Mark Power makes impressive professional debut in Irish Open

Young Kilkenny man firmly in the mix alongside Lowry and McIlroy as India’s Shubhankar Sharma’s 65 sets the early pace

Shane Lowry after finishing his first round, a four-under par 68, at the Irish Open at the K Club. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

A rare old day by the river Liffey, if the truth be told.

For, in this 68th edition of the Horizon Irish Open, the opening round played out in glorious sunshine on the Arnold Palmer-designed North Course produced as wide-ranging a list of characters – old and young, and those in between – to enthrall and enchant those many spectators who made their way to the Straffan venue in Co Kildare.

And if, understandably, the initial lure was of an early morning start in back-to-back marquee groups featuring Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy, by the time the sun had started to set and the shadows to lengthen, there came an impressive professional debut from Mark Power – the Kilkenny man playing on a sponsor’s invitation – to start a new generation game, as it were.

When all 156 players had signed their cards and handed them into the recorder’s cabin, India’s Shubhankar Sharma was the one who had claimed the first round lead.


A bogey-free round of seven-under-par 65 gave Sharma a one shot lead over a quintet of players, featuring 52-year-old Dane Thomas Bjorn, the English pair of Ross Fisher and Jordan Smith, Norway’s Kristian Johannessen and Germany’s Marcel Schneider.

Power, a 23-year-old with some serious golfing DNA (his mother Eileen Rose and father Eddie are each three-time Irish Close champions), finished his studies at Wake Forest University earlier this year and bowed out as an amateur when competing in his second Walker Cup at St Andrews on Sunday before embarking on his new life for money.

In his first round as a professional, Power went bogey-free and embellished what had gone before by dramatically chipping in on the 18th for an eagle three, the ball – a la Tiger Woods at Augusta all those years ago – stopping before teetering for effect and finally dropping into the tin cup as if to tease the player and those gathered around the 18th.

So, Power’s brave new journey away from cosseted life as an amateur started with a 68, four-under, that put him alongside Lowry in leading the Irish challenge in tied-13th after day one, with McIlroy a shot back in tied-26th after a 69.

And if that closing eagle came as an embellishment, it was perhaps Power’s play of the Par 5 16th hole – with the approach over the Liffey to the river’s only island – that summed up his qualities. There, Power put his approach in to the river and responded by sticking his wedge approach within a couple of feet to save his par.

“It was pretty scrappy at times but I grinded it pretty well. I would say that’s one of the strengths of my game. I am not too flashy. I like to get in, get involved and get stuck in and don’t really mind how I do it just as long as I grind it out,” said Power, who also benefited from having veteran caddie Dermot Byrne, on a week off from his regular bag-carrying for Leona Maguire, on his bag.

Power wasn’t losing the run of himself by any means.

“I am not one to get ahead of myself. I shot 4-under today but it is a long week, just park that and put the head down and commit to each shot at a time,” he remarked.

This is new territory for Power, even if past invites – at Mount Juliet – as an amateur had paved the way.

And the contrast with Bjorn, one of those closest pursuers of Sharma, only served to remind one and all of how fickle golfing like can be and is.

Bjorn hadn’t played a competitive round for 10 weeks due to injury and last made a cut on the DP World Tour in Thailand back in February. Once ranked in the world’s top-10, he has dropped to 1,232nd, and his last tournament win in his stellar career goes back 10 years – to the Nedbank Challenge – when he was 42 years old.

Now 52, he went to the first tee with no expectations.

“Let’s see if we can break 90,” Bjorn remarked to his caddie.

“I came here, I’ve got no feelings for the game, and it just shows how silly [it] can be. You can work hard for weeks and go out and shoot bad scores. Expectations sometimes get in the way of professional golf, as I’ve known, and then you just go out and enjoy yourself, you’re just happy to be on the golf course after so long,” said Bjorn.

At least he was a happy, smiling man in the sunshine. For Ryder Cup-bound Tyrrell Hatton, there was little cheer. His backward run featured water balls – a triple on the 12th, a double on the 17th – as, playing in the same group as Europe’s captain Luke Donald, he ran up a 75. Donald, meanwhile, signed for a 68. Silly old game, indeed.

As for Sharma? Well, his was a round of fine ball-striking augmented by an ability to use his putter to good effect in a number of par-saving putts.

His round came to life at the tailend of his front nine, where he followed birdies on the 16th and 17th by holing out from 105 yards with his wedge approach for an eagle on the 18th.

“I haven’t see the stats but I’m sure I gained some strokes on the field with my putting. It was one of those days that the hole grew bigger and bigger. I was great off the tee, but putter would be number one,” assessed Sharma, who placed tied-eighth in The Open at Royal Liverpool before taking a four-week break and then missed the cut on his return at the European Masters last week.

The so-called late Indian summer here has met with his approval, though.

“I’m loving it,” he said. So, too, everyone. A first round that brought low scores – with 84 players posting rounds under par – has only whetted the appetite.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times