This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's Thursday, Tee to Green supplement on 4 August 2016
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Club: Luttrellstown Castle Golf & Country Club
- Handicap: 13
They called him the Chairman of the Boards, such was his mastery of the indoor mile. But Eamonn Coghlan, now 63, will forever be remembered by the Irish public for that emotional sprint to 5,000 metres gold in the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki.
Having finished fourth in the Olympic final over 1,500 metres in Montreal in 1976 and fourth again over 5,000 metres in Moscow in 1980, it was a fitting climax to a great career.
1 Who are your big sporting rivals these days?
Well, I play a lot of golf with Des McCormack, the former 3000-metre steeplechaser. We have little €5 bets and the money goes back and forth. We store the winnings in a little silver cigar box. At the end of the year, whatever is in the box, we spend it between us.
2 But golf wasn’t your game growing up. How did you get started?
When we were kids my father used to bring us off on Sunday afternoon to play pitch and putt — to get us out of the house. When I was racing and living in America, there were a lot of pro-ams charity celeb ams in the Irish community and I used to go out and play the odd time. So when I returned to Ireland in 1990, Luttrellstown Castle Golf Club was under construction and I jumped at it right away. It’s one minute drive from door to door. I was nearly 40 when I started. It was 1992.
3 You’re off 13 now. Is that your lowest handicap?
My lowest was 11. I had been hovering around 17 or 18 for years and I was getting frustrated - one great shot followed by another that was absolutely rubbish. So last year I decided to make a serious effort and got some chipping lessons from my son Eamonn when he’d visit from Houston, where he his a teaching pro. Then I had lessons from a mate of mine, who is a teaching pro and Peter O’Hagen the pro in Luttrellstown. I still have the odd blow out but I am hovering in the mid 30s stableford most of the time.
4 Have you ever tried speed golf?
No, but I am familiar. Steve Scott, the great America miler, did a speed golf demonstration as part of the promotion for one of our races out in LA or San Diego. He was a really good golfer and he decided to see how fast he could get around 18 holes. I think he went around in 29.33 and shot a 92.
5 What’s your golfing ambition?
To get down to single figures. I am not to far away from being a 10 or a nine — just two or three good rounds. I’m off 12.6 right now, so I could get down to 11 or 10. I am not far off.
6 What’s your most treasured possession?
My World Championship gold medal and my LeRoy Neiman painting. He was one of the most famous sports artists and he did quite a lot of pictures of Muhammad Ali. He was commissioned by Charlie McCabe, who is the President of Crumlin hospital’s Children’s Medical Research Foundation in America, to do a painting of me for the cover of the Millrose Games programme in Madison Square Garden. Years later, when I was going for the Masters, sub four minute mile record, Charlie said to me if I ever broke the record, he would give me the LeRoy Neiman. And I duly broke the Masters record. It’s a beautiful painting of me winning the Wanamaker Mile.
7 Do you still relive that gold medal run in Helsinki?
Personally, I don’t relive it but there is not a day goes by that somebody doesn’t remind me of it and tell me where they were that day. People say, ‘What did you say to the Russian?’ I get that nearly every day, I swear to God.
8 So what did you say to the Russian?
I said, ‘Thank god I got it for you guys.’ It was a prayer of thanksgiving because my Dad and my two coaches, Jumbo Elliott and Gerry Farnan had passed away in the preceding year and I was left with no-one left to guide me. So when they passed away and I was about to do something they always said I could do, it was a kind of prayer of thanksgiving. It was just a deep, profound occasion and the feeling that, ‘thank God, I’ve got it.’ My other prized possession is my motorbike. A BMW GS R1200. It’s pretty cool.
9 What’s your favourite par three?
The par-three 16th on the Hackett course at Carne Golf Links in Belmullet, Co Mayo. It has the backdrop of the most spectacular sand dunes imaginable. You could be on the moon. It’s just the most stunningly beautiful hole.
10 Name your favourite course?
There are so many spectacular courses in Ireland, it would be unfair to pick out just one. But outside Ireland, I’d have to say Winged Foot in New York. I lived in that neighbourhood and Crumlin Hospital have been putting on a charity golf tournament there for many years.
11 What’s your biggest regret?
I try to let regrets pass me by because I think it is important to bounce back and not dwell on what the disappointments might be and move on. But the biggest regret I have about a mistake in a race was taking the lead too soon in the 1,500 metres final in the 1976 Olympic Games n Montreal — 40 years ago last week. Not that I dwell on it. (Laughs). I always sat and kicked off the (last) turn. I won the heats and I won the semi-finals sitting and kicking. So I gave away my ace card. But the day of the final — and the Olympics can do funny things to your head — I took up the lead after a lap and I kept on going. So I was the sacrificial rabbit, pulling the train. And they just sat and sat and I am like, 'What the f**k am I doing here?' Come on, go by me. So that’s my only regret.
12 Who is your favourite golfer?
My son, Eamonn.
13 Names your favourite major?
The Masters. I attended it back in 2000, I think. It’s just special.
14 A course you’d like to play before you die?
15 A dream fourball?
Rory McIlroy, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. But we would have to play speedgolf to give me a chance!
16 A sporting hero?
Muhammad Ali. I met him in Radio City Music Hall in 1983. I’d just run the first sub 3:50 mile to break the world record and they had “The Night of 100 Stars” and I was the only athlete there, which was a great honour. We were told, if you need to use the men’s room, go now. So I went for a pee and who was I peeing beside but Muhammad Ali.
17 What happened then?
We turned around to wash our hands and with the mirror in front of us I said to Ali: 'I can’t wait until tomorrow man?' And he looks over and says, ‘Why’s that?’ And I said, ‘Because I’m getting better looking every day!’ and he laughed and gave me the biggest smile and said, “I love it, man, I love it.”
18 He was an icon
He was an amazing person.
This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's Thursday, Tee to Green supplement on 4 August 2016. Tee to Green returns after a two-week Christmas break on 5 January 2017.