A Quick 18 with Mark Gannon

 A Quick 18 with Mark Gannon
 Mark Gannon

Mark Gannon

Baltray’s Mark Gannon is one of the top Irish amateurs of all time but for all his success as an individual, pulling on the green jersey for Ireland more than 100 times remains his most cherished memory.

  • Clubs: County Louth and Balbriggan
  • Handicap: 3

1 How’s your golf? Are you still swinging at 65? 

I'm playing a little better than I was. I went out to five about two years ago but I’m back down to three now. I just play social golf. The great thing about golf is that if your health is okay, you can still play into your 60s and 70s. And I still love it.

2 Mick Morris once said: "Give that little wretch a wedge and a putter and he’d get in and out of hell without getting his clothes singed.” Was all your success down to the short game?

From about 80 yards in, I was probably one of the best. People would say I was a great putter, but it was more my overall short game that was my biggest strength. But the long game had to be pretty reasonable to win tournaments as well.

3 How did you become so good with a wedge?

I grew up in the house 50 yards from the current 10th green in Baltray, which was the 18th back then. When I was seven or eight years of age it wasn't cowboys and indians for me. My mother would shove you out the back door with a 'get out there and practice your golf'. So I'd go out with six golf balls and pitch and putt. Everyone in Baltray played golf.

4. You won more than 100 caps as well as five championships. Looking back, can you pick a highlight?

Winning the Close at Westport ’77. I was five down after ten to Tony Hayes in the final and three down with three to go and won on the 19th. It was a match I should never have won. Strangely enough, I was favourite in another two finals but was beaten by Ray Kane in ’74 and Jackie Harrington in ’79. The match I shouldn't have won, I won.

5 What’s your most treasured possession?

The medal for becoming Irish champion means more than anything. It meant I would lead out for Ireland in the Home Internationals and I would play Peter McEvoy. That meant more than all the cups and glass and all the rest. It was in Hillside. We played three times in singles and it was the only time he beat me. He was amateur champion at the time.

6 They say McEvoy feared your short game and called you “the dreaded dwarf.”

(Laughs) Those stories seem to get better with age. But he was a great player. Strangely enough, my best memories were from team golf, rather than individual golf. Putting on the green jersey meant so much. I remember going to the Home Internationals thinking, I’m not playing great but putting on that green jersey always gave you that bit of a lift.

7 What was the highlight?

I was fortunate enough to be on two Triple Crown teams - ’87 in Lahinch, which was our first, and 1990 in Conwy in Wales when we had the likes of Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley on the team. It was so special - our first Triple Crown outside of Ireland. When you win as an individual, it's great. But winning as part of a team felt so much better.

8 What was the best ever Irish team?

When Joe Carr was captain for the European Team Championships in 1981, he said it was the best Irish team ever. And we didn't win it. We had Ronan Rafferty, Philip Walton, Garth McGimpsey, Arthur Pierse, Declan Branigan—holder of the West, Close and East at the time—and myself. On the first day, Declan didn't get a game at all, I think. England beat us in the semi-final in a match we should have won.

 Mark Gannon during his Presidency of County Louth Golf Club in 2007

Mark Gannon during his Presidency of County Louth Golf Club in 2007

9 What do you miss about those days?

Well, I played from my early 20s until was almost 40, which would be unheard of now. Never considered turning pro. That's the way it was. So we probably had better fun and a great team spirit. Out of a ten-man team, you probably had the same seven or eight faces there for a long number of years.

10 Times have changed. Do you agree with so many youngsters turning pro?

Guys have their dreams and there’s nothing wrong with that but you need to be truly exceptional. Nowadays, there are eight new Irish caps every second year because once they win a championship and hit 21, they all turn pro.

11 What advice would you give them?

Have a backup plan. Unless you are truly special, it is very hard to make it in the pro game.

12 You captained Ireland from 2003 to 2005. What was the highlight?

Winning the 2003 Home Internationals in Ballybunion, before Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry came on the team. That’s a great memory.

13 Apart from Rory or Shane, who was the most impressive Irish amateur you ever saw?

Graeme McDowell had a great commitment and self-belief. And Arthur Pierse was undoubtedly the best driver of a golf ball in amateur golf for a long time. Pádraig had the best short game I have ever seen and Garth certainly had the best amateur career of my era. But Darren Clarke in 1989-90 was just in a different league.

14 If I gave you a mulligan in your career, what would it be?

It involved Arthur Pierse at Rosses Point in the 1980s. In those days your opponent had control of your ball on the green. We were both 7-8 ft away putting for fours on the 17th, all square. Arthur knocked his putt an inch past and I was above the hole, and stupidly, I left his ball there to have something to aim at. But what did I do? I knocked his ball into the hole and instead of going one up by holing the putt, I went one down.

15 Name your favourite Irish Championship course?

We are spoilt with so many great links. But the fairest and the most enjoyable to me is Portrush. It's not as difficult as Royal County Down, or as scenic as the back nine at somewhere like Tralee but for me, it was always a hugely enjoyable course to play.

16 Do you have heroes or people you greatly admire in sport? 

The 400m runner Michael Johnson, who is still great to listen to on television and was such a wonderful sprinter, unbeaten for all those years. In golf, Tom Watson. Not only was he a great golfer and a wonderful links player, winning five Opens, there was a touch of class about him.

17 What about homegrown heroes?

In Irish golf, Joe Carr changed amateur golf here and the way it was being run, insisting on sending squads to big tournaments. He achieved it all. And while I have great respect for all the Irish golfers over the years, Pádraig has to be way up there. He wasn’t the greatest striker but went off and changed everything about his swing, and not many people can do that. And he has great belief in himself and that will to win. And that's half the battle.

18 Name your dream fourball

It would have to be the local men - my brother Frank, Barry Reddan and Declan Branigan. We still have the odd game, and it is always great fun with bustling and all sorts. That's what it's all about, isn’t it? Enjoyment.

This feature on Mark Gannon first appeared in the Irish Independent's Tee to Green supplement on16 November 2017