Four years after tasting All-Ireland golfing glory with Bandon Golf Club at the GUI’s Cups and Shields finals in Castlebar, the 27-year-old is on the other side of the world helping the biggest golf club in the world prepare for an influx of Hollywood, golfing and athletic glitterati next month for the Mission Hills World Celebrity Pro-Am in China.
O’Donovan is working as a golf instructor and management trainee at the Mission Hills resort in China, with its Haikon resort on the tropical island of Hainan staging a three-day Ryder Cup style pro-am competition that will feature Ireland’s Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley, his team members Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, as well as major winners Gary Player and John Daly.
They will be paired with stars from screen and sport, including Morgan Freeman, Nicole Kidman and Jessica Alba, as well as Chinese basketball star Yao Ming.
All a very long way from the cut and thrust of Senior Cup singles play, where O’Donovan closed out his amateur career in style as a member of the Bandon team which claimed Irish golf’s blue riband at the national finals in 2010.
A PGA degree was earned during stints at Fota Island and under Stephen Hayes at Douglas Golf Club before O’Donovan journeyed to the Far East to work at Mission Hills, near Shenzhen, the luxury golf and spa resort which boasts a record 12 courses.
As a teaching pro there, he is involved with a burgeoning academy programme that is helping to nurture some of the best golfing talent in China, which has come alive to the game, particularly now it will be an Olympic sport on its reintroduction to the Games in 2016 in Rio.
Testament to that is the fact that more than 1000 young golfers signed up for tuition at the Mission Hills academy alone this summer.
“My experience here has been fantastic,” O’Donovan said. “My main roles here include golf instruction and helping to expand the academies, running events, meeting with golf societies to create new partnerships or helping to produce marketing material for the academies,” says O’Donovan.
“The Grow Golf China is an initiative whereby we send pros into local schools to introduce kids to golf, in order to grow the popularity of the game. This has been one of the main aspects I have been involved in, and we have hosted days where the schools send the kids to Mission Hills for the day to experience the biggest golf club in the world.
“Being at the forefront of growing golf in China is one of the main highlights of being here, getting the chance to work alongside some of the best teaching pros in Asia and having to adapt to the differences between life in China compared to the western world.”
While the Americans lick their wounds following their Ryder Cup defeat by Europe and continue to play the blame game, the victors are certainly enjoying the spoils.
Winning captain Paul McGinley was yesterday named the Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Month for September following his inspirational leadership performance in the 16.5–11.5 success against the United States at Gleneagles nine days ago.
The award reflects the outpouring of appreciation for captain McGinley, from his 12 team members, with world number one and Race to Dubai standings leader Rory McIlroy, saying: “Paul left no stone unturned. He was just fantastic, absolutely immense from start to finish.”
When it comes to the Ryder Cup, McGinley, 47, has never tasted defeat in three appearances as a player, two as an assistant captain and now as the victorious captain. Yet in accepting his award he deflected the praise in the direction of his team.
“I feel like there are 12 winners of the Golfer of the Month Award rather than me,” the Dubliner said. “But I’m delighted to accept this award on behalf of those 12 players who represented Europe so magnificently in The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. I’m very honoured and humbled to have been their Ryder Cup captain.”
Following on from yesterday’s report from Adare Manor as Niall Kearney became Irish PGA Champion for 2014, it was great to see a Tour golfer acknowledge the benefits of regular competitive outings on home soil.
Kearney, 26, has been focusing on the European Challenge Tour this season but his regular returns to the PGA in Ireland circuit have now garnered five victories. Sunday’s one-shot win from Michael McGeady was the latest and an excellent morale booster as the Royal Dublin pro turns his attention to next month’s European Tour Qualifying School second stage.
“It has been great for confidence, come home, get a card in the hand and stay competitively sharp,” Kearney said. “It has been brilliant for me, it really has.”
Hats off, too, to Old Conna’s Donal Gleeson, who grabbed third place behind McGeady thanks to a final round, bogey free, six-under-par 63.
“I had a chance at the last to get to seven under but it finished just short,” Gleeson said. “I was really dialled in. It was one of those days when I was thinking there was no limit to how low I could go.
“I have been right on the cusp of playing some really good golf and I went out and relaxed and let it happen. It’s been a good fun week and an excellent way to finish.”