ADRIAN RUSSELL: O’Donoghue’s Living Golf and the dream

I was aware of the programme, like everyone who travels abroad. It’s a magazine show really and like anyone I’d think ‘how did your man get that job’?

WHEN Tiger Woods trudged off the course at Augusta last year, having made a disappointing comeback to the game that put his name in lights, one of the first faces he saw framed under the peak of his swoosh-emblazoned cap was an Irishman.

Shane O’Donoghue has been here many times before through the years with RTÉ and then the BBC. He offered the mic to the most notorious man this side of Tripoli or Charlie Sheen... and threw him a soft ball.

“You have two – maybe three questions if you’re lucky,” he explained to me this week, “so you’re going to have to throw them a relative soft ball with the first one to essentially engage them.

“And then with the second question, hopefully you’ll get some insight into what happened out there. There’s not a lot of wriggle room really.”

No, this isn’t Hangin’ with Hector. With millions watching, maybe 100 words in your bag and 120 seconds to swing them at an unhappy pro, there is little room for the aforementioned wriggle. As Tiger pursed his lips, O’Donoghue followed up the introductory query with something a little meatier.

Tiger wasn’t in the mood to answer yet more questions after a 20-week break from the game in which he dodged them. He paid cursory tribute to his old rival and winner Phil Mickelson and moved out from under O’Donoghue’s shadow. End of transmission.

The best golfer in the world came to stand in that spot, in that corner of Georgia, through a lifetime of practice, coaching from an obsessive father from a young age, good fortune, hard work, no little talent and some foolish decisions. But how did the Clonmel man come to share that little piece of American real estate at that moment?

Well, if it started for Eldrick on the dusty public golf courses of Orange County in California, for O’Donoghue the first steps are traced to Clonmel golf course and perhaps caddying for his mother at Cork Scratch Senior Cups below in Fota. But it’s the same game, wherever you start.

From playing junior against the likes of Padraig Harrington, he went on to covering the likes of Graeme McDowell in amateur championships. He graduated to walking inside the ropes at Irish Opens for RTÉ to jetting off to the States for the BBC’s majors coverage. And now the Tipperary native has shaved yet more off his game. Meet the new face of CNN’s golf coverage.

“It’s a dream come true really,” he says. “It’s a magnificent opportunity for me. I had seven seasons at the BBC and that was a boyhood dream realised too, to be honest. And I was quite committed to carrying that on. But then out of the blue this came up and it’s just a dream.”

Like any travelling professional that kicks off the shoes at the end of the hotel bed, loosens the tie and clicks on the telly, he took in his share of CNN – and often caught their golf magazine show: Living Golf. He’s now its new host as well as the station’s main golf anchor.

“I was aware of the programme like everyone who travels abroad. It’s a magazine show really and like anyone I’d think, ‘how did your man get that job’?

“It’s a very well rounded show, it gets behind the scenes and zones in on where the decisions are made. It’s a lifestyle and magazine show essentially but golf is at its core.” He pauses for a beat. “And not only that but CNN asked me to present their entire golf coverage!”

It’s obvious, he still can’t believe his luck. But, like the cliché rings, he made his own.

“I was always building towards this since I started in Clonmel. It all started to come together when I was around 30; I realised I had all this broadcasting experience and I should be using it to cover my passion,” he says. “So I started to ruthlessly pursue it – I cold-called the BBC and made tapes which I sent off. I’ve always had to chase the dream – this is the first time that the dream came after me.”

As we speak, O’Donoghue is gearing up for a six-week stint Stateside, which will culminate in him hosting the station’s coverage from Augusta. He might well be reunited with Tiger – now number four in the world, but it won’t be their first meeting since last year. Recently the pair sat down for a 20-minute chat for the new show. As well as the customary gentle first question, O’Donoghue had the scope to offer a few curve balls. So what’s he like?

“On a personal level he was very professional and courteous. I’m quite pleased with how it went but there’s always room for improvement. It was my first real in-depth chat with him and hopefully it’ll be the start of a relationship there.

“Because really he’s the focus of attention at the moment, in that the question is: can he get back to winnings ways? I firmly believe he can and he reckons it’s just a matter of getting into the winners’ enclosure once again and the rest will look after itself. I think that’s right.”

* O’Donoghue’s book about Ireland’s greatest amateur golfers, Legends in their Spare Time, has been republished.

Contact: Twitter: @adrianrussell


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