Kilkenny legend DJ Carey on golf, Tiger’s mental dilemma, what he feels is the harsh treatment of Rory McIlroy by Irish people and what he really thought of Kilkenny’s defeat to Tipperary.
- Handicap: 2
- Club: Carton House
1 How’s your golf?
Well, my golf is very limited now. I’m kept going, trying to keep my head above water but I haven’t played that much for a while. I think the lowest handicap I had was 1.7 and I’m 2.0 now.
2 How did it all begin?
I joined a company called Three Rivers Oil in Kilkenny and a guy called John O’Dwyer was captain of Callan Golf Club at the time, so I went out with him, joined Callan at the age of 25 or 26 — they had a life membership offer for £1,500 I think — and I was away,
3 Did the game come naturally, given your hand-eye co-ordination?
I could always drive the ball a long way — the connection was always good — but the ball could go anywhere. But I was more natural when I started and didn’t think as much about what I was trying to do. And I was playing newer courses in my locality where it was a bit more open and you could get away with the odd wild one. But I started with a proper grip. I couldn’t play cross-handed at all. In fact, give me a left-handed club for an hour or so and I’ll do better with that than playing cross-handed.
4 Did you harbour ambitions of playing amateur golf at a serious level?
No. When you play with really low amateurs and you are off two, you can see the step up. It’s okay to play in the medal, hit the ball a long way and hit lots of wedges into greens. But going back to the tips on a serious championship set up with a bit of rough, that’s a different story.
5 You met the other big cat, Tiger Woods, at Mount Juliet in 2002. What was that like?
Through a request from JP McManus, we had dinner and he wasn’t interested in talking golf. He wanted to talk about amateur sport and hurling and the banter was good between JP and himself! JP is a passionate hurling and GAA man and he’s very big on the importance of the GAA remaining amateur. And coming from the professional ethos, Tiger said he wouldn’t do what we did as amateurs. We even tried to play some hurling out the courtyard after dinner but it didn’t work out. The crowd spotted straight away what our intention was and it never really happened.
6 Are you surprised the GAA remains amateur?
No. But I think more players benefit from the game and that’s good. And 98 percent of the money the GAA makes goes back into sport at local level. OK, you occasionally hear that a certain player is asking for money or has gone to America but there are grants now and scholarships. I like that it remains amateur.
7 What do you make of Tiger Woods pulling out of his comeback this week?
It doesn’t matter if you are an ageing athlete in a running sport like my own or a golfer. You are still being judged by the glory days and it can’t be done. You are not as fast and you have a different role. I was surprised to hear he was coming back this year anyway. It’s different hitting balls and going around in a buggy in two hours to actually going out to win a tournament and being judged on every shot you hit.
Psychology is so big in sport now that he will be trying to get his all round game right before he comes back. And he probably has to come back as a different person as well as a different golfer. It is difficult for a guy like that to get back to where he was. Not that he might not win a major. But you would need to change quite a bit. Ir you were ruthless as a player and ruthless in interviews and didn’t want to give anyone an advantage, you might like to change now looking to the future and captaincies and what not.
8 Has Tiger lost his bite forever?
Not bragging about myself but the fear of me getting a goal, or the fear of Brian O’Driscoll getting 20 yards of space in rugby, was a disaster for the opposition. Knowing that Tiger is on the prowl and has just birdied three or the last four holes and is now only three behind, that would have to make people nervous, no matter who they are.The problem now is that the modern sportsman has no fear. The modern guy doesn’t fear Henry Shefflin. They have more self-belief and are prepared better psychologically. And they make fewer mistakes
9 Driver or putter?
10 Have you ever had a hole in one? Or an albatross?
I’ve had three holes in one playing on my own! And eight albatrosses, five of them playing in competitions or classics. I hit it a good distance, especially when there’s a bit of run in summer.
11 Wow. Eight albatrosses. What’s your most treasured sporting possession?
An exact replica of the Liam McCarthy Cup in Waterford Crystal. I have won medals and my first senior county medal is a valuable possession. The medal is won, it’s there in history even if it’s physically not there. But jerseys mean more. Those and a driver I got from Riche Beem at Mount Juliet in 2002. He was a fan of hurling. And Ireland.
12 Do you have regrets?
You can have regrets but I look back on my career as one great time. You lose more than you win so no, no regrets. It was fantastic. Unforgettable.
13 Who are the sportsmen you’ve admired?
I’ve had a few in my own sport but Bryan Robson was always a soccer player I loved to watch. He was a hero of mine. Tiger was a phenomenon and he was the man when I was taking up golf. But any of the Irish golfers I love, especially the lads with a GAA background like Shane Lowry, Pádraig [Harrington], or Paul [McGinley]. And I’m a big Rory McIlroy fan. I just don’t understand the criticism he gets, particularly from Irish people. He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. For me, you judge a guy on his talent. I don’t know if he’s never not been dignified when he’s had a terrible day. He’s playing for his place in history now.
14 What’s your favourite major?
The Masters. I’ve been four times. But I’ve played the course too. John Carr is a member and he brought me. You arrive in the evening, go for dinner and then the following morning, you go out and play it twice, go for dinner and then go back and play another 18 in the morning and maybe the par-three. I remember I had two 81s and a 79 and my best round, putting-wise, featured nine three-putts. So the course is very manageable and in fantastic condition, but the greens, you could be putting with your back to the hole more often than not.
15 Is there a course you’d like to play before you die?
Well, I’ve been lucky to play some pretty good ones. I’ve been to Pebble Beach three times and never played it because my timing was wrong. So that’s one for sure. But in my opinion, if you can find a better golf course than The European Club, I’d love to play it. It’s an incredible course. The beauty of it! It’s very difficult to find a bad hole on it. And I’ve never played it in bad condition. Never. And it’s a serious test of golf, even on a good day.
16 Name your dream fourball
Shane Lowry, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Rory is amazing. He's battling now for his place in history, wherever that may be. That creates a massive hunger and that’s what’s driving him on.
17 If you were granted a mulligan in sport, what would you like over again?
I’d take the 1999 All Ireland against Cork again but having said that, we were probably fortunate to win the 2003 All Ireland against Cork. So it’s hard to take a mulligan on ’99 when we know we were fortunate in ’03. If I could give someone a mulligan, I’d give Shane Lowry another crack at this year’s US Open. If feel if he’d made one birdie when it was really needed, he’d have won it.
18 What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Is there any such thing as perfect happiness? Sport is enjoyment — win, lose or draw. And I thoroughly enjoyed the All Ireland final this year, even though Tipperary won. For me, happiness is sport. No matter who it is and no matter what the result.
This piece first appeared in the Irish Independent's Tee to Green golf supplement on 13 October 2016