McGrane honoured by Wexford

WEXFORD GOLF Club afforded European Tour winner Damien McGrane the ultimate accolade last week when he received honorary life membership of the club. McGrane, who was the club professional from 1997 to 2004, won his first European Tour event the China Open last April.

He has consistently returned to Wexford almost every time he has a break in playing and, as club Captain Fred Boyd said: “Wexford Golf Club are delighted to honour Damien in this way because right from day one he was always a terrific ambassador for this club and it is still like a second home to him. We felt it was the right time for the club to bestow our highest accolade to someone who we consider to be one of our own.”

Damien was in Wexford to play in the annual Ping Society outing in Rosslare which is in memory of the late Nicky “Ping” Scallan, and it is a date he never misses. “I am really chuffed at this terrific gesture by Wexford Golf Club and as long as I live my time here will always have special memories for me. I still very much consider myself to be part of the club and I will promote the club as much as I possibly can. I must congratulate the club on its recent developments as it really now puts the Golf Club right up there at the top of the pile,” he said.

He went on to recall his early days and spoke of two caddies that he used, Larry Kinsella and Larry O”Neill, who helped to guide his fortunes when he started out. He was presented with a tie pin to signify the honour.

It has been a brilliant year for the adopted Wexford man who joined the European Tour in 2003. He won his first tour event in China in April and was nine shots clear of the field at the end.

He finished 30th in the European Tour Order of Merit with earnings of almost ¤800,000. This already qualifies him for the 138th British Open in Scotland this year.

He also finished second in the Indian Open and played two rounds with Tiger Woods in Dubai. He had two other top ten finishes in Spain and Portugal, and also had time to win three events on the local P.G.A. scene at Forest Little, Navan and Malahide.

The 2009 schedule is already under way and Damien is currently 21st in the Order of Merit after three events. This year finishes with a massive event, The Road to Dubai.

He looked tanned and fit on Monday of last week after playing in South Africa and had his brother, Michael, on the bag as his regular caddy, John Hurt, had returned to Australia for a well-deserved break.

He was in good form. ‘this has been a fantastic year for Irish golfers with so many of us winning on the European Tour. Of course, me getting my first win was really exciting and I suppose the down side was that there was just myself and my caddie, John Hurt, there on that day in China.

‘there was a lot of really good highs you know - the win, a couple of seconds and playing two rounds with Tiger Woods in Dubai, but there was a lot of average stuff as well but overall I am very happy.”

He came late to the game and was 13 before he got interested but, as he says, he achieved his boyhood dream.

“I suppose I did come to the game late but I am lucky that I have achieved what I set out to do and I think my time in Wexford helped to set me up both financially and golfwise as the club were very accommodating in allowing me the leeway to take time off to play the golf I needed to play to achieve my goal.”

He has already mapped out his plans for 2009 and expects to win again: ‘that is my target, no doubt, and I know I can now win again and I expect to do so this year sooner rather than later hopefully.”

Winning has obviously given him more confidence but his game hasn’t changed that much. “I don’t feel that anything has changed. Maybe I am hitting more fairways and maybe a better few iron shots. My putting might be a minute fraction better than it was, we are talking fractions now, but as I get nearer the top there is very little difference between players. It is just about getting a run of confidence and form and that’s what it is about now really.

“I do feel in a hurry to win again and importantly I feel what happened in China can happen again but I must keep playing well. The European Tour is now so competitive so it won’t be easy.” One of the advantages of being an established tour player is the camaraderie between the Irish in particular, and triple Major champion Pádraig Harrington is a big fan of Damien's.

“We meet when we can and we spend a decent amount of time together. He is good company but I treat everybody the same as there is no airs and graces about me no matter who I talk to and Pádraig in his own strange way appreciates that.

“You know, I don’t ask anything of him but we talk about business and different things and I have certainly learned a little from him,” he continued. “He has achieved his success by hard work and his talent is to win events especially when he is ahead, but he is a great Irish man and a real role model for the rest of us.”

Damien is now in a better position to map his tournament schedule this year and not to suffer from burn-out. “I now have the support team behind me but whilst saying that my job is to get the ball from A to B. If I have a problem I have the help in place, but believe it or not I didn’t need that help in 2008. I have marvellous supporters who ring, text and e-mail me every week and that, to be honest, is as important as anything.”

He got his first taste of Major golf last year when he played in the British Open at Royal Birkdale. “As you know, I am not into qualifying for these events so I played because I was high enough in the Order of Merit and luckily I will play in this year’s Open. It was a fantastic experience and I just missed the cut by one shot. It was good fun which I enjoyed from start to finish.”

Another experience of 2008 was playing two rounds with Tiger Woods. “He was a lovely guy, very ordinary, and there is no doubt that the experience was good. It stood to me through the season whenever I was under pressure, I tried to just reflect on his handling of the pressure and of course I out-shot him the first day, but his round the second day won him the tournament. Yes, certainly a lesson learned and a great experience.”

He still has the ambition to achieve even more in golf. ‘my mind is fresh and I still believe that I haven’t got there yet, and I don’t think people have seen the best of me yet either. I still believe that I have more to do and I am really looking forward to 2009.

‘my stature on the European Tour has changed now that I am a winner and I am treated differently at tournaments, and that is something I need to use to my advantage.” His Christmas break is short as he will return to golf in the middle of this month in Abu Dhabi and it will be full pelt then until November.

“It’s exciting times for me and my supporters and I have a lot of those in Wexford. They have never forgotten me and my ambition would be that some young fellow would follow in my footsteps and make the grade. That would give me a lot of satisfaction.”

There is no doubt that the newest life member of Wexford Golf Club has more success on the way. What he has achieved so far hasn’t changed him in any way, and his no nonsense approach has served him well. Let’s hope that it won’t be long before he is on the winners” rostrum in 2009.

Copyright Wexford People Newspaper