The happiest man in the field at The Players Championship may just be Seamus Power. He joins Rory McIlroy, who has recorded top-6 finishes in his last five starts, and Shane Lowry, winner of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, among the Irish golfers in the field and is one of 20 players making his debut in what is widely considered the fifth major in golf.
Power qualified for the championship by finishing No 125 in the 2017-18 FedEx Cup Points List, earning his berth into the playoffs on the number and keeping his card for the new season.
“Looking back now, it’s funny because it worked out in my favour, but at the time I missed the cut so I couldn’t do anything,” said Power of the regular-season finale at the Wyndham Championship in August. “I thought I was done. I was already preparing mentally for the Web.com Finals.”
He tried not to watch the final two rounds, which would decide his fate, but a friend of his at Paddy Power created a spreadsheet and kept texting him as his fortunes fluctuated on nearly every shot. At one point, Power’s chances dropped as low as 10%. Somehow, he narrowly survived and so here he is this week in the field getting to play Pete Dye’s house of horrors for a chance at the richest purse in golf of $12.5m (€11m).
On Tuesday, Power tried to reacquaint himself with The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, which he last played as a collegian at East Tennessee State. He played a practice round with Lowry, one of his oldest friends in the game, and kept his 8-iron tee shot dry at the infamous 17th-hole island green.
“It’s such a fun, little shot,” Power said of the 132-yard par 3.
It’s Pete Dye at his best. He likes to mess with your eyes. The course isn’t really as penal as it appears.
Power, a third-year pro on the PGA Tour, maintains a positive outlook despite suffering through his poorest stretch of play. He has made only two of 11 cuts on the PGA Tour - his best finish is a tie for 18th at the Sanderson Farms Championship - and ranks No. 198 in the FedEx Cup standings.
“I haven’t been doing the simple things of getting it in the fairway and hitting greens,” he said. “I haven’t been having birdie opportunities at all.”
Power hopes a new set of eyes will help jump-start his season. He began working with Irish pro Justin Parsons, who is based in Georgia after a long tenure in Dubai. Parsons, a Butch Harmon disciple, has worked with the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Peter Uihlein. They met on the range at Riviera Country Club during the Genesis Open in February.
“It’s very simple stuff,” Power said. “He’s given me a lot of knowledge on how the body works.” Power tees off today at 9:04am local time (1.04pm, Irish) alongside Abraham Ancer and Ollie Schniederjans. Power said he plans to play eight of the next nine tournaments and knows that he’ll need some good finishes to improve his chances of finishing in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup and retain his card for another year.
But he said that if he were offered a spot in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which he hasn’t played since 2013, he would have a hard time saying no, even if his Tour status was in jeopardy.
“I love Lahinch,” he said. “Always have.” Power, who makes his home in Charlotte, NC, has lived in the US for the better part of 12 years and said the time away from home in Co Waterford has slowly eroded his accent. “The abuse I get when I go back home is terrible. My friends are relentless for at least the first two days. I don’t hear it in my head but when I hear it played back I just shake my head,” he said. “In America, people still think I have an Irish accent so I’m still hanging on.”
But that doesn’t mean his affection for back home has diminished. When a reporter proposed a hypothetical scenario between winning The Players this week or Waterford winning the All-Ireland senior hurling championship back home, Power didn’t hesitate with his choice.
“Given that it’s been since 1959 that we’ve won back home, I’ve got to go with Waterford,” he said. The reporter wasn’t buying it. Surely, he would prefer the $2.25m payday, golf’s richest prize, and all the perks that go to the victor. Power smiled, reconsidered, and stood resolute. “I’d take a solo second and Waterford winning,” he said.