Pádraig Harrington picked up the phone Monday night and texted Séamus Power, inviting him to join an Irish quartet for a practice round in a second consecutive major championship – the only two majors Power has every qualified for.
Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry may have a combined eight major victories between them, but the elder statesman of the group wants Power to know he belongs.
“He should be looking to play with Shane and Rory every time he can,” Harrington said. “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.’” Harrington has a unique perspective on Power, whom he first met in the 2016 Rio Olympics when they represented Ireland together.
“He is a strong player who didn’t believe in himself,” Harrington said of the now 35-year-old Power. “He was a lot better player than he was performing up until 18 months ago when he got through (with a PGA Tour win at the Barbasol Championship last July). … He was under a lot of strain and pressure and once that came off he kicked on and has played great for the past 18 months on the back of it. In that case he needed security.
“He is a fine player. Physically he has no issues with his game. He just has to believe that that’s where he belongs.” Almost exactly a year ago, Power was ranked No. 437 in the world and laboring to retain his status on the PGA Tour that he first earned in 2016. Now he’s ranked No. 42 – a number that should hold up well enough to earn him exemptions into his first U.S. Open and Open Championship this summer. He assesses his breakthrough as “an accumulation of things just kind of came together.” “I don't feel any different, it's just I’m playing in better tournaments against better and better players,” said Power as he prepared for his second career major start today in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. “You know, that's the biggest change. Your practice routine is still the same. I still love the game. The courses are probably better tests and against better fields.
“I've kind of become better at just kind of evaluating and learning from what I'm doing and kind of trying to keep trucking along basically.” Power made the cut at the Masters in his major debut last month, a result he attributes in part to his maturity compared to most rookies. He’s not letting the bigger stages overwhelm him as he steps on them.
“I felt quite comfortable in Augusta. I think my age probably helps, you know, a lot of guys consider first major 23 or 24 or whatever it is,” he said. “I just think I've seen a lot of different tournaments, you know, you've kind of been around and you've heard a lot of talk about it. I mean, Augusta is obviously a little different. From what I've seen so far, it's definitely on a different level in terms of all that stuff. But this is definitely it's definitely cooler vibe on a major. But I mean, once you get on the golf course to get started it's gonna be another golf tournament.” Preparing with three major champions is a treat for Power. The best part is getting to talk about home or experiences they shared 20 years ago as amateurs. He tries to pick up tidbits by watching and talking to them, but he’s careful to understand his strengths in comparison to someone like McIlroy.
“It's just kind of becomes more comfortable in knowing what you can do and also what you can’t do,” he said. “You can play with Rory there and you could be beating yourself up that you can’t hit cloud-touching, high-draw 3-irons or that kind of thing. You realize that's not part of your game, but that's fine. You just kind of feel what you can do and then set up your game plan accordingly … leave yourself shots that you can hit and stuff like that. Not shots that you feel like you should hit or anything like that.
“I think that for me, that was the biggest thing. For years, you’re kind of just fighting. ‘Should’ is always a dangerous word in golf: you should be able to do this or you should do that. Because it's a weird game and there's no real blueprint on how to play it well and just you got to figure out how to do it yourself.” Power hopes he figures out Southern Hills well enough to put himself in position on Sunday to get his first bite of contention in a major.
“Obviously, I won't know until that happens, but I would imagine, there’s a million that jump in your head when you have a chance to win and I imagine in a major that probably jumps to two million thoughts,” he said. “You're doing your best to make sure make every shot the same even though, obviously, it's going to be very hard to do that. But that's going to be the goal. I would imagine because you know all the things that come along with a major and all the things that like it leads to, so it's going to be trying to put those in the back of your mind as best you can and try to hit some good shots.” While McIlroy and Lowry are in form to chase more majors and Harrington hopes to rekindle the magic he found in finishing T4 last year at Kiawah, Power is still trying to find his place in his heady new neighborhood.
“We don’t know who Séamus is yet,” Harrington said. “Séamus 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. I must admit I didn’t do that. I was different. I operated off fear all my life. I was always afraid it would go away.
“The most important thing for a guy coming out is he believes he belongs.”