Editor’s note: This story, which originally published on May 20, is another installment in our annual Best Of The Year series. Throughout December, we will be bringing you the top GGP+ stories of 2022.
TULSA, OKLAHOMA | A year ago, you could be excused for knowing little about Seamus Power other than he was an Irish professional competing on the PGA Tour in the U.S. Actually, you might not have known even that. In which case you certainly would not have known that Power (35) was world racquetball champion at the age of 11 and can throw a golf ball up in the air and hit it 200 yards right- or left-handed with the same club just by turning the club around. Oh, yes, and this time last year, he was 342nd in the world ranking.
Look at him now, up to 42nd in the world, laughing and smiling and looking at ease in the company of Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington, three countrymen and former Open champions, during a practice round on the eve of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. On an overcast day that was cool by Oklahoma standards, there was a lot of good-natured banter when McIlroy and Harrington teamed up to play the other two in a match that reprised a practice game the four men had enjoyed before last month’s Masters. There was even more banter when Harrington played the wrong ball on one hole and a big cheer from Harrington when McIlroy rolled in a long putt for a birdie 3 to enable him and Harrington to win the hole.
Power, at 6 feet 3 inches, is a tall, broad-shouldered man who moves well and is brisk and businesslike when he gets ready to play. There is none of the gripping and regripping that afflicted Sergio García in the past. He holds his hand out to receive the club that he and Simon Keelan, his caddie and a former teaching pro in Ireland, have agreed should be used, puts his hands on the grip, rocks from side to side a couple of times and then he goes at it, a firm and powerful swing that sweeps through to a high, balanced finish. It looks mighty simple.
“As a person he [Seamus] is quietly confident and very self-assured,” said Rhys Davies, the former European Tour player who attended the same U.S. university, East Tennessee State, as Power. “He has taken the long route to the top 50 in the world golf rankings through mini-tours, the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA Tour. I have often felt that this is the best way to excel in professional golf: steady, gradual improvement, with enough success to keep you going but not so much to get overly noticed or recognised. Keeps confidence high and expectations low. So many, including myself, are the other way around!”
“He was under a lot of strain and pressure, and once that came off [him] he started playing really nicely and well. From that moment, he kicked on.” – Pádraig Harrington
Power’s ability had been known in Ireland, where McIlroy and Lowry were his peers in junior golf and among his fellow professionals on the PGA Tour for years. “He was always very tidy and down the middle,” McIlroy said of the man whom he had first met when they were in an under-15 junior squad assembling at an hotel on the outskirts of Dublin. “I like it now, but I have always liked his ball flight. It was always feathered down a little. I was pretty much the opposite. I’d be hitting it up in the air, and he was keeping it going. Any of the teams we played on or tournaments we played in, he was always up there, having a chance to win. I got to know him pretty well when we were both playing on the Irish boys’ teams and that sort of thing.”
A little later Fred Warren, the golf coach at ETSU, offered McIlroy a scholarship at the university. He ended up not taking it, preferring to get on with his playing career, and this created a place that Power would fill. “There was a big GB&I connection with ETSU,” McIlroy said. “I often wonder what would have happened if I had went there. These tiny decisions make huge differences. You never know, do you?”
In 2016, Power joined Harrington to represent the Republic of Ireland at the Olympics in Brazil. “Up till then, he was a lot better player than he was performing,” Harrington said. “He was under a lot of strain and pressure, and once that came off [him] he started playing really nicely and well. From that moment, he kicked on.” The moment that Harrington was referring to came last July when Power won the Barbasol Championship in Nicholasville, Kentucky, on the sixth playoff hole.
That victory had been coming. He’d had five top-20 finishes in succession, and the victory earned him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. No wonder he refers to that day as being “life- and career-changing, an unbelievable day.” Power hasn’t looked back since then. In January, he had a career-tying-low round, a 63, in the Sony Open in Hawaii. At Pebble Beach in February, Power took a lead of five strokes at the halfway point. Then at Augusta, playing in his first major championship, he tied for 27th. This month, Power reached a career-high 40th in the world ranking.
This rise is a vindication of his unusual decision to do without a coach. He is an intelligent man, good with numbers and strong in math, chemistry and physics, and he decided that not cluttering his mind with too many thoughts was the way he was going to succeed. Harrington talks about having a quiet mind so that on as many shots as possible there aren’t different thoughts careening around and getting in the way of what he should be thinking about. Power is the same. To reduce it almost to a facile level, it’s KISS: keep it simple, stupid.
“I’ve kind of become better at just kind of evaluating and learn from what I’m doing and kind of trying to keep trucking along, basically,” Power said Tuesday, standing by the side of the ninth green at the bottom of the hill beneath the impressive Southern Hills clubhouse. “Golf is a game of small margins. So it’s one of those things you kind of pick up where you can and, you know, if you feel like you’re going down the wrong path and something get off and have a break if you feel the season is going well, get on with it. I don’t feel any different. It’s just I’m playing in better tournaments against better and better players. You know, that’s the biggest change. Your practice routine is still the same. I still love the game.”
McIlroy was asked whether he thought Power lacked confidence. He paused and looked away, noting the slow-moving traffic making its way down from the clubhouse to the front gate. When McIlroy pauses like that, it means he is unsure or disagrees with the question. “I think he has taken a different route to getting to the top of the game than some of us have. Does he lack self confidence? I don’t know what is going on inside his head. I love how he has persisted, put his head down and grinded away. He has done his work very quietly out here, and all of a sudden, he is top 50 in the world, in the majors, and doing really, really well. It is great to see.”
Even if his progress slows over the coming months – and conventional wisdom suggests that it must – Power surely will contend to be among Henrik Stenson’s European team in the Ryder Cup in Rome in September 2023.
“Physically, he has no issues with his game,” said Harrington, Europe’s captain in the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. “[Seamus] just has to believe that that’s where he belongs. I texted him today to play this game. He ought to be texting me for a game and looking to play with Shane and Rory every time he can. He grew up with those two lads. He played amateur golf with these two guys. He should be able to say, ‘This is where I belong. I should be out here.’
“We don’t know who Seamus is yet,” Harrington said. “He might believe he is the best player in the world, and if he does believe that, then he will get there. If he doesn’t, he won’t. The most important thing for a guy coming out is he believes he belongs.”
Top: With his recent surge, Seamus Power emerges as a contender for Henrik Stenson’s 2023 European Ryder Cup team. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn, Getty Images)
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