Sport

Hindsight, Hurling & Heritage: A Séamus Power Special

On a standard Friday night, Séamus Power is probably grinding it out on the Californian coast at a PGA Tour golf event - but this week, the setting for the Touraneena man was different, yet familiar.

Replacing a drive down the 16th at Torrey Pines or Pebble Beach, was a drive down the ‘bog road’ toward Cappoquin, before turning off into the Coolcormack Valley to a place that will always be home - West Waterford Golf Club.

Earlier in the day, along with renowned local horse trainer Henry De Bromhead, Power was the guest of honour for the President’s Lunch of Waterford Chamber, held at the Strand Inn in Dunmore East.

 

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Later that evening, we caught up with the Touraneena native in the foothills of Coolcormack, to talk the dust settling on a maiden PGA Tour crown, plans for the future, what Americans really think of hurling - and of course, the future of West Waterford Golf Club itself.

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The last time that the 34-year-old’s feet touched Irish soil, there was no time to wind down. There was a multitude of support from locals, nationals and a splash of media fanfare on the side. Now, the Barbasol Championship victor has allowed the dust to settle on that achievement, and can finally enjoy being back where the journey first began.

“The last time I was home was kind of hectic. This time has been nice. I’ve been spending time with my friends and family and having some down time. It’s been very nice, so far.”

 

Power will return to action on the 30th of September at the Sanderson’s Farms Championship in Mississippi. He plans to hit the course 5 or 6 times before the festive period comes upon us. He’s not worried about any rust when the time comes, and is looking forward to getting back in the thick of the action.

“I think I’ll probably play 6 tournaments. I’m excited to get back. I’ll be back into practice next week and I’ve a week to get ready for my first tournament. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m starting in a much better spot than I was last year. Hopefully, I can get going a little earlier and see what I can do.”

Having won a maiden tour championship, the pressure is in one sense ‘off’ on Séamus with his tour card now secured for the time being. The peace of mind that that brings is in no doubt welcome, but with that can now come newfound expectations and pressures, as the bar for what the Touraneena man can achieve has somewhat been raised. Having always known he was going to win eventually, the level of expectation now upon his shoulders will never phase the world number 112.

“I always knew I was going to win. You want to get back in them spots again. Obviously, the initial win is a huge goal. There are goals that I haven’t reached yet that are still going to really drive me on in practice. I’m not worried, I’m just looking forward to getting going and hoping to get myself in some of those good positions again.”

When I last spoke to Power in July 2020, the prerogative for him was to just stay alive on tour, keep making cuts and secure his card for the following season. Since then, his turn of form has been phenomenal - and somewhat career-changing.

“That’s the thing - the last couple of years has just literally been, try and keep your job. It’s nice to start a season knowing you have two full years at least to give it a go. It’s different but it’s one of those things, if you’re resetting your goals, you’re always trying to drive on - but it’s nice not to have that at least immediate worry in the mind.”

While making cuts are still the be all and end all, Power is under somewhat less of an obligation to do so with the newfound comforts he’s been afforded. Asked if this will give him a license to play a more aggressive brand of golf where required, the former Olympian believes time will tell.

“Time will tell, I guess. I haven’t had that luxury really. I had it for a couple of months when I had my card locked up for the PGA Tour back in 2016. Time will tell. I feel like it should give me the license, but we’ll see. It’s one of those things where sometimes you’ll start off like that, but you want to do the things you’re meant to do. You still want to play well and make cuts even though you don’t necessarily ‘have to’. It’s going to be a different experience, it’s one I’m looking forward to, it’s definitely a good problem to have. We’ll see what I can do with it.”

There was agony for Séamus at the Northern Trust Open heading into the penultimate stages of the Fed-Ex Cup. The top 70 in the rankings would qualify for the next tournament, but it was an agonising 72nd for Power. It could have been all the more agonising though, had he holed a putt at the 18th, he would have missed out by half a point. The West Waterford man says fine margins are merely part and parcel of high-stakes golf.

“I thought that putt would have got me in. I think it was two shots but look, that’s golf. Every tournament, someone misses a putt to make a cut for this or for that. That’s just golf. The margins are small. We all know that going in, but for me - in April, if you told me I was going to finish 72nd in the FedExCup, I would have given you everything I had to take it. It’s one of those things that I can’t really have too many bad thoughts about it. You’d obviously like to get into the next one but it wasn’t meant to be this year. That means it’s something to aim for next time around.”

Something to Power’s credit is the fact that even when things were not going quite as well as he would have liked, he always withheld an unparalleled amount of belief in himself and his own ability. The one person that was not one bit surprised when the PGA Tour win finally landed, was Power himself. Goals going forward will include the likes of major championship appearances and further tour crowns, and his self-belief will be integral in nurturing future achievements.

“If I didn’t think I could win, there wouldn’t be any point in me playing. That’s always been my belief. I knew I just had to figure some things outs and get back into those spots. It just makes you want to get back there again - the feeling of all the practice and the work paying off in that moment is what you do it for. The goal is to get back in those positions again and seeing if we can make it count.”

Sitting on a high stool in the restaurant of his local golf club, peering out onto the course from above, the sheer breadth of the journey becomes all the more apparent. From joining the club as a young man to rubbing shoulders with giants of the game, sometimes for Power - it is a case of having to pinch yourself.

“You do have to. I know I’m very lucky doing what I’m doing. It takes a lot of work to get there but when you do, it’s just an incredible feeling. There’s not many people in the world that can play on the PGA Tour, it’s fantastic, it’s something I enjoy every day - hopefully, I can extend it past the next couple of years.”

Having a few weeks off and the beauty of hindsight can certainly be beneficial when it comes to recognising the true magnitude of one’s achievements. The rapturous reaction on a local and national scale to Power’s maiden success barely afforded him a minute’s reflection back in July. He says sometimes, for one moment until you do get back home, you can underestimate just how much support is always there for you.

“When you’re playing, you never really think about the magnitude, you’re just trying to reach personal goals. Then when you step back, it’s funny when you come home - you forget the amount of people that do follow you. I’ve always been so lucky with friends and family, through West Waterford, through Touraneena and places that supported me for years, in good times and bad. You do forget the amount of people that like follow it and take massive pride in it. It’s a very nice feeling. It’s something that especially with the last year and a half, not being able to get home - not that you’d forget - but you kind of underestimate how much it means to you. That aspect has been fantastic. Even being home from time to time, it’s just a cool experience to share with people that are close to you and people from the area.”

Instrumental to Séamus’ newfound resurgence has been the role of internationally renowned sports psychologist, Bob Rutella. Rutella has worked with the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Pádraig Harrington in the past. Séamus says he has been a massive influence in inspiring positive thought and allowing the aforementioned sense of self-belief to flourish in the heat of battle.

“He’s been massive. I went to see him last November / December. I wasn’t in a great spot. Having just had surgery, I wasn’t playing particularly well. He’s got me in the right frame of mind. Anyone who plays golf, to be honest with anything, if you’re in the right frame of mind, you’ve got a better chance of success. He was able to point me in the right direction and help me a lot. My performance went up, he gave me things I needed to focus on, and got me in a frame of mind where I could let my best golf come out."

"I was able to do that and I was delighted and talking to him after the win, he was over the moon. I’ll see him again soon to make sure things stay the same. Expectations and goals have no doubt changed somewhat. He helped me under pressure.”

The standout story of the golfing week, both nationally and internationally, has been the stunning performance of rookie Cavan native Leona Maguire. She took 4.5 of a possible 5 points on offer at her first Solheim Cup as Europe comprehensively defeated the USA. Power is a friend of Maguires, with the pair having met at the Rio Olympics in 2016. He was blown away with her performance.

“A debut like that is tough to top. I met Leona in Rio in 2016. I’d followed her career before that, her performance was incredible. 4 and a half out of 5, she led that team really. I know she wasn’t the captain or anything but you could see everyone gather around her and it was incredible. It’s been really good all year.”

Asked if we could see similar heroics from Séamus Power in a rookie Ryder Cup appearance in time, the Touraneena man laughed but does hope something similar can come to fruition.

“Jesus, yeah that would be hard to top. I do hope to play in the Ryder Cup in two year’s time. That’s a massive goal. Leona’s debut will definitely be hard to beat, but I’ll do my best if I get a shot!”.

When home celebrating earlier in the summer, Power’s sponsorship team from the US accompanied him across the country, with a trip to Thurles for an All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Qualifier with Galway a part of the agenda. His American acquaintances absolutely loved our national game.

 

“They absolutely loved it! I mean, sure you couldn’t not. It was an absolutely beautiful day. It was the best first half of hurling that I’ve seen for a long time. Everything was just great. They loved it. The next couple of weeks, they were arranging whatever they could. They were at an Irish bar in Philadelphia making sure that they could catch the next couple of games. It was great. It’s a good experience. It’s amazing, a sport like hurling, not everyone knows about it. Anyone that does see it is blown away that they haven’t heard about it. I was delighted to be able to share that with them. They really enjoyed it. Waterford got a win on the day too, so it was great.”

While we sat in West Waterford Golf Club, the thought that only some weeks prior, the club could have been destined for doom was hard to ignore. Séamus, like so many in the community and beyond, is thrilled to see that the future of the club has now been secured.

“I’m absolutely over the moon. All the details, I’m still hearing little bits here and there. It’s fantastic news. The thought of it not being a golf course anymore would have been awful. I have so many memories over the last 20 years here. So do a lot of my friends and stuff like that. Having a future secured is fantastic news and I wish the best of luck to everybody involved in the future. It was a huge relief to hear it.”

For the remainder of 2021, here’s what we can hope to see from Waterford’s very own PGA Tour champion.

“I get busy enough. I think I’ll play maybe six or seven tournaments in a two month span, starting in the end of this month and then I have pretty busy run all the way through to around November 15th. I’m really looking forward to it, as I said, I’m in a different spot. I know where I’m playing, what I’m trying to play, let’s see if I can keep advantage of it.”

There’s also a great chance that we will get to see Séamus playing on Irish soil again in 2022 at the Irish Open.

“That’s the plan. I need to go about it in the next couple of weeks. I’ll have to figure out who to talk to about securing an invitation.  Hopefully, I can get back because I’d love to play it again. I had a great time in 2019. Hopefully in 2022, there’s going to be full crowds and I’m not even sure a venue has been decided yet - but hopefully, it comes together. I’d absolutely love to be there.”

As he takes to the skies again in the coming days to continue his quest for glory, one can only admire the positivity, resilience and modest humble nature of Séamus Power - a man appreciative of his roots, proud of his county and a true family man at heart.

Séamus Power is one of us, he’s just way way better at golf.

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