Seamus Power — from Tooraneena to the PGA Tour

Seamus Power — from Tooraneena to the PGA Tour
 Seamus Power in action during the Olympic Games in Rio

Seamus Power in action during the Olympic Games in Rio

His story is one of the great feel-good golfing tales of the past 20 years and when Seamus Power makes his PGA Tour debut in the Safeway Open in California on Thursday it will complete a fantastic journey from modest West Waterford Golf Club in Dungarvan to the biggest tour in the world.

His story is all the more remarable when one considers that he lost his mother, Philomena, when he was just eight years old and his twin brothers Willie and Jack were only 10.

It was an especially tough time for his father Ned, a small farmer in Tooraneena. And as he explained to the PGA Tour last week, sacrifices had to be made.

With little income from farming, Ned took a second job working nights at Boston Scientific, where he laser-welded defibrillators and used much of the extra income supported Seamus’ travel to junior events all over Ireland.

 Seamus Power with his third Irish Youths title

Seamus Power with his third Irish Youths title

“I wanted my sons to follow their dreams,” Ned told PGATour.com. “I took a couple wrong turns in my lifetime and, like any parent, I would like to see my sons reach their dreams.”

“Looking back, I don’t know how he did it,” Seamus said. “No idea how he did it. He did everything. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.”

Winner of three Irish Youths titles — he was second and fourth in his other two participations — Power was an outstanding junior golfer having been nurtured by the loving atmosphere of West Waterford were people like Justin Spratt, Pat Murphy and Jimmy Murphy were hugely influential in his development and course owner Pat Spratt treated him like a son.

His graduation from the Web.com Tour to the PGA Tour this season is the culmination of a 10 year journey from the amateur ranks and the US collegiate systems at East Tennessee State, where the decision of Rory McIlroy not to turn professional and take up a scholarship opened the door for the player who represented Ireland with Padraig Harrington in the Rio Olympic Games and finished a brilliant tied 15th.

“Rio blew us away in Rio,” Ned said during a tribute night at West Waterford three weeks ago. “We hadn’t seen him play for a while and we couldn’t believe how good he was and a lot of what he has achieved is due to West Waterford. 

 West Waterford turned out in force to give Power a good send off when he qualified for the Web,com Tour

West Waterford turned out in force to give Power a good send off when he qualified for the Web,com Tour

“I can’t emphasise enough what West Waterford meant to me when Philo died. Seamus was eight and the twins were 10 and it was tough going. But the club and my great friends John and Celia Walsh were a great help to me.

“He wanted to be there every second. Golf took him over early on while he was good racquet ball player he told me there was nobody in Ireland to bring him to the next level . So golf took over.

“When he was about to go off to East Tennessee, I took him to Shannon Airport and Cian McNamara, who was a few years older, was there at the airport. 

“I was turning away so Seamus wouldn’t see me crying as he stood there in the queue and Cian turned to me and said, ‘Ned, don’t worry, I will look after him'.”

I said. I’ll drive you home to the door.’ But he said, ‘No, Dad left the tractor there for me.’ And with that he hopped out, said thanks very much, threw the clubs into the front loader and off he went.
— Pat Murphy on Seamus Power

Power went on to have a stellar amateur career with ETSU and then learned his trade on the eGolf mini tour in the South Carolina area.

It wasn’t easy financially, but funding from the Irish Sports Council helped keep the dream alive even though he fell short at Q-School on four consecutive occasions – including a one-stroke miss at First Stage in 2010, a one-stroke miss at Second Stage in 2011, and another narrow miss at Second Stage in 2012 before he earned enough from mini-tour success to sustain his dream.

He finally advanced to Q-School’s Final Stage in 2014, securing strong status for the 2015 Web.com Tour season.

He kept his card with a 67th-place finish on the money list, rebounding from four straight missed cuts to begin his Web.com Tour career.

He needed just seven starts in his second season to win the United Leasing & Finance Championship (becoming the first Irish-born player to win on the Web.com Tour). 

 Seamus Power and some of his West Waterford supporters

Seamus Power and some of his West Waterford supporters

He finished ninth on the Regular Season money list to earn his Tour card for the 2016-17 season, which begins next week with the Safeway Open in Napa, California.

It’s a dream come true and a far cry from 15 years ago, when he got his call up for Munster panel coaching in Limerick and was so unfit, he dodged a 3,000-metre run afterwards.

“He was smaller and roundier then and he had physical training with John Glynn and Fred Twomey over in Limerick and they were put through their paces all day,” recalls West Waterford stalwart Pat Murphy. 

“As we were about to come home, he was told, ‘You’re not finished yet, there’s 3,000 metres around the track.’ 

“So Seamus went out with his tongue hanging out and saw me and hopped over the fence and we headed for home. 

“He fell asleep somewhere just outside Limerick and but he obviously sensed the Tooraneena air because he came too as we got close to home, he came to and said ‘Pat, I’ll get off at Beary’s Cross.’ 

 A young Seamus Power

A young Seamus Power

“You will like hell, I said. I’ll drive you home to the door.’ But he said, ‘No, Dad left the tractor there for me.’ And with that he hopped out, said thanks very much, threw the clubs into the front loader and off he went. 

“He was an extraordinary man. It wasn’t enough for him to know he was hitting it well, he wanted to know why he was hitting the ball well. He had the most enquiring mind.”

A top student at St Augustine’s College in Dungarvan, he graduated from ETSU with an honours degree in accountancy, even though coach Warren feared it would distract him from his golf.

“He was always dedicated but losing wasn’t in his vocabulary at all,” said Anne McGrath, his National School teacher in Toornaneena. “No matter what he did, he was so dedicated.”

“His hand-eye coordination is exceptional,” Warren said. “I remember one day at the practice area, he said, ‘Coach, throw me a ball,’ with a club in his right hand, and he batted it 100 yards with his right hand. A one-hand bat.

 Seamus with family and friends at West Waterford

Seamus with family and friends at West Waterford

“Then he switches to his left hand, hits it left-handed and smacks it out there another 100 yards. I was like, ‘This is crazy.’"

Power’s hand-eye co-ordination is a throwback to this GAA days as a hurler but also to his racquetball career which saw him compete at world level as a junior, picking up a bronze medal at the World Championships in Los Angeles when he was 10.

Warren was also impressed by his ability to mix his studies with golf and Power remains the only golf scholar to graduate with a degree in accounting  — magna cum laude — in more than 30 years at East Tennessee.

“I said, ‘Seamus, are you sure you’ll be able to take accounting and play golf?’” Warren said. “He said, ‘Yeah.’ And he did.”

Dungarvan businessman John Power, one of several club members who has helped raise money to back Power on tour, frequently stops in Charlotte to meet the golfer with clients.

“I didn’t say to Seamus at the time so it didn’t affect his confidence but when we met in Charlotte with some business parters at the time — they had a turnover of $31 billion with 50 plants around the world — one of them said to me, ‘If this man changes his mind about golf, we will make him a senior accountant in our company.’

“That’s the calibre of man you are dealing with win Seamus Power and great credit is due to West Waterford where he had great mentors in Pat Murphy and Jimmy Murphy and the great Justin Spratt.”

 Seamus Power at East Tennessee State University, where Keith Nolan was a mentor late in his college career

Seamus Power at East Tennessee State University, where Keith Nolan was a mentor late in his college career

Power has much in common with Pádraig Harrington and greatly admires the Dubliner.

Both played football and hurling in goal and combined amateur golf with accountancy studies. 

Both have that infectious smile and that ability to know where they stand in the game and what they can achieve.

Being alongside Harrington and team leader Paul McGinley was an added bonus from the trip to Rio that Power wasn’t expecting.

“There was no stone left unturned with him,” Power said of his memories of Harrington in Rio. “He was one of the most professional guys I have ever come across. His equipment was finely turned, nothing was left to chance. He had everything maxed out. Even the way he marked his ball — everything he did was done on purpose. 

 Seamus with his aunts

Seamus with his aunts

“Sometimes you are out there hitting shots for the sake of hitting them but with Pádraig, nothing he does is done by accident.

“What I learnt from Paul was that it’s not the massive drive down the middle but doing the simple things well that makes the difference. And having grown up watching these guys, you think they do so many things you can’t do. But then you play with them and realise that’s not the case. 

“On the first hole of the practice round, Padraig chunked a three wood second shot and I am thinking, ‘he’s won three majors, what was that’ but it is mental strength and putting it together under pressure.”

Power knows that if he’s to retain his PGA Tour card he may have to win over $800,000 but he’s confident he can do that by winning an event.

“You have to finish in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup points. So $100,000 in Puerto Rico is not worth as much as $80,000 in The Memorial,” he said. “Look, the money is crazy. We played for $12.5m on web.com Tour this year but PGA and The Players were worth $10m each alone this year.”

 Seamus Power with the next generation of West Waterford stars

Seamus Power with the next generation of West Waterford stars

Power reckons he will get 20 or 21 starts in the lesser events but knows he can into the bigger events when the graduates are re-ranked early next year.

“I will definitely get the five Fall Series events, the Sony, Pebble Beach, Puerto Rico and Reno and the smaller events,” he said. “Then depending on how I do, I will see if I get into Riviera and Phoenix, Honda, Tampa. That’s why it’s important to play well early.”

He’s a huge hitter but prefers to pick out his short game as the strongest part of his game as he prepares to take on the best in the world.

“You can’t have so many weaknesses the way the game is these days. If you have a weakness, you have to fix it. Rory and Dustin Johnson are bombing it and you then have to dial in the wedge game and putting. 

“If you can drive it, hit anything with a wedge and putt well, that’s 50 shots a round. The rest isn’t much.

“I always believed deep down I could do it. I’m big into stats and worked out if I could average a certain score I could do it. I knew if I could average below 70 I’d probably get a PGA Tour card.

 Seamus Power with his PGA Tour card. He's been drawn with Cody Gribble and Trey Mullinax in Napa this week. 

Seamus Power with his PGA Tour card. He's been drawn with Cody Gribble and Trey Mullinax in Napa this week. 

“To become established you want to win and that’s going to be the goal now. If I can do that, it  would open a lot of doors for me so that’s what I’ll work towards.”

With a scoring average this year of 69.78, Power has won $224,090 in prize money and earned his PGA Tour card.

In West Waterford, they’re already doing their sums.

“He’ll make millions,” said Pat Spratt. 

Having backed Power since he was just a small boy, it would be unwise to doubt Pat Spratt now.

“The Spratt family couldn’t have done as done any more for me and there is no way I would be where I am today without them,” Power said. “Austin, Bridget, Justin, Pat, Nora — all the Spratts. They have brought me all the way.”

The journey from Tooraneena to the PGA Tour has only just begun.