When you’re a mini tour pro dreaming the dream and Shane Lowry — world No 25 and the reigning World Golf Champion Bridgestone Invitational champion — rocks up with his clubs to play with you, it makes you feel 10 feet tall.
When he talks to you for four and a half hours on the course, sits down for dinner with you afterwards and talks about the game you both love, you grow another inch or two.
Add to that the chance to play or just listen to a top tour professional like Damien McGrane and then enjoy a 40 minute presentation by an elite professional caddie in Jude O’Reilly and it’s fair to say the inaugural “Irish Tour Pro Series Shootout” (my name for what is still an entity with no name or figurehead) was a massive success.
Three late withdrawals from Tuesday morning’s opening Shootout over the Montgomerie Course at Carton House took nothing away from the day
Just nine pros paid €100 each to tee it up for the cash, the camaraderie and the chance to learn something new and given the success of the first day, more are certain to follow.
For joint winner Brian Casey — he shared the €900 kitty with Irish Assistants champion Joe Dillon from Headfort thanks to a two under 70 — the experience he gained was priceless.
“It's a great idea, there's not doubt about it,” Casey said of an initiative that is the brainchild of McGrane but still very much a collaborative effort. “Of course Damien isn't obliged to give back or share what he has learned, but he does it anyway and it is very noble of him to do so.
“Damien has really grabbed my attention by his attention to detail. He had every angle covered yesterday and it was a great opportunity to compete with something on the line.
"His intentions are pure and I've known that since I've met him, he wants to help and he wants to see the next generation flourish as he did.”
The initiative is designed to allow a dynamic group of European Tour, mini tour and aspirational PGA professionals to get together every week in winter to compete for a small pot, talk golf and help the young guns gain confidence and experience.
“It was a pleasure playing with Shane,” Casey said of Lowry, who shot 71 to share third place with Alps Tour regular David Carey. “As it happens, it's in general conversation on the course where you get the tips from the tour pros on the importance of practise, playing with the best players you can and having a good distraction off the course.”
In the end, the group comprised Damien McGrane, Shane Lowry, David Carey, Brian Casey, Brian Sweeney, Ger Hall, Declan Loftus, Joe Dillon and Ciaran Boggan.
But there are many more similar names waiting for their chance to take part, including several who are in action on tour around the world this week.
Many of them will get their chance to play in the second Shootout, which will has been confirmed for The Royal Dublin on Tuesday next, March 22.
Another special guest will give an informal presentation and McGrane was full of praise for O’Reilly’s comprehensive chat about caddies and tour life in general at Carton House.
“Carton House cut the greens and the holes were changed so that got us off to a really good start," Damien explained. “And the young guys were already thrilled when they saw Shane come in for breakfast.
“After the golf, we all had dinner at a big table and Shane joined is for dinner and sat in the middle of all the the younger guys want to talk to him. Then at 4pm Jude O’Reilly who has caddied and worked with Henrik Stenson and many others and worked on the Japan Golf Tour, gave a very good, 25-minute presentation on the role of the caddie.
“I wanted Jude to let these guys know what’s involved in hiring a caddie, where you might get a caddie, what the caddie should do and what the caddie should not do. I wanted them to know what the player should expect from the caddie and what the player should not expect from the caddie. In other words, I wanted them to know how the whole relationship actually works.
“Everybody was happy with what they got for a very small investment and at the end of the day, the younger players don’t have access to the likes of Shane and whoever else is going to attend. And all of a sudden we can make it happen and we can help by giving them confidence, and helping them realise where they are in the greater scheme of things.”
Future weekly winter outings will bring new speakers from the golf industry who have knowledge that can make a difference to the young players.
“There are a lot of people who want to meet the players and get their message across,” Damien explained. “And if we feel their message is valuable in some shape or form, we will ask them to come.”
Casey, who reached the final stage of the European Tour Q-School last year, was thrilled by what he learned.
“I was fascinated with what Jude had to say,” Casey said. “He had some great stories about himself and Christy O’Connor and Henrik Stenson. He opened my eyes about how, with a little know-how, a player could train a friend or a club member into a tour caddie.
“Of course, financially it wouldn't be viable to employ a tour caddie. But he put it simply at the end. When a player has the components on and off the course in place, the game becomes child's play. Putting a small circle into a larger circle and then filling in the boxes with pencil.
“I want to be associated with the group that Damien organises on the Tuesday. It's not all about the €100 up for grabs. It's about the camaraderie, bouncing ideas off one another and helping one another.
“Damien summed it up well when he said, ‘Each one of knows something that others among us don't, so we can learn from each other's mistakes and wins’.”
Castleknock 19-year old Carey, third on the Alps Tour money list after the first three events, felt he learned a huge amount from the day.
“I didn’t know what to expect but it was a very enjoyable, informative and productive day,” Carey said in an email. “Shane is a really nice guy, really generous with his time and advice and a pleasure to play with. He shared advice on tour life in general and the travelling involved.
“So it was great to be in a truly helpful and competitive environment and it was interesting to compare my experiences, having had friends caddy for me, with what Jude had to say.
“I can wait to be invited back for another one of these events in the future.”
Another top player is expected next week and a new set of budding tour pros will be given the chance to play with him at Royal Dublin on March 22.
“We hope to keep playing for another month,” Damien said. “The plan is to have a pretty dynamic group so we always have 12 strong players — a blend of four European Tour players, four mini tour players and four PGA professionals.
“It’s not about numbers or golf for the masses. And we are not putting pressure on a tee box at a club.
“There will be no complaints if a club gives us a 7.15am tee time because if you have a 7:15am tee time in the Irish Open, you don’t complain. As a professional, that’s what you have to put up with.”
McGrane received many requests via email and there is huge interest from players and industry experts as well as venues in the Dublin area, which is the target area.
“I’ve had emails from guys who are away this week on tour somewhere but will be back next week and would love to play and they are the people who will be accommodated,” Damien said. “They have to be accommodated.
“The young players were delighted to see Shane turn up for breakfast and he pulled his own bag and then sat down in the middle at a big table when we came in for dinner. That’s what it is about. He gave a lot and the young lads were delighted to just be in his company.
“It makes them feel special and helps their confidence. Something makes them feel, ‘I am actually better just a good club golfer.’ It’s about creating something that makes them feel a bit better about themselves.”
McGrane then added: “I have had contacts from golf clubs and secretary managers, and other people in the golf industry who want to get involved. And that has been fantastic. And slowly but surely we will bring these people in for a talk or we will go to their venue.
“What I didn’t realise was some of the young lads are travelling a long way so it would be great to keep it around Dublin city centre and play the top Dublin clubs over the wintertime. Ultimately it is where people want to travel.”
if you are a European Tour player willing to give up your time, or a mini tour professional or an ambitious PGA professional looking to make it on tour email firstname.lastname@example.org about the possibilities of getting a Tuesday game. Clubs keen to host the pros or members of the golf industry who might have something to offer, are also encouraged to get in touch via the above email.
Next Irish Tour Pro Series Shootout — The Royal Dublin, March 22.