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A quick 18 with John McHenry: My perception of golf changed after playing with Seve

Winner of three Irish Youths titles between 1980 and 1985, and the South of Ireland, the Mullingar Scratch Trophy and the Irish Close in 1986 before winning the European Team Championships and Walker Cup honours in 1987, John McHenry went on to play on the European Tour.

He was a key player in The K Club’s staging of the 2006 Ryder Cup. As a golfing renaissance man, he is now back where it all began, directing the start of a new era for Douglas Golf Club as General Manager, where he strives for that perfect balance between his two great loves – golf and family life.

1. How’s your golf?

I got my amateur status back a couple of years ago, and because my kids are growing up and playing golf, I wanted to play social golf with them. So I am trying to get back to playing competitively with the club. To be truthful, it’s a grind, but it’s an enjoyable grind. Playing for the club makes it extra special.

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2. How did you get started in the game?

Through my father, who is a very keen golfer. He gave me a club, and I remember going up to the practice ground hitting balls over hills, thinking it was a massive achievement. It might’ve been just 30 yards, but I just got into it. I was encouraged and kept with it, and thankfully it’s been a huge part of my life.

3. Choose your weapon: driver or putter? And why?

For me, it’s the driver. I have a streaky relationship with the putter. As an amateur, I think I was a very good putter. It was probably one of the strengths of my game. But as a professional, the putter blew me out of the tour pretty rapidly. It’s something I would’ve loved to have had in my arsenal, but it just didn’t perform, unfortunately.

4. Links or parkland?

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I love the challenge of links. It provides far more variety and unpredictability. But having said that, we are blessed in Ireland with great links and parkland courses.

5. When were you happiest on the golf course?

I was lucky enough to play Walker Cup in 1987, but a few months earlier, we won the European Team Championships in Austria. It was an important event: we started out as favourites and we won. Having been with that group for a number of years – Eoghan O’Connell, Padraig Hogan, Garth McGimpsey, Liam MacNamara and Neil Anderson – the camaraderie of that team was fantastic.

6. Who was your sporting hero?

You couldn’t but be impressed with Nicklaus in terms of his consistency and what he was achieving in the game. I had a personal admiration for Ben Hogan, but after moving into the professional game and playing with the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer, my perception changed. We all know about the rise and fall of Seve. He was a charismatic person and someone who gave so much to the game of golf. He made the European Tour.

7. Name an opponent or rival you especially admired and why.

One of my first trips with the national panel to Valderrama was with Joe Carr, Arthur Pierse, Garth McGimpsey and Declan Branigan. These were leading lights, and you watched these guys and learned from them. In my time, Garth was the guy who is there all the time; a very consistent performer, tough competitor. I remember beating him in the semi-finals of the South in 1986, and that was a passing of the baton in a way. After that, I went on a run and went to number one in the Irish squad.

8. What’s your golfing ambition?

My ambition now is for the club. I had a career as a professional, and then I had a focus on the Ryder Cup at The K Club, which was a huge thing for Ireland. So I’ve been fortunate in my career. But I think right now in my home club, and we have made an awful lot of big changes here. I just love the energy we are building, and I’d like to keep that going.

9. Name your dream fourball and the venue.

I’ve always wanted to play Augusta National. I’ve walked it several times, and I’ve been to the Masters a number of times. The shot values there are unbelievable. So I’d love to play with Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros – three different styles. One is probably the greatest ball-striker of all the time, one the greatest performer of all time and one probably the most charismatic golfer of all time. Having played with Seve several times, I know the entertainment value he would bring. But I would be fascinated to see the striking side of Hogan and the mental side of Niklaus. For my partner, I’d pick Seve for his sheer will. I would love to be part of that. He just willed Europe onto victories in the Ryder Cups, and I’d love to feel that energy.

10. If you could change something about the modern game, what would it be?

I am not a fan of the length they hit the golf ball. There are so many great golf courses that are now landlocked, so I’d love to bring shotmaking back into the game of golf. We need to find some sort of mechanism to make some of the short golf courses relevant again, so these great courses do not lose their personality. I have written to the R&A asking why we aren’t introducing a shorter tee-peg or maximising the loft of a sand wedge at 56 degrees to bring at least some of the relevance of these courses back. Ultimately, the way the game is going, we are going to have to have bifurcation in terms of rules and a golf ball, the ball that flies 30pc less.

11. If I gave you a mulligan in your golfing career, what would it be?

Probably the 11th hole in the final round of the Irish Open at Mount Juliet 1993. I left it in the bunker and took a five. I wasn’t playing well on the day, but that was the tipping point. You’d love to have that shot over again.

12. If you had just one more round to play, where would it be?

If it was my last game of golf, I would probably play it here in Douglas. This is where it all started for me and, hopefully, this is where it will all end too.

13. What’s your favourite par three?

I always thought the second hole in Paris National was such a challenging hole. If you played it well, it gave you a boost. It’s the same as the 15th hole in Portmarnock, which is a superb par three.

14. If you could change one thing about your golf, what would it be?

My putting.

15. What’s your most treasured possession?

Yesterday I was using the same putter I used as an amateur – a Ping Pal, the same putter Tom Watson used in his heyday. All the other clubs are long gone, but I still have that club, so that’s probably something I would treasure. It’s just a memory from way back.

16. If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?

I am happy in my skin. I have a lovely wife and three fantastic children, and my life has progressed. I am back in my own club, so I am very grateful to the game of golf. I have always been ambitious for the game, like when I tried to bring in the game of GolfSixes. That’s a very important part of the game going forward in terms of its relevance. My focus right now is on where is golf going. I am passionate about how golf can remain relevant for the average player, so they still want to become a member of a golf club.

17. Who’s your favourite golfer of all time?

It has to be Seve. He was unique.

18. What’s your idea of perfect happiness?

It’s for me to have a relationship with my children and my family. I’d be a quiet enough person. I’m very simple in all of the things we do. We have some great friends, but to get the balance between work and downtime, I value that massively. Watching the children grow up and spread their wings is lovely to see. That’s perfect happiness for me.

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