it was going to be a huge tax bill. When I didn’t get my PGA Tour card at the end of the year I figured I should downgrade and use the money smartly. I wish I’d have kept it now though.” The tournament proved a highlight in an otherwise quiet year for Power. “I had a few tournaments that I didn’t finish off and that would usually be a strength of mine. The goal for 2016 was very much to turn getting into contention into getting results.”
In May 2016 he did just that, becoming the first Irishman to win on the Web.Com in Indiana. On a course renowned for its brutal finish, Power set an imposing clubhouse target that no one could catch. Having been somewhat lost in a money game since his move to America, he admits that it was a special feeling being back in the winner’s enclosure. “This tour revolves around money so much in a bid to get your card that the idea of winning can be sometimes lost. So to actually get a win, I don’t know where you want to rank it but it’s one of the top three or four tours in the world. On one of the tougher courses with a rich list of past champions including Smylie Kaufman. I’d talked with my caddie about it. Very rarely would you prefer to be in the clubhouse with the same score as someone out on the golf course, but there you would.” And so it proved.
Power’s win all but assured there’d be some class of PGA Tour card coming his way in 2016 but the real surprise of the year arrived when murmurs of his potential inclusion in Ireland’s Olympic Golf Panel made their way across the Atlantic. Having missed out on his card the previous year, Power accepted that there would never be enough world ranking points on offer to make a run at the team, yet following his win and some high profile withdrawals, suddenly things started to change. “Paul phoned me after the withdrawals of Graeme and Rory and informed me that I was first reserve but that Shane Lowry was looking 80/20 that he was going to go. Then a couple of weeks later Paul’s shot me a text saying Shane wasn’t going and though I couldn’t announce it, it was confirmed I was in. It was unreal.”
So was there ever the possibility of the name Seamus Power being added to the lengthy list of withdrawals? “It wasn’t even a decision for me. I knew the zika stuff wasn’t an issue. I’d played golf in South America so I knew what to expect. You don’t turn down the chance to represent your country on a level like that. Golf is obviously a popular sport but it’s not like soccer where it gets into all the countries and audiences. 3.5 billion people watched the Olympics. I know they’re not all going to watch the golf but to be part of something so much bigger than golf itself was so cool. It’s not a golfing country by any means yet it sold out the tournament on the weekend. People that didn’t know golf were getting on board with it because it was part of the Olympics. There was no way I was going to miss it.”
As it transpired, the Olympics provided a platform for the reintroduction of Seamus Power to Ireland. Far from the pressures of Qualifying School, for a brief moment he found himself in contention for a precious medal and golfing immortality. “I got it going and after ten holes I was six under and I hadn’t really made much. I certainly had a chance. In hindsight, Kuchar got to 13 so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It was great just to get that excitement. Without doubt the most special time I’ve had on a golf course. To have people cheering for you not because of who you are but because of the country you represent was definitely the most amazing experience.”
Under a brighter spotlight than ever, Power avoided any scandal in the promiscuous athlete’s village, instead basking in its unique environment. “I can’t speak for everyone but myself and Padraig were very well behaved! I never thought about it before but walking around amongst athletes at the very top of their sport was an eye opener. It’s very easy get caught in your own bubble, and yet here I was next to athletes from every nation of the world. Stranger still, meeting Thomas Barr who’s from my own town. Just to get to meet these people and get to know the love of their sport was quite inspiring.”
Power returned to the fairways of America an Irish Olympian, putting to bed any doubt regarding his PGA Tour status for 2017 by securing his card with a tied 11th finish at the Portland Open. A year that began with a maiden victory on the Web.Com took the Waterford native to Rio and ended with him becoming a fully pledged PGA Tour member. The new season will present fresh challenges, not least of which will be convincing the masses that Seamus Power is in fact a Waterford native. “It’s funny, I can’t actually hear it myself but over in Rio one of the girls on the Irish equestrian team actually asked me how I qualify to play for Ireland! At that point you know it’s bad.” I for one will forgive Seamus the American accent that belies his upbringing. The more we hear from Power in 2017, the better.