Interview Martin Dempster
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While you’ve become a very successful golfer, it wasn’t your first career choice. Can you tell us about that?
I had a funny background, to be honest. I played football up to the age of 19 and I was an eight handicapper. I was on the verge of breaking into the top level of Irish football but then I broke my kneecap and that was the end of my football career. I was on crutches for nine months and the following year I started to play golf for 12 months as opposed to the three months I had played previously. At that stage, I had just finished my three-year college course in Dublin and came out with a marketing diploma. I didn’t know what to do because I still wasn’t good enough to go over to America on a golf scholarship.
What did you do instead?
I decided to go to Brussels, where I worked for six months on a post-graduate course in the EEC. I then worked for six months for a financial company in Dublin, after which I went to America. I still wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship and ended up getting a ‘walk on’, which meant I paid my own way for the first year. It cost me five grand but I suppose it was money well spent because I went over to America as a two handicapper and came back as a plus four player. I turned pro after the Walker Cup in 1991 - that was like a finishing school for me in terms of amateur golf.
While it may not have been the conventional route, the whole episode didn’t seem to do you any harm. In fact, do you feel it may have helped in the making of you?
I suppose it wasn’t a bad thing but I just feel as though I missed out a bit. Everyone had a jump start on me. Sergio Garcia, for instance, played in the Ryder Cup last year at the age of 24. At the same age, I was working in Brussels playing off three or four. In some ways it might have been better if the football injury had happened when I was 13.
What do you mean by that?
Well, I could have dedicated myself to golf at an earlier age. Having said that, I would have missed out on a lot of other life experiences, five years at university for instance and I’ve got a degree in international business as well as that diploma in marketing. I’ve also worked for a year and there aren’t many guys out on the Tour who can actually say that. I’m sure it will all stand me in good stead for the future when my golf career is over.
Paul McGinley on playing in Scotland and Bob Torrance...
You’ve never hidden your love for Scotland. Tell us why you like this country so much.
I have a huge affinity for Scotland, more than anything I suppose through the fact it’s where Celtic play. I also have a huge affinity for Scottish people. My mum and dad are both from Donegal, which is just across the Irish Sea, while I also have an auntie who has lived in Edinburgh all her life. My mum used to regularly come over to Scotland with her dad when she was a kid - so there is a close association there. A lot of Celtic roots, if you like.
You also tasted a fairly big amateur success in Scotland. Can you tell us about that?
My first big win, which was a total surprise at the time, came in the Scottish Youths at Ladybank in 1988. It is something I still remember quite vividly. The course was playing very fast and I hit a lot of 2-irons off the tee as part of my course management. I kept it out of the gorse and, as a result, dropped very few shots. I won quite handsomely, which was very pleasing.
I also have a huge affinity for Scottish people - Paul McGinley
Of course, you also have a Scottish coach in Bob Torrance. How important has he been to you over the years?
Bob’s influence on me has been huge. The fact of the matter is that he’s one of the best golf coaches in the world. I’ve addressed him as that before - and I have absolutely no reason to change my view on that.
What do you think are the main differences between Bob and some of the other coaches out there?
What I like about Bob is that he has certain views on my swing. He had those views when he first saw me about eight years ago and he’s still got them now. He has never wavered. He’s not said to me this is the new fashion and let’s go down that road to see if it would work for me. He has never been sidetracked. What he says to me about my golf swing now is exactly the same as it was when I saw him for the first time. The things I fall into and we have to work on to make sure they don’t happen again are always the same.
By the sounds of it, you obviously believe that some coaches can over complicate things.
The more I play the game and the more experience I get, the more I realise that the way Bob teaches is the way to go. You need to understand your own game yourself, you need a coach who understands your game and you have to stay inside those set parameters and not get sidetracked by fads and fashions in the game.
In addition to being your coach, I believe Bob is also someone you have tremendous respect for as a person.
I just like him as a man, it’s as simple as that. I could spend six, seven or eight hours on a practice ground with him at the one time because I just like his company. I think that’s important with a coach that you actually like the person. Bob is one of my favourite people in the world - and not just because he’s a top coach. I could sit in his company all day long and not get bored.
You touched upon being a big Celtic supporter earlier. Can you tell us more about that?
My love for Celtic goes back to my roots - it’s in the blood, so to speak. My mum used to come over on the boat to go to games regularly with her dad, who was a big Celtic man. I used to come over to the odd game and then when Dermot Desmond became the main shareholder that was great for me as it meant I had a ticket whenever I wanted it. He’s been great to me.
Bob is one of my favourite people in the world - and not just because he’s a top coach. I could sit in his company all day long and not get bored - Paul McGinley on Bob Torrance
Is it right that you’ve also become quite friendly with Martin O’Neill?
I’ve got to know Martin O’Neill and a couple of the players. Martin sends me messages all the time when I’m doing well and, likewise, I do the same to him.
Paul McGinley on his Ryder Cup experiences
Tell us about being a member of two winning Ryder Cup teams.
Last year was a slightly different scenario than the last time for me, having holed the winning putt at The Belfry. There wasn’t the drama either in terms of it all coming down to one of the last games. Having said that, it was probably more satisfying for me because I had a bigger role to play in the team than I did at The Belfry. With five rookies in the team, I felt I was one of the more experienced players on our team this time and, in picking up two-and-half points from my three matches, I felt I contributed to the team.
And your contribution certainly gave the many Irish fans in the crowd at Oakland Hills plenty to cheer about.
We had great Irish support, those who came over being bolstered by the fact we were in the middle of a triangle formed by Boston, Chicago and New York. That, coupled with the fact the 2006 match is at The K Club, meant there was a strong Irish theme running through the event. We are Europeans, though, and we have got to remember that.
Can you expand on that?
Padraig Harrington and I always get fantastic support when we play together and that’s great. However, it is important that people remember we are part of a team - the last thing we want is to have little cliques; it is important that we don’t have too much Irishness, Spanishness or Scottishness shining through. Okay, we all have our pictures taken at the end of it with our national flags. However, it is important in terms of team morale and team everything that cliques don’t develop. That’s a point I was trying to stress in my press conferences at Oakland Hills.
Have you already started thinking about the next match at The K Club?
I haven’t yet thought too much about it, to be honest. Yes, I know it’s going to be in Ireland, I’m excited it’s going to be there and it’s great for Ireland that it’s going to be there. Ireland has played a huge part in Ryder Cups over the years and it deserves to host the match, as is the case with Wales (2010) and Scotland (2014). It’s a team I want to be on but I know that the competition is going to be tough.
Tougher than the last two matches even?
Everyone has gotten a sniff of the Ryder Cup after what happened at Oakland Hills and the standard of golf on the European Tour is higher than it has ever been before - ever! A lot of guys are going to be in the equation but, at the end of the day, there are only going to be 12 that will make it. I’ll certainly be giving it my best shot but I’m under no illusions as to just how difficult it is going to be. The reason for that is that I know how good European golfers are at the moment, as was proved by the fact we didn’t just win at Oakland Hills but we did so quite handsomely.
Would you like to see Colin Montgomerie in the European colours again in 2006?
Monty is still a young man - there are plenty of years ahead for him to be captain. He’s done a lot in the game but he could still do a lot more in the game. I think it is important for Monty that he does not go down the road of semi-retirement. For his own sake, I think it’s better for him that he keeps plugging away.
You live on the outskirts of London at the moment but do you see yourself returning to Ireland one day?
Living in Sunningdale is important because it means I am able to get home to my wife and kids a lot easier after a tournament. As much as I love Ireland - and I will certainly go back there and live one day - I don’t think it would do my golf career a whole lot of good to live in Ireland at this point. Irish people are great but I’m too easily sidetracked when I’m over there. I can see myself living in England for maybe the next five years but after that I will probably go back to Ireland because I would certainly like to see my kids get a bit of Irish upbringing. I do my best to educate them and my little fellow has already been well educated about Celtic!