David Kearney never thought he’d be good enough to be a professional golfer when he was growing up in Claremorris in the Co Mayo.
Fast forward 30 years and he’s given up hope of lifting the Claret Jug, but as one of the most respected PGA professionals in Europe, he still gets as much of a thrill out of his day to day job as professional at Grange as he does as the High Performance Manager for the Irish Ladies Golf Union.
One minute he’s talking to world No 1 Leona Maguire or world No 5 Olivia Mehaffey, the next he’s taking the Grange Pierse Purcell team through their paces.
For Kearney, the thrill and the challenge is the same. Everyone has a story to tell and it’s his job to help you tell your own golfing story.
Kearney has the same vocation as Grange’s former long-serving professional Wattie Sullivan, who was often to be found giving lessons to the right of the 18th fairway if he wasn’t entertaining the likes of Paul McGinley, Brian Shaw or the Walker brothers Leslie or David in the old pro’s shop.
“A Pierse Purcell team session or a Ladies Fourball session holds the same interest for me as teaching one of the international players,” says Kearney. “I have never seen those things differently. It’s still a challenge, a puzzle, to work on somebody’s game and help them with their swing.”
A former Mayo footballer— “I played minor for Mayo for two years” — he left the football world and gave up his love of swimming to do his PGA training with Kevan Whitson at Royal County Down, where Royal Portrush professional Gary McNeill, Mount Wolseley’s Ted Higgins Jnr and Irish national coach Neil Manchip were also apprenticed.
After further training under Dr Jim Suttie at Richmond Country Club in San Francisco — he watched closely as his mentor coach Paul Azinger and Loren Roberts — he moved on to Toronto, in Canada to learn and study under Mark Evershed, who one of Canada’s greatest teachers and thinkers on the game.
From there he took his new found knowledge and enthusiasm to the south coast of Turkey, where he became national coach and maintains great friendships today.
On his return to Ireland in the late 1990’s he opened the David Kearney Golf Academy in Galway and created the successful Claremorris Golf Club Junior Programme.
In 2002 he was appointed as National Coach to the Irish Ladies Golf Union and made his presence felt by leading Ireland to back to back Home internationals in 2003 and 2004.
The rest is history with Irish women’s amateur golf on a high with the Irish Girls team winning the Home Internationals for the first time this year.
The women’s team is brimming with top players with Leona Maguire, Olivia Mehaffey and Maria Dunne making the Curtis Cup team this year.
Things are moving apace at Grange too and the club, which had one girl under 18 with a handicap in 2010, now has more than a dozen 16 girls under 16 with a handicap of 35 or lower, not to mention a girls’ international in Elisa Corcoran.
“The members aren’t just supportive of me,” he says of his coaching work “They are actually proud when they see you going off with the Irish team.
“We want to get more kids involved in the game at Grange and we have a great bunch of kids here, even though the lure of other sports like rugby is huge.
“We run summer camps with the PGA professional Michelle Carroll — she’s amazing at it — so children who are not members can see where their dads and granddads go and get a taste for the game and maybe get attached to it.”
Now in his seventh year at Grange, Kearney is beginning to see the fruits of his labour with the men winning the Pierse Purcell Leinster pennant last year.
The emergence of Elisa Corcoran as Grange’s first female international in some 20 years is another huge milestone.
“There is a drive and a passionate for success here,” David says.
He could also be talking of himself and the drive he’s always had to be a PGA professional.
“I did one of my lectures at the PGA a few years ago and Hazel Kavanagh, Gary Murphy and Noel Fox were all in my class,” he recalls. “These are guys I would have looked up to in terms of their playing prowess.
“They might wish they had started earlier with their PGA training but I might also have wanted to do it the other way around too and have had more of a playing career.
“I was 13 or 14 when I got the bug. I saw Howard Bennett — the former GUI national coach — come in with his camera on his shoulder to do a session and I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do.’
“But you look at how respected Noel and Hazel are as teachers now and what they gained from playing at a high level and there is an argument for doing it the other way too.”
What unites all coaches is a desire to help golfers and coaches with the goal of getting better.
“All I ever want to do was get involved in helping people tell their great stories in the game.,” he says. “That’s it. Whoever walks through the door in half an hour, I can’t wait to hear their story.
“I was a four handicap turning pro and never thought I’d be good enough to be a tour player but I’d always had a great respect for the club professional.
“I remember going into pro’s shops in the Munster boys at 13 or 14— and people laugh at me today — and thinking these guys were like god. What better job could you have, I thought. These guys were like the Lord Jesus himself standing behind the counter.”
Kearney’s vocation takes him all over the world with the ILGU, the R&A and the PGAs of Europe. But he still has that passion for one on one coaching that is the essence of his craft.
“We are trying to give it a coaching culture again and that’s been hugely important,” says David.
“When I came to Grange, we agreed that I would keep up my coaching portfolio with the High Performance programme for Irish ladies golf.
“What I do with them now involves less traveling in terms of tournaments and more planning and more dealing with Sport Ireland and the Irish Institute of Sport and a lot of that is done in winter.
“So we are very busy here from April through July and August but it is all about being able to balance things out.”
As Wattie Sullivan always said, it’s all about good balance and answering those simple questions. The rest is child’s play, as the youngsters at Grange are finding out every day.