Walker Cup another step in the journey for John Murphy and Mark Power

Irish duo speak about US college life, moving away from home and aiming for the top

Kinsale’s John Murphy (left) and Kilkenny’s Mark Power (right) will represent Britain & Ireland at this weekend’s Walker Cup at Seminole in Florida. Photo: Getty Images

Kinsale’s John Murphy (left) and Kilkenny’s Mark Power (right) will represent Britain & Ireland at this weekend’s Walker Cup at Seminole in Florida. Photo: Getty Images

 

From Jimmy Bruen to Joe Carr, Pádraig Harrington to Rory McIlroy; Ireland’s Walker Cup roll of honour is a list of some of the best golfers to come from this island. This weekend two more players will join that illustrious company.

At the University of Louisville, John Murphy is speaking from his college accommodation a couple of weeks before the Walker Cup. A Kinsale sign hangs above the door as a reminder of home for the 22-year-old who is coming towards the end of his days as a student athlete in the Kentucky university.

Life is hectic for a college golfer and no more so than at this time of the year. The previous day Murphy and his teammates arrived back to Louisville from the ACC Championship in Milton, Georgia where they missed out on advancing to the matchplay stages after 54 holes of strokeplay. He’s just submitted his last ever exam in his chosen minor of sports administration and will miss his graduation on May 8th because he’ll be playing in the Walker Cup.

About 700km to the south west, at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Mark Power has also just returned from the ACC Championship where he and his teammates finished one shot outside the matchplay stages.

Barclay Brown, Mark Power, and Alex Fitzpatrick during a practice round on Wednesday. Photo: Sam Greenwood/R&A/R&A via Getty Images
Barclay Brown, Mark Power, and Alex Fitzpatrick during a practice round on Wednesday. Photo: Sam Greenwood/R&A/R&A via Getty Images

He’s not long finished a 6.30am team gym session and is getting ready for classes at 11am which will be followed by three hours of practice at the university’s state-of-the-art golf centre that afternoon. He’s just selected communications as his college major and, with exams on the horizon, it’s a case of fitting in as much practice as possible around classwork before heading south to Seminole Golf Club - the exclusive Florida layout which will host this weekend’s match and where Rory McIlroy often tees it up with his father Gerry, who is a member.

At 20 years of age the Kilkenny man will be one of the younger Britain and Ireland team members but he has already shown his pedigree at the top level by making the cut at last year’s Irish Open while his matchplay record is not too shabby either - he won nine out of the nine Boys Home International matches he played throughout his teenage years which included winning the under-18s Peter McEvoy Trophy at the age of just 15.

His mother Eileen Rose was a three-time winner of the Irish Ladies Championship and played at the Curtis Cup while his father Eddie won three Irish Close titles so the golfing pedigree certainly runs deep. Now in his second year at Wake Forest, which is renowned as one of the best colleges for golf in the US, he recently watched fellow alumni Will Zalatoris finish second at the Masters while reminders of some of the success stories to come out of the North Carolina college – none more so than Arnold Palmer – are dotted all around the golf centre.

“We have a big golf house with a lounge area and locker rooms and stuff where there’s names of every past golfer and all the awards they’ve won. Immediately you understand the company you’re in and all of the greats who’ve gone through. Arnold Palmer was the first real big name to come through and he’s left a big legacy behind so we’re always reminded how lucky we are to be here,” Power says.

Lucky indeed, but it’s by no means easy stepping into the unknown and moving away from home to a different country as a teenager. However, Murphy and Power both settled in quickly at their respective colleges where there is plenty of support available to students. For Murphy, moving over with fellow golf scholar Hugh O’Hare from Fortwilliam was a great help while Galway’s Devin Morley was already at Louisville.

“It was nice that I had them so it wasn’t too much of a culture shock because that was one thing I was afraid of coming over here - I loved being at home and everything about home so I was a bit sceptical about how I’d fit in so they definitely both helped but I think even if I didn’t have them I’d have been okay. Once you’re over here, the atmosphere and the environment meant it all worked out for me thankfully,” he says.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Power who felt right at home once he arrived in North Carolina. “I made a lot of friends quickly and I was used to being away from home with the Irish squads for a lot of my life since I was 14 or 15, travelling away with the under-18s squad. It is tough at times but I found in my first year there was so much going on that you barely had time to be homesick. When you hit the bed you’re so tired that you’re just straight asleep anyway.”

Paul McGinley speaks with Mark Power during Wednesday’s practice round. Photo: Sam Greenwood/R&A/R&A via Getty Images
Paul McGinley speaks with Mark Power during Wednesday’s practice round. Photo: Sam Greenwood/R&A/R&A via Getty Images

In Louisville, Murphy’s college days are winding down and the Walker Cup will be one of his final amateur tournaments before he turns pro at which point he plans to move back to Ireland and take up as many starts as he can in Europe and beyond. The 2020 Byron Nelson Award winner – for achievements on and off the course in college golf - was due to join the paid ranks in 2020 but the Covid-19 pandemic meant college seniors were given an extra year of eligibility. Like Power, he’s just taken delivery of two boxes of gear for the Walker Cup and is well aware of just how well student athletes are treated in the US.

“It’s great, you get treated like royalty over here in fairness,” he says.

“Everything is put in front of you, you have the best facilities you could ask for to get better. You have all the nutritional advice, psychological advice, all of the coaching you could want put on a plate in front of you so that’s certainly a huge advantage to being an athlete over here.

“They are very strict with rules and stuff in terms of taking money off people, you can’t take money off a family friend or anything like that and you get in a lot of trouble if you do so there are a lot of things you have to look out for and you have a lot of responsibilities. Even going out you have to be very careful who you’re speaking to and stuff like that so there are responsibilities but certainly the pros outweigh the cons.

“What I find mad over here is the attention to detail. If they think there’s a 0.001 per cent chance of something making you better they’ll pay for it. Little iPads on every squat rack in the gym and stuff like that to track your weights and it’s just small things like that which add up to make a big difference. That’s the biggest difference I’ve noticed between developing athletes over here and developing athletes at home.”

The pair have played foursomes together in Boys Internationals and have a good relationship which may well see them pair up together again at Seminole while Power will also be joined in the squad by Wake Forest teammate Alex Fitzpatrick, brother of six-time European Tour winner Matt Fitzpatrick.

It’s been six years now since Britain and Ireland won the trophy with the US coming out on top at both LA Country Club in 2017 and Hoylake in 2019. It was at Lytham and St Annes, when Paul Dunne, Gavin Moynihan, Gary Hurley, Cormac Sharvin and Jack Hume made up a five-strong Irish contingent, that the cup was last lifted by Britain and Ireland and they will have their work cut out to win it back this time around.

John Murphy plays a shot as Mark Power and Angus Flanagan look on during Tuesday’s practice round. Photo: Sam Greenwood/R&A/R&A via Getty Images
John Murphy plays a shot as Mark Power and Angus Flanagan look on during Tuesday’s practice round. Photo: Sam Greenwood/R&A/R&A via Getty Images

Through their college careers both Power and Murphy have come up against most of the US team at different stages and know just how good they are. However, they also know they can mix it with the best. In 2018 Murphy took on a Norwegian by the name of Viktor Hovland at the British Amateur Championship and beat him 6 and 5.

Since then Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Matt Wolff have gone on to become the breakout college stars on the PGA Tour - winning five tour events and one Major between them before any have even reached the age of 25. Murphy played with all three during his time in Louisville and says one of the main things that stood out to him was their composure and professionalism.

“That’s one thing I was able to grasp from certainly the likes of Collin. I remember playing with him and he was just cool as a breeze, didn’t seem to let anything bother him and didn’t seem under pressure at any point. The same with Viktor, I caught him on a bad day but it was like he was having the round of his life the way he was talking and his body language, his chest was always pointing up and his head was always above eye level.

“He lost the match 6 and 5 but he just seemed so positive at the time which is just something I really took from that. It’s so easy to get down on yourself but that’s something I’ve really learned off the best of them is how composed and unfazed they are. One great piece of advice I got from Aaron O’Callaghan who recruited me over here is that ‘it’s never as good as you think it is and it’s never as bad as you think it is’.”

With that attitude, a Walker Cup victory would be just another step on the road.

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