When Dinah Washington sang the words ‘What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours’, she may as well have been performing a new theme tune for the game of golf, an ode to a sport where one round can change it all and as little as one shot can alter the course of a season.
In Seamus Power’s case, his form of 2021 had been trending in the right direction long before picking up his maiden win at the Barbasol Championship in July, but from waking up that Sunday morning without full status on the PGA Tour to going to bed that night a winner with a two-year exemption, a day really did make all the difference for Ireland’s latest victor on America’s golden Tour.
Even the most eternal optimists would’ve struggled to envisage such a turnaround for the West Waterford man off the back of a tumultuous 2020 campaign. Power had slipped to as low as 429th on the world rankings and stared into a pre-season of recuperation following elbow surgery in November. To put it mildly, the outlook for 2021 wasn’t good.
There’s more to this game than bashing balls, however, and although Power’s body was incapacitated as he recovered, his mind was not. He would use his time away from the practice range to book in a visit to Dr. Bob Rotella. The author of golf’s version of a self-help book, ‘Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect’, Rotella has been responsible for instilling confidence in a multitude of the game’s stars, including our own three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington. Power lay back on Rotella’s couch of secrets in December with nothing to lose.
“Right after I had my surgery, I went to see Bob and spent a couple of days with him and it was just massive,” Power recalls. “Anyone who has ever been around him knows he is a very calming influence. He’s been around golf a long time and he’s seen it all and heard it all.
“He probably told me things that I had heard before but coming from him they definitely carried a bit more weight.”
As Power points out, it’s not that Rotella was reinventing the wheel imparting words of wisdom, but like with so many players before, he had a way of getting the information across and most importantly, getting through to Power. A large part of their conversations revolved around Power learning to take on more responsibility in his swing with Rotella able to call on his chats with Power’s former Olympic teammate Harrington to hammer home the importance of being the hardest worker in the room.
“Obviously he worked a lot with Padraig and he used a lot of anecdotes around Padraig,” Power explains. “He would always laugh with Padraig and ask him why he was willing to share what you think is a secret with all these other people, and Padraig would say ‘everyone knows it, it’s just nobody is willing to do the work like me to put it into practice and that’s why I’m willing to share it with everyone’.
“It’s a lot of that stuff. It’s not that complicated in theory but to do it takes work and it takes practice and that’s one of the things Padraig has been able to do for a long time.”
Part of Power taking on more responsibility meant moving away from a technical mindset that often swamped his thoughts over a golf ball. In turn, it meant less of a reliance on coach Ken Guilford with Rotella of the firm belief that nobody knew Power’s swing better than Power himself, and it had become high time he came to understand this, too.
“In the Fall I finally figured out what I do that causes my ball to do the things I’m trying to get out of. Instead of listening to other people and their ideas, I kind of just figured it out,” Power explains.
“I have a GC Quad [launch monitor] and it just gives you unbelievable information. It means I can be more independent in terms of the swing for the first time in my life. I feel like I know what I’m doing at the moment. If I hit a bad shot, I can do something about it… even if it’s in a round and after a rough start, I can turn it around.
“I can figure it out in probably eight balls on the driving range whereas before I’d go on a Tuesday or Wednesday and it would just be a mess. I’m trying to figure out a thought from two years ago that worked – try that, pick a thought from three years ago and see if that works instead.
“It was a case of just seeing if you could get something to see you through a tournament whereas now I’ve been able to put together a sustained run of good ball-striking for the first time really in my career.
“I’ve been searching for a long time but it’s about knowing what I need to do. It’s so easy to get caught up listening to other guys but no one has seen me hit more golf shots than myself. Nobody knows what I’m feeling at the top of my backswing more than me.
“I’ve had to trust in my own feelings – make a couple of tweaks – add to that all the Rotella stuff around just trying to let all that good stuff come out in tournaments and it’s led to a good run.”
A good run would be quite the understatement. From relative obscurity following missed cuts at the Farmers and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as he reappeared this year, Power found his groove and headed to the Barbasol off the back of five top-20 finishes including three top-10’s from his previous five starts.
In that summer stretch, Power played some unbelievable golf but also learned plenty about himself in the heat of battle. Late mistakes at the Byron Nelson, the Palmetto Championship and the Travelers cost him top finishes as he vied to make inroads on the top-125 on the FedEx Cup standings but far from discouraged, Power continued to put himself in contention, determined to learn from his scars and not succumb to potentially energy-sapping wounds.
“There were definitely a lot of things to learn, like in Dallas [Byron Nelson], I was disappointed,” he admits. “I played really well on the front and it started raining and I didn’t adapt at all to the conditions. I played poorly on the back and didn’t kind of change my strategy, so I was disappointed with that.
“Then at the Palmetto Championship I made a bad mistake on 16. It was kind of sloppy. I wasn’t in the best spot and hit a shot before I should have and hit it to a spot that was really the worst place I could have hit it and made double.
“Then at Travelers I made a double again at the 16th. Both those holes were 16th holes, which was weird. Again, I was just a little bit indecisive and so I learned from those things and going out in Kentucky [Barbasol], it was an easy thing to say at the time, I just said to Simon [Keelan – caddie], ‘just make sure if I am in any way indecisive, pull me off a shot’. Which happened a couple of times. Those are the little lessons you learn.
“Even in the playoff, one of things I was sticking to was, ‘I know I don’t hit good shots when I am indecisive so let’s make sure I am decisive on the thing anyway’. You learn those lessons. Ideally you can still play well and maybe get a win earlier and still learn those lessons but sometimes that’s the way it works. I was a little slower learner but I was able to put it together in Kentucky just in time.”
Power would go off as the bookies’ favourite on the Thursday at the Barbasol and four days later, justify the tag, landing his first PGA Tour title at the 106th time of asking. Aware that he attracted pre-tournament investments from wily punters tracking his form, Power wasn’t put off by favouritism in the slightest. He knew how well he was playing. In fact, he’d vocalised it to his caddie mid-round.
“I said to Simon at one stage during the Barbasol after a good stretch, that at that current time, there weren’t many players in the world hitting it better than I was,” Power remembers.
“I went through one tournament where I only made one bogey. I was making very few mistakes. Finally getting everything where I wanted it. It’s the first time I’ve ever known what I’m actually doing in terms of my own swing and all that kind of stuff so it’s very exciting to be honest.”
Compared to a PGA Tour win in regular times, there was an absence of fanfare as Power prevailed given continuing restrictions on travel to the States. He found one tri-colour to drape himself in upon winning but Power and co would soon make up for any lost celebrations, excitement reaching fever pitch as the 34-year old made a bee-line for West Waterford and a raucous homecoming. And he would travel in style, too.
For those of you who have followed Power’s career, you might’ve notice the blue ‘Power’ logo on the right chest pocket of his shirt. Far from a self-titled sponsor, Power’s namesakes had approached Seamus in 2016 during his time on the Web.com Tour. Few could’ve predicted the partnership reaching such heights but the home remodelling company from Philadelphia were determined to celebrate their charge getting over the line according and no expense was spared in the planning.
“We flew straight into Cork from Philadelphia on a private jet,” Power laughs. “It’s a big company now and the boys have done very well. We were joking. We had a couple of buddies meet us at Cork airport, Cian McNamara, Roy Clarke and Liam Hickey and Simon was sending them a message.
“And they were like, ‘What do you mean flying into Cork?’ And Simon was like sending a message back saying, ‘It’s a G5 into Cork’ and he looked at me and said, ‘I never thought I’d send that message to anyone’. It’s some way to travel, in fairness!
“But they’ve been so good to me. Someone in the company said to them back in 2016, ‘I don’t know if you guys know this but there is a guy playing professional golf, his last name is Power and you should sponsor him’.
“They were like, ‘We don’t know what that entails’. So they knew my manager and made a deal.. So it’s a great partnership there. They don’t get a lot of commercial value for it but the entertainment and the following in the company is incredible.
“They are some group. A whole bunch of them flew over to Ireland for the celebrations and all that good stuff. They loved being a part of it. It’s been five years with them now and hopefully we’re only getting started.”
Indeed, Power’s homecoming had it all, even a reported first tee-shot at Galway Bay that struggled past the forward tees.
“No, it wasn’t my best,” he laughs. “It was a rental set – probably had about 10 bottles of Bulmers inside me, too!”
But whatever about that tee-shot, the celebrations marked an occasion shared with those who mattered most, memories made to last a lifetime and an emotional reunion with his dad, Ned after an extended absence due to Covid.
“Getting home was unbelievable,” he admits. “It was the longest I had ever gone without home in my life, so it was always going to be special and to see my dad as well, to be honest, it was a bit mental but it was great to see him.
“I jumped off the bus at the Park Hotel and he was just delighted. Even he was having such a busy time taking phone calls and things. It was fantastic to see everyone.”
Ned’s phone might’ve been busy but it was nothing compared to Power’s, lighting up like something out of the Wall Street stock exchange with messages of congratulations from near and far.
“The text messages number was something like 2000,” Power reveals. “I turned it on when I was on the driving range, just to keep an eye on what was going on out on the course and the text message thing was going up like a clock ticking, bum bum bum…
“I just put it on airplane mode and just had Simon follow it. After when I was doing the media and all that it was 2100 and something text messages and WhatsApp and phone calls. It’s unbelievable. I didn’t realise I knew that many people!”
Amongst the 2,000 plus messages he received post-round, a couple stood out.
“I grew up watching Pádraig [Harrington] and Paul [McGinley] playing and they were the guys I watched and followed and wanted to be like,” he says.
“So I had a message from both of those guys which was always pretty special. Even to this day when I see ‘Pádraig Harrington’ pop up on my phone, it takes me back a little. It is a cool moment.
“I was delighted and those guys are great. They have always been so helpful with questions and all that stuff and forthcoming with advice so it was nice to see stuff like that – it’s very cool.”
Power’s rags to riches story had captured the imaginations of the Irish people. OK, maybe ‘rags’ is a bit much when it comes chasing a dream as a pro golfer, but in relative terms, from satellite tour golf to the playoff riches he’s enjoying now, the Tooraneena man has come an awfully long way.
When Power graduated from East Tennessee State University, he did so with a First-class honours Degree in Accounting, long refusing to pin all his hopes on golf. It was his plan B, and although plan A is working out just fine now, when Power was plying his trade amongst the money games of the E Golf Tour, that insurance policy of a degree in his back pocket seemed like a pretty wise move.
Far from the affluent world of the PGA Tour where it seems harder to spend money than earn it, Power, along with 200 or so others would stump up $1200 in cash each week and if you played well, you’d take some of it home. If you didn’t, break out the beans on toast.“
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,” Power says.
Thankfully he also enjoyed some success in 2012 that alleviated some financial strain but after examining his game as a collective, Power felt 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. Naturally there was a bedding-in period but 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.
“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.”
And that’s how close the margins are in golf. So many players forever stuck at a crossroads. The drug of knowing one good week could change it all a tough one to resist. In Power’s case, despite tingles of self-doubt, he knew he had all the attributes required to plough on and carve out a career where so few could. From E Golf Tour to Web.com to The PGA Tour where he’s now a recognised winner, Power has job stability and financial security for many moons to come.
“It definitely helps and makes decisions a little easier,” Power says of the money. “The PGA Tour rewards are very good anyway. So even without the win, you are plodding along and it’s very good money.
“The biggest thing that changes for me is just that exemption; knowing I can make some decent plans for the next couple of years which I have not been able to do for a long time.
“That’s the biggest change in plans. Yes, the money is brilliant and stuff and it takes a lot of pressure off. I will save for my retirement and make sure I am in a good spot but things won’t change much. It’s more that exemption. The stability on that end is what changes things for me.”
And with that stability, comes opportunity for Power. No longer on the cusp of PGA Tour survival and the uncertainty that comes with it, he can plan a full schedule for the first time in his career with a Major debut to look forward to at next year’s US PGA Championship. Yet far from resting on his laurels, Power believes he’s only landed on a stepping stone to much greater things to come.
“It still only gets me closer to the top tier, but it’s a nice stepping stone. I always believed deep down that’s where I wanted to play, and that’s where I’m going to play,” he says of his Major ambitions.
“A lot more work to be done but hopefully I’m going to get there. That’s where you want to be, and that’s why you’ve got to get another win, and get in contention again, climb the world rankings, the FedEx Cup rankings and make all those things possible.”
Amongst those Tour dates for 2022 will be a trip home for the Irish Open, no longer burdened by thoughts of his PGA Tour playing privileges when making the trip across the Atlantic.
Power welcomed news of a prize increase to $6million for next year’s renewal though he stopped short of embracing a full PGA Tour co-sanctioning of the event, hesitant to endorse such a product knowing how it might effect Irish pros on the fringes of gaining an invite to such a lucrative event.
“That’s my only concern,” Power says. “Even with the Scottish Open, half the field is now going to be PGA Tour players. It’s already tough enough on the guys coming out of Q-School in Europe. And now you are probably knocked out of an extra couple of tournaments.
“So that aspect of it is tough and I am sure the European Tour will sell it whatever way they can. It is tough on those guys but if you can improve the Irish Open and make the purse bigger and make the field better, make it one of those events guys want to go play and win, it would be fantastic for Irish golf. When I was growing up, the Irish Open was a huge European Tour event and that’s what you want.”
For now though, Power was focussed on a strong finish to 2021, a life-changing year in so many ways; the magnitude of which he was still trying to digest when asked what gave him the most satisfaction about his achievements.
“To be honest, it has just been that internal stuff that gives the most satisfaction,” he concludes.
“I went to practice a couple of days this week and there are a lot of guys who practice in Vegas [where Power will base himself for the foreseeable future] but Bob May came up to me the other day and we were just talking and stuff. And he said there were a couple of things I didn’t even realise.
“You’re a lifetime member of the TPC courses just for winning on the PGA Tour. So him mentioning that to me gave me that internal satisfaction – ‘Geez, I am a winner on the PGA Tour’ and knowing I have two more years at least to play on there, that’s very satisfying.
“A lot of work goes into it, and a lot of failures along the way and a lot of downs and stuff. But to finally to be able to say that to yourself, instead of saying, I know I can win on the PGA Tour, almost telling yourself that, versus I actually have done it, it’s a very, very cool feeling.
“Then to come home and see my Dad and see the pride in his face, they are probably the two things that stick out the most.”