This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's Thursday, Tee to Green supplement on 21 July 2016
Finding your path in life is never as simple as pulling out a road-map and plotting a steady course to the promised land. And the same rules apply to doctors, dentists, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers as to PGA professionals
For Cork’s Pádraig Dooley, the past 20 years have been a voyage of personal and professional discovery and while he is now the foremost club repair technician in Munster as well as a respected coach —his Drive Golf Performance centre at Glanmire in Cork is a mecca for coaching and club fitting — getting where he is today took a great deal of trial and error.
As a golfer, he was a more than useful club player with Cork Golf Club, earning interprovincial honours and then an international cap in 2002, where his team mates in the Home Internationals were the likes of Colm Moriarty, Noel Fox, Ken Kearney, Justin Kehoe, Andy McCormick, John McGinn, Darren Crowe, Stuart Paul and Sean McTernan.
From there, life took him into the professional game and while the mini tours in the UK and South Africa never quite worked out for him, he found his metier and enjoys a hugely rewarding life in golf, exploring the sport that’s fascinated him since he was a teenager.
When he hears players say that X “was never good enough”, he pauses for thought and thinks about his own game, which he began to take seriously shortly before he went off to UCC to do a degree in mathematics and statistics in the early 90s.
Fast forward 20 years and he contemplates the difference between successful tour players and ordinary players and concludes that it all comes down to self-belief.
“The difference between the ordinary players and the to tour pros is that self belief that they are better than everybody else,” he says as he watches his peers trail in after a PGA Irish Region event at Carton House.
“That is very apparent. The guys who don’t feel that way, they don’t last too long. But there is no harm in trying. It’s just a mentality.
“Bob Rotella talks about it (“You become what you think you are.”) Henry Ford said: ‘Whether you think you can do it, or whether you think you can’t do it, you’re right.’
“I always hear guys saying, ‘Sure he wasn’t good enough.’ Maybe he wasn’t at one stage but you can always get better. Every expert was a beginner at one stage. You can always work your way into it.
“So there is only one way to find out, you have got to go and try. So for me, it is never a failure because you are going to find out something that will give you some success. It is never just a monetary issue.
“You can look at two guys who turned pro and say he made X amount and that guy made no money. Okay, he made no money playing golf but what did he learn? How did he use those experiences later on in life? Who did he meet? What did he see?
“Taking a chance and giving something a go, it can ease you down a different path in life. It would be crazy not to try.
“I had only taken it up when I was 16 and I got better as I went through college. When I finished college I was around a one handicap and continued playing, doing odd jobs. Then it came to the crunch where I had to get a job, look for a career or turn pro and I was just playing well at that time and away I went to become a professional.”
Life took him to the Sunshine Tour in South Africa where he could pre-qualify for events and try for places in European Tour sanctioned tournaments.
“My logic was that as I was getting slightly better all the time, so if I continued to get better all the time, I could get there.
“And I did get better for a while in 2003, 2004 and 2005 especially. And I thought, if I can get just a little bit better, who knows what might happen. But I didn’t.
“I was always one round away from really good results. So in 2005-6 I stopped getting better and started getting slightly worse all the time.
“I was playing on the Europro Tour and I played on the Sunshine Tour in winter with guys like Tim Rice, Ciaran McMonagle and Gavin McNeill. It was unreal. Myself and Timmy turned pro at the same time and Gavin came down a week later with Ciaran and within three months, the two boys had finished runner up in the Nashau Masters alongside Mark McNulty and all four of us teed it up in the first European Tour event of 2003.
“I remember I played with Louis Oosthuizen in the Dimension Data Pro-Am in Sun City at Leopard Creek. It was unreal but it was also hard to make a living apart from the fact that living expenses were so low.
“It was so cheap to eat out that you never cooked—€2 or €3 for breakfast, a fiver or less for lunch and always under €10 for dinner. So you were eating fantastic food for less than €20 a day. It was a great lifestyle but the money had to come from somewhere.”
Dooley loved his life on the road but as his game dried up, so did the money and he decided to act.
“I decided to become a PGA professional, eventually started with Peter Hickey at Cork Golf Club and spent four years there. When I qualified in 2012, it was a question of looking at the opportunities around.”
Pádraig’s brother John is also a PGA professional and with a family property —a former farm with 10 acres of green fields still attached— they set up Drive Golf Performance to serve the greater Cork and Munster area and now have a sub-office at Glasson Golf Club near Athlone, were Colm Moriarty is their representative.
“I looked and realised there was little or no custom fitting in Cork and no good workshop. So I decided to set up and focus on the custom fitting and John, who had been working in that area, focused on the tour operating,” Padraig explains.
Dooley is highly qualified but finds that offering customers more distance is “an easy sell” that can lead to other benefits for the client late on.
“It is easy to do a fitting for a driver and help a client gain 10-15 or even 20 yards,” he says. “It will immediately improve a person’s game, if they are a 12 or a 13 handicap. Most people just want to go out and enjoy a game of golf and hitting the ball a little further helps them do that.
“I have spent a lot of time attending seminars and seeing other guys teach and I believe it’s about working out how to play better rather than swing better.”
Golf instruction is changing and teachers are moving away from technique to specialise in improving certain skills.
“I have seen a big sea change in golf and it has moved towards skills development as opposed to improving technique,” Dooley says. “So that gives a different focus to how we practice. It is quite interesting to see the difference and that trend is now appearing on tour, where there are so many different swings but all the swingers are highly skilful.
“It’s a question of figuring out if the technique is good enough to allow the skills to improve. If it does, you only have to work on skills and you can forget about technique. If not, acquiring the skills will be difficult.”
Dooley believes that golfers should take a playing lesson if at all possible as it immediately focuses in on the key issues.
“Imagine you are a guy who hits a 20 or 30 yard slice, maybe we need to focus on his chipping and putting. Or if he says his putting is terrible, it could be because he is too far from the hole all day—50ft all the time— so he has to improve his striking.”
As with all walks of life, golf professionals are specialising more and short game gurus and putting doctors work side by side with in the industry with club technicians like Dooley.
“The club professional needs to be a generalist but there are always specialists — Donal Scott is a putting specialist now and back in the old days you had guys like Gary Nicholson down in Douglas, who was unreal at making persimmon woods. Every professional in Munster would bring their persimmons to Gary for repair.
“I am a specialist in club repair and do a lot of repairs for a number of different pros. Instead of sending clubs back to Titleist of TaylorMade or Callaway, they send them to me and I can repair them overnight.”
A true golfing geek, Dooley continues to work on the theory of the game in association with the Titleist Performance Institute in California. As for his playing career, he still recalls teeing it up with future Open champion Oosthuizen in Sun City one winter morning.
“He was unreal,” he recalled. “I hit a lovely tee shot down the last and he stands up with three wood and just pitched where it my drive had finished.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
For more information on PGA Professional Pádraig Dooley, visit www.drivegolfperformance.com
This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's Thursday, Tee to Green supplement on 20 July 2016.