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    Anyone for golf?



    HE took some historic steps
    last week, leading Ireland out at Croke Park, but Limerick Golf Club is
    where, as a 16-year-old five handicapper, serious golf seemed a far
    more likely outlet than rugby for Paul O'Connell's remarkable sporting
    instincts.


    Eleven years on, the Munster captain and Ireland second row finds
    himself fighting for the opportunities to do himself justice with club
    and ball. And his frustration is entirely understandable, given his
    potential at the royal and ancient game.


    Doonbeg's resident professional Brian Shaw likens the 27-year-old
    Limerickman to no less than Davis Love. "His techhique is entirely
    orthodox and he has the swing of a scratch player. The first thing I
    noticed was his excellent grip and soft hands, especially for such a
    big man. He hits the ball with a high flight, which could be attributed
    to an early release. This makes him a beautiful wedge player."


    Our meeting was arranged for his 'home patch', Limerick GC, and by
    the time O'Connell arrived it was at the tailend of a fairly normal day
    for him - an hour's work with weights in the morning, then lunchtime
    video analysis of the next opposition, followed by speed training in
    the afternoon. Then he had a massage, by which stage evening had closed
    in.


    Though predictably tall at 6ft 6ins, O'Connell appears much slimmer
    than I imagined, although there is obvious muscle development in his
    upper body. Why golf? "I just developed a real liking for it from
    watching it on telly, especially tournaments like the Masters. I'd stay
    up late. Glued to it. I was always a fan of the underdog and I loved
    watching Monty (Colin Montgomerie) and hoping he'd win a major.


    "As for playing the game, my dad would have showed me a few things,
    but he only played occasionally. I cut a green out in our back garden.
    Just a bit of craic. We have a half-acre with the house to the front,
    so there's massive room at the back. I wouldn't say there was very much
    quality to the green, but I enjoyed it all the same.


    "I had guinea pigs at the time and we'd put the guinea pig hutch on
    the green. And we'd move it around. That's the way we kept the grass
    down (Chuckles). The guinea pigs were kind of the greenkeepers.
    Miniature sheep. Having got the grass as low as I could, I'd play shots
    to the green from different parts of the garden and I even went next
    door into a neighbour's garden so I could hit pitch-shots over a hedge.
    That was when I was about eight to 10 years old."


    'I can think of very few teenage golfers who would have reacted in the same, calm, effective way as Paul did'


    O'Connell's formative golfing days involved pitch and putt at the
    Catholic Institute, beside Young Munsters. "We used to play there with
    a nine-iron and a putter. And at Herberts on the Dublin Road. My
    parents would drop us off and we'd spend the day there. After that, it
    was only a short step into golf. I liked the precision in the game, the
    etiquette and the gear. And having been swimming a lot at the time, I
    was into individual sports. Still, I wasn't a loner. I played GAA and
    hurling. There was no rugby at that time because I was very serious
    about the swimming (he represented Munster). Then golf slowly took
    over.


    "I was very tall for my age until I was about 12 or 13. Then
    everybody caught up with me. But I took off again when I was about 16
    and I figure that probably hurt my golf."


    Though early, faltering steps in golf were taken without proper
    tuition, a natural aptitude for the game was evident. "For some reason,
    I used to play with my feet together," he said. "I think that helped me
    a lot. In fact when I got lessons later on, that was one of the things
    they taught me. My natural inclination would be to move a lot, so it
    quietened you down a bit, while promoting hand action."


    Ivan Morris remembers the yo
    New infraction avoidance policy: a post may be described as imbecilic, but its author should never be described as an imbecile.

    #2
    He's penciled in for our fourball in Lahinch any time he's free.

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      #3
      Great article.

      Comment

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