Darcy laments power golf era

Eamonn Darcy
By Brian Keogh

Eamonn Darcy and Jack Nicklaus are united by more than just fond memories of Muirfield Village in Ohio.

'The Darce' put the US Ryder Cup team to the sword with a slippery downhill putt on the course that Jack built back in 1987.

Both will always love that place. And both men still hanker for the 'good ole days' when woods were woods and the golf ball flew less than a country mile.

The difference is that the Wicklowman still believes he has a chance to win at this game as the Bear continues to rake in the cash, updating courses made almost obsolete by new technology.

As he sits back to watch how young Tiger Woods sets about beating his record of 18 major titles, the world's greatest player admits that the game is not as enjoyable to watch as it once was.

And while he has no intention of hauling the clubs out of the shed for one last hurrah, Darcy can't wait to get back out there again.

After nearly 40 years as a pro, the Delgany man is still chasing his first win on the European Seniors Tour after racking up seven runner up finishes from just 41 senior starts since he turned 50 in 2002.

Speaking from Valencia in Spain, where he has been honing his game for the season ahead, Darcy said: "It is nice to be able to keep playing and to keep a bit of discipline. It is nice just to have something to play in.

"I don't want to sit back and stop, because you might not get out there again. I'm just looking forward to getting back out there and I want to win this year. That's what I'm really looking forward to doing."

Putting has been Darcy's downfall in recent years but he never seems to give up and a change to the claw grip coupled with hours of practice on the new synthetic green he's had installed in his back garden in Enniskerry has filled him with hope for the campaign ahead.

He said: "We don't really get going until May and I'll probably start at Venice, where I've had a couple of chances to win and been second the last two years.

"I've done all right on the European Seniors Tour for the few events that I play, considering there isn't a lot of money out there.

"I've lost a few play-offs, including one in Portugal where I broke a branch with a practice swing and just conceded to Denis Durnian so as not to prolong the agony. And Gery Watine beat me in Italy in a play-off two years ago.

"But I'm still pretty fit. I am out with the horses and doing show-jumping in the winter time and that keeps me fit and disciplined.

"My back feels good too. It is not put through as much punishment as it was because I don't hit as many balls as I used to and I don't hit the ball as hard as I used to. So I have eased off and given it a bit of a rest."

Getting that elusive maiden win on the Seniors tour is all down to one thing. Putting.

He confessed: "Just holing a couple of putts. That's all it is. I am using a claw grip now, which I started with at the back end of last year, and I really like it.

"And Gerry O'Gorman from Southwest Greens has put in a 2,000 sq ft synthetic green at the house. Hale Irwin told me about it in the States and he said this was the best one for chipping as well.

"I can pitch to it and hit bunker shots. And I have it running at 10 which is what we have on the European Seniors. The very few times I have played this year, people have commented on how good my stroke looked. So I am hoping that is going to make a difference."

Darcy has not yet taken the plunge into golf course design, but like Nicklaus, the Druids Glen professional has plenty to say about the negative effects of new technology.

In a recent Golf Digest interview, Nicklaus let fly at the new fangled gear and again called for golf's governing bodies to take action on the ball.

Nicklaus said: "The pro game used to be 80 percent shotmaking and about 20 percent power. But from what I see, the pro game has switched to where it’s about 80 percent power and 20 percent shotmaking.

"Today, a Gary Player, a Ben Hogan, as talented as they were but with smaller statures, would have much less of a chance of being the best in the world."

Darcy agrees completely with the American legend. but he's grateful to be able to use the new equipment to compete with the the younger guns on the Seniors circuit.

Darcy said: "The new stuff is so easy to use. You go out with amateurs now and they stand up on the first tee, guys playing off 16 handicap and they hit this thing that goes forever down the fairway. I mean, Christ, years ago that wouldn't have happened.

"Okay, the guys are a lot fitter now but the sweet spot is so much bigger than it used to be. In the summer I am hitting it 280 or 290 yards, whereas in my prime I was probably hitting it 250 or 260.

"As for the ball, you can't shape it like you could in the old days. It just comes out so fast that it doesn't shape like it did before. I miss all that. The game has gone such a way that it is all power.

"The courses are longer and you have just got to keep banging it out there. Hit it up in the air and stop it. The old days the courses were tighter with lots of rough.

"The premium was on accuracy and shot making. But now fellas prefer to hit eight irons out of the rough than five irons off the fairways.

"The square grooves are something that has to be addressed big time because the courses don't have a chance. They are building courses longer and longer and when amateurs try to play them they find they are unplayable. Hopefully the R&A will do something about it."

Nicklaus is convinced that the entire problem could be solved by taking action on the souped up golf ball, giving the shotmaker rather than the caveman a chance to shine.

Nicklaus said: "I see a lot of young guys caught up in this style of smash it and gouge it. The truth is, talented guys who play a sort of one-dimensional power game can make a very good living on today’s tour. But ultimately, to win tournaments - and majors - a player needs to be a shotmaker.

"We have about 16,000 courses in the United States. Almost all of them are obsolete for tournament play. For them to become relevant, we need to roll back the ball about 40 yards. That or rebuild all the fairway bunkers at 300 yards. Which is what we’re doing, and it costs a fortune.

"Instead of changing equipment, we’re changing golf courses. It’s great for my business. I’m making a living redoing my old courses. But the game should be able to go back to the classic courses just as they are. Why should we be changing all those golf courses? It’s ridiculous."

Darcy won't be playing any old American courses this year, renouncing the US Senior PGA in favour of better preparation for the AIB Irish Seniors Open at Palmerstown House the following week.

He said: "I'd only have played two tournaments before it anyway, even if I did decide to go. And the course would be set up too tough.

"Maybe if it were in July or August when you have seven or eight tournaments under your belt. But it is not worth it for just one week. Most of the guys go over and miss the cut."

Darcy is happy to spend more time with his wife and horses, and to earn €100,000 plus from a dozen starts in Europe rather than chasing millions in the US.

But he's full of admiration for his old pal Des Smyth, who continues to rake in the cash on the Champions Tour.

He said: "My hat's off to Des for what he has done. Fantastic. And I'm not a bit surprised.

"He loves it over there, going over for two months at time. That was the difference between myself and himself. I just didn't want to be away from home."

If the putts drop, the Darce might just bring a trophy or two back to the glens of Wicklow come summer's end.