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From West Waterford to playing at Augusta - 'It couldn't happen to a nicer fella, he's worked so hard'

Seamus Power’s meteoric rise in the last year sees him play in the Masters this week.

Seamus Power-2

ON SUNDAY, THEIR crew from West Waterford flew from Dublin to Atlanta, touching down mid afternoon local time.

It had already been a weekend of sporting success, a transatlantic flight boarded after taking in the Waterford’ hurlers collection of national silverware in Thurles on Saturday night, a perfect springboard for the championship ahead.

From Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, it was a two-hour drive east through Georgia to their destination; Augusta National Golf Club will command their attention for the coming days. It is a week that bristles with potential, an item ticked off the sporting bucket list, but also an event enhanced by the skin they have in the game.

For David Curran, James Cooney and David Morrissey, it is the chance to see their lifelong friend tee off at his first Major, that feat even more significant when it occurs at the Masters.

Seamus Power’s rise has been rapid and unexpected to most. It is just 12 months since he was ranked 463rd in the world after finishing in a tie for 54th after the Corales Puntacana event in the Dominican Republic.

This week he’ll drive up Magnolia Lane, currently standing as the 41st best golfer on the globe. He has had nine top-10 finishes and 15 inside the top 20 since then, as well as becoming a PGA Tour winner for the first time last July at the Barbasol Championship in Kentucky.

To his close friends they had little doubt in Power’s capacity to rub shoulders with the golfing elite, but over 15 years since the Touraneena native swapped local life for university in Tennessee, they have witnessed a golfing journey of fluctuating fortunes that is now at the point where he is part of the select group that are aiming to slip into the green jacket next Sunday evening.

How has he enjoyed such a meteoric trajectory in form?

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***

The prospect of a Masters appearance started to take hold after a scorching run of form in Hawaii in January.

But it was only 11 days ago that Power’s place was sealed at the WGC Match Play, wins over Patrick Cantlay and Sungjae Im propelling him out of his group, his progress only halted in the quarter-final by world number one Scottie Scheffler.

David Morrissey: “It’s been a wild couple of months: January, when the possibility became live, then it took a bit of a dip and came back again, so it was a bit of a rollercoaster.”

David Curran: “When he won in Kentucky last year, that got him on the fringes of the top 100. He just continued that form on really, got to the play-offs, finished 72nd in the rankings, then just started the next season ridiculously well. Couple of top fives and that bumped him up. He got into top 50 after the second event in January. It’s been steady then, a few missed cuts along the way, which got us sweating a bit.”

Morrissey: “You contributed to one of those missed cuts in fairness, Dave!”

Curran: “Yeah, I was over in Arizona when he missed that and he missed the next two after that. But he sealed it very well the last couple of weeks at the Players and the Matchplay.”

Morrissey: “So it’s the three of us flying over together and my brother Tom as well.”

Cooney: “We only booked the flights for Sunday when it was 100%, after the matchplay.

Morrissey: “And when we knew the Waterford-Cork game was on Saturday, we could go after that.”

Cooney: “When guys get popular and start doing well, everybody wants a piece of them. But from when he went to America, when he was down in the doldrums, things weren’t going, we would have always been in touch with him.

“Trying to keep the spirits high, slagging him for a bit of fun, just to keep him going. That’s why we’re so happy at the moment, to have seen where he’s come from to now.

“Some people have just tuned in the last 12 months, they mightn’t realise the full story and how impressive it is.”

golf-the-masters-augusta-national-golf-club-augusta-georgia-u-s-november-15-2020-general-view-of-the-flag-on-the-14th-green-during-the-final-round-reutersbrian-snyder Source: Alamy Stock Photo

***

The Seamus Power golfing origin story began at the West Waterford Golf Club, a few miles just outside Dungarvan. Power is from Touraneena, a 20-minute drive north of the parkland course opposite the Brickey Rangers GAA club.

Morrissey, Curran and Cooney are all from the Dungarvan area; the club is where they forged friendships with Power.

Morrissey: “He was a bit younger than us, myself and James, then Curran would be closer to Seamus’s age. We’ve all played U18s for West Waterford in different tournaments. When Seamus was 14 or 15, his goal at that time would have been to play those underage tournaments, the same as us. But by 16, he just started to turn into a different golfer physically. He just decided that’s what he wanted to do and since that age, all his focus has been totally on that.”

Curran: “His whole career and golf life has been like a gradual progression. Just hard work really. I played a good bit with him and would have spent a lot of time with him around 16, 17, 18. We had a bit of success as a club at juvenile. After him, Gary Hurley played Walker Cup. There’s a lot of credit to Gary for that and to Seamus for setting the example.

“Seamus was 17 in 2005, he finished fifth in the Irish Amateur Open that Richie Ramsay won (Power was one shot ahead of Rory McIlroy). That got him into the Irish Open, his first pro event and experience at that level. Then he would have won the three Irish Youths, the U21 in 2005, finished second in 2006 and then won it again in 2007.

“The context, if you’re comparing to Rory McIlroy, then McIlroy won the U21s in 2004 as a 15-year-old and then I don’t think he ever played it again. So Seamus was winning the Youths in 2008 as a 21-year-old; that would have been his second last year in college in America.”

pebble-beach-usa-06th-feb-2022-seamus-power-drives-on-the-famous-18th-tee-during-the-final-round-of-the-att-pro-am-pga-tour-golf-event-at-pebble-beach-links-monterey-peninsula-california-usa-c Seamus Power at this year's Pro-Am event at Pebble Beach. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

***

In the summer of 2006, Power’s life swerved in a different direction. A 19-year-old after sitting his Leaving Cert at St Augustine’s in Dungarvan, he boarded a plane, bound for East Tennessee State University. Home for the next few years was in Johnson City, a few hours drive north-west of Charlotte in North Carolina. He studied accounting and honed his golf game.

Morrissey: “It was actually Rory McIlroy’s scholarship place and Rory decided not to take it up. Seamus was basically next in line. That was a break initially. Now, I’m sure he might have got one somewhere else. It’s just gas the fact that it was Rory, who was completely different talent-wise, but Seamus was the ultimate grinder. The harder it is, nearly the better he’ll get.”

Curran: “He was all set to go to UCC in 2006. I remember that summer he’d organised accommodation and everything. He was going to go to Cork and then ended up in America.”

Cooney: “Pretty dodgy accents in both places I suppose, Cork and East Tennessee!”

Curran: “He went to the European Tour championships, I think Lowry and McIlroy were on the same team, and he was scouted at that. One thing lead to another and he didn’t end up in Cork for four years.”

Cooney: “It was a big move. He wasn’t going to Boston or New York where it’s home from home. He was going to East Tennessee, there was no Irish, it was predominantly American. He was on his own. The joke still goes about his accent, the American twang. I remember him saying when he went to college first, that people couldn’t understand him, the locals.”

Morrissey: “Now we can’t understand him!”

Cooney: “It’s gone full circle! People just weren’t used to Irish there, so he had to adapt. You hear the story, ‘Oh my uncle’s in America with 30 years and he still has an Irish accent.’

“But he’s just living in an Irish bubble in New York or Boston and mixing with Irish people, whereas Seamus’s whole life changed. He was in a different culture. It was a massive move and you’re trying to make a career out of it as well. You don’t know what way it’s going to go. It was very difficult and it’s a huge achievement by him.”

golf-the-masters-augusta-national-golf-club-augusta-georgia-u-s-april-6-2021-general-view-during-a-practice-round-reutersbrian-snyder Augusta National Golf Club. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

***

In 2010, Power graduated from university. What to do then? The career pathway was unclear and not easily mapped out.

Power got to work and started grafting, securing a place on the eGolf Professional Tour, a third-tier system based in Charlotte, with tournaments scattered around North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.

A world away from the bright lights of Augusta.

Curran: “His success at amateur level in the championships around Ireland probably wasn’t brilliant. A lot of it is played on links and it didn’t help him. All the youths he won was on parkland courses and the same with all the college golf he played, so it’s probably not that much of a surprise that he ended up staying in America then. He decided to base himself in Charlotte and grind away there.”

Morrissey: “The eGolf Tour was about as unglamorous as you can possibly get. It’s a grind. The whole year is almost focused on Q-School… how many Q-Schools did he go to again, Curran?

Curran: ”I think it was four, two proper ones and two for the Korn Ferry Tour. The eGolf Tour, that’s a good point, you’re playing for your own money basically. I don’t know how much they pay for these tournaments.

Cooney: ”Was it $1250?”

Curran: ”Something like that. His first year, he only had 25 grand in earnings and spent more than that in fees.”

Cooney: ”It was just a matter of staying involved in professional golf really as opposed to making a career, but it was a costly gig. His expenditure definitely outweighed his income.”

Curran: ”And there wouldn’t have been any sponsors.”

Morrissey: ”Even though it was the third tour, there was some really good players on it. Jason Kokrak [current world number 28] got out of it one year. Seamus ploughed his own furrow, it was very difficult at times.

“The big one really was the Q-School in 2014 when he got the Korn Ferry card, that was the key. You could see his whole game and demeanour change.”

Curran: ”In 2014, he finished second on the (eGolf) money list and fifth at Q-School. There was a few near misses along the way at the old Q-School, which would have got him straight onto the PGA Tour. So he spent a couple of years on the Korn Ferry Tour, won in 2016, got his card, got onto the Olympic team in Rio, I suppose by default a bit with the lads pulling out. I’m sure he’ll say it was a great experience being alongside (Pádraig) Harrington and learning that.”

padraig-harrington-driving-on-the-4th-hole Padraig Harrington in action in Rio De Janeiro in 2016. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

***

In August 2016, Power’s entry to the big time was secured in the form of that priceless PGA Tour card for the following season. J.J. Spaun, last Sunday’s Valero Texas Open winner, Mackenzie Hughes and Max Homa were some of his contemporaries at that time.

In May that year he had won the United Leasing & Finance Championship in Newburgh, Indiana. It was a milestone, yet there had been moments of uncertainty and struggle preceding it, and more would follow as his form line zig-zagged through the years.

His first four seasons on the PGA Tour yielded six top-ten results; he has had nine in the last two seasons alone.

Persistence was a necessary commodity.

Cooney: ”He doesn’t do excuses. If Seamus misses a cut or plays poorly, he just says he didn’t play very well and gets back practicing. Anyone that’s followed him will agree, he’ll never come out and say conditions were poor or he was injured or my clubs didn’t turn up.  A lot of people were wondering why he wasn’t making it. He gets on with things, he doesn’t look for sympathy.

“He’s the textbook grafter. Even when he went a slump, there was always a small bit of progress in some aspect. He never thought about packing it in. He’s often said that if he ever thought he wasn’t good enough, he would have stopped. So, the self-belief was huge.”

Curran: ”He was going out on tour in 2011 and 2011 in Ireland wasn’t a great place to be. Money wouldn’t have been exactly flying around from anywhere.

“I think the interesting context is the route he’s taken. His college career was good, he probably had a good first year and was pretty solid for four years, but he wasn’t a hot prospect coming out. Guys get invites to tournaments coming out of college. He didn’t get any of those.

“Maybe a lot of people thought he would come back to Europe, come back home, try to play the Challenge Tour, but he’s kind of always believed that he’d get onto the PGA Tour.

“He’s reaping the benefits now, big time.”

Cooney: ”There’s bound to be doubts. He said there recently, when he was back on the e-Tour, he was down to his last couple of thousand dollars. He skipped two tournaments because he didn’t like the courses, waited for a tournament that he liked and ended up winning $12,000. He says that’s the most important cheque he’s ever got in his career.

“He got over $600,000 when he won the Barbasol, he got $387,000 last week (at the WGC Matchplay), but none of them would have happened only for the $12,000.

“That’s where he was at. Money was hard to come by. When you’re playing for your last few dollars, the pressure must be huge.”

***

On his 106th start on the PGA Tour, Power became a winner last July at the Barbasol Championship.

It was after a finale dripping with tension, himself and American JT Poston matching each for five holes of the sudden-death playoff, before Poston found water off the tee on the 18th, paving the way for Power to close it out.

Victory brought an array of riches, his tour card secured until the end of 2023, and a PGA Championship spot in May at Oak Hill in Rochester.

But the new-found fame hasn’t altered his character.

Morrissey: ”It was an unbelievable week. He came into Dungarvan first on the Wednesday. His sponsor group, Power HRG, were over with him, there was maybe a dozen of them. They integrated with us for the week and had a magic few days. It was their first time, a lot of them, in Ireland.

“We went up to Galway on Thursday where James is living and played a round of golf there. James Cooney’s Garda Captain’s Prize happened to be on the same day, Seamus presented prizes to the lads, it was some craic.

Cooney: ”Four days after winning on the PGA Tour, I had him presenting in Galway Bay Golf Club.”

Morrissey: ”We’ve been up there a few times. The general manager, he was greenkeeper in Rio for the Olympics, that’s where Seamus met him first: Damien Coleman, very nice lad. With James living up there, it’s a great outing for us when Seamus is home. Galway is a great spot, we get well looked after.

“That week he was home, we came back Friday, we had a little gathering in West Waterford for him. A lovely evening, a few speeches up on the balcony. All the Americans loved it, and then they went to Thurles for the Waterford-Galway hurling game the Saturday. Seamus came back again a month later for a week, which was really more laidback. We were hanging around Dungarvan, just playing a bit of golf, he got to meet his dad and brothers a lot more. The second week was more laidback, nearly better in different ways… but I wouldn’t give the first week back.”

Curran: ”I think it says a lot about Seamus how the sponsors have taken really well to him. They love spending time with him and doing different events. That definitely reflects well on him.”

Cooney: ”Getting back to him never forgetting his roots, that’s 100% true. If you could say he has a downfall, I would say that he’s maybe too nice to everybody. Seamus just goes above and beyond,.

“At times, I’m kind of going, ‘You’ve got to think of yourself here buddy and put yourself first.’

“He just doesn’t do that, always trying to look after people. Even this week, he’s got family going over, we’re going over, he’s on the phone sorting things out for us.

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“He’s not happy unless he knows we’re happy. I guess your lifelong friends are your lifelong friends. He just can’t do enough for people, just a genuinely good fella.”

golf-mar-26-pga-world-golf-championships-dell-technologies-match-play Seamus Power in action at the WGC Matchplay. Source: David Buono

***

There will be other Power supporters in Augusta this week. His two brothers, Jack and Willie, and their wives are flying in, as are some friends from Charlotte. From San Francisco, Martin and Mary Connolly, who own Johnny Foleys Irish Bar, and Kevin Bates. His cousin Nick Thompson has landed in from Las Vegas and from Washington DC, another friend Brian Bannon.

Power’s father Ned will be glued to the coverage at home in Touraneena, the 74-year-old waiting for a more straightforward trip to cheer on his son at June’s Irish Open at Mount Juliet in Kilkenny.

Seamus’s mother Philomena passed away when he was just 8 years old. Ned owned a farm but also took on a second job doing night shifts at Boston Scientific, a sacrifice that helped provide financial support as Seamus’s junior golf career started to take flight.

“I wanted my sons to follow their dreams,” Ned told the PGA Tour website, after Seamus had secured his tour card in 2016.

***

Cooney: ”The first tournament I went to was in 2018, the Farmers in San Diego at Torrey Pines. When you get there, you realise how huge the PGA Tour is. Even the fact that every week every player gets a courtesy car. So that’s 160 cars off the rack, just to see them all lined up. 

“Seamus fitted right in. Myself and Tom, David’s brother, were there. We were chatting away with him in the players’ lounge and Phil Mickelson sits down beside you for breakfast, says hello. Seamus is chatting away to Pádraig Harrington.

“You’re looking at it, thinking, ‘This is the big stuff.’

“Seamus is very easy going and relaxed. He was the exact same, didn’t matter who’s company he was in, he was himself. You can tell everyone loves him and they have done from day one.

“Unfortunately he missed the cut at Torrey Pines and we only got to see him play two rounds.

“I’m yet to see him play four rounds actually, hopefully I’ll get to see that at Augusta.”

Morrissey: ”He’s just gone 35 and there’s no question, but his best years are all ahead of him. He’s still only climbing this ladder.

“We knew all along this was going to happen. I probably think it’s after taking a bit longer than I thought it would. If he gets something into his head, he’ll just keep doing it until he actually achieves it.

“Now obviously there’ll be plenty of lean days as well because golf will bite you when you least expect it. But he’s got a lot of goals left to achieve and he’s very single-minded when it comes to achieving those.”

Cooney: ”I was talking to one of the Waterford GAA county board executives last week and he said they were at a match the weekend before last and the main interest at the game was following the WGC Matchplay.

“Everyone was asking, ‘How’s Power getting on?’

“It was incredible. It’s huge for West Waterford. He’s now one of Ireland’s most successful golfers, he’s by far Munster’s most successful golfer.

“There’s a local guy there and everyone is after buying into it.”

golf-oct-09-pga-shriners-childrens-open Seamus Power in action in the Shriners Childrens Open in Las Vegas last year. Source: Matthew Bolt

***

And so after years of following him from afar, interspersed with sporadic chances to watch him play in person, they will get to see him in an event of such prestige and alongside such gilded company, that it’s hard to wrap their heads around the prospect:

Thursday, the 2022 Masters, and Seamus Power competing at Augusta.

Cooney: ”We’ll be pinching ourselves when we get there.”

Morrissey: ”I’d say we’ll be trying to come around a little bit.”

Cooney: I suppose all the talk has been Seamus, but it’d be unfair not to mention Simon Keelan, his caddy. Seamus had a great caddy in John Rathouz and they got on really well. Seamus went through a bad patch and as golfers do, when you’re going through a bad patch, you change something. A lot of the times, it is the caddy.

“Since Simon has come on board, they’ve so much in common. Even the downtime when they’re off, they’re together and get on really well. I suppose them both being from only 50 miles from each other at home helps.

Morrissey: ”Different counties though, Cooney, don’t forget that now.”

Cooney: ”Oh yeah, yeah, don’t worry. It’s unusual for us to be complementing a Cork man, but we just have to on this occasion!

“He’s a brilliant golfer himself, he obviously spots things and tweaks that need to be made. It’s not a coincidence that Seamus is doing well since Simon came on board. It’s one man hitting the shot for a two-man team.”

Morrissey: ”I haven’t been over to America yet to see him play. Lahinch (in 2019) was fantastic for the Irish Open. On the second day, he shot 66. That was some buzz now.

“In terms of this week, it was almost relief that he got in, for himself. We can’t wait to go, but we’d always be wanting him to do well for himself. We get fringe benefits which is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but we were really happy for him. 

“What will it be like? I’d say it’ll just be a real proud moment to see him there.”

seamus-power Seamus Power in action in Lahinch in 2019. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Cooney: ”It’s such a learning curve. Even recently when he played the three or four weeks in a row, he was saying that it’s too much. He was saying next year, he’ll pick and choose a bit wiser. 

“And if you were to pick any guy on tour that is learning every year, it’s him. He won’t make the same mistakes again, he’s just too shrewd, he’s too clever for that.”

Morrissey: ”Yeah, he’s very clever. Some of the things he picks up on is unbelievable. He could play a course one time and he’d have the whole picture of it in his mind forever. I don’t know how he does it. Ah, it’ll just be fantastic. Hopefully he’ll just do himself justice. I’m sure he will.”

Curran: ”It’s the realisation of potential and a lot of hard work. Pride is probably a good word for it. It couldn’t happen to a nicer fella, he’s worked so hard.”

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