'The Old Pro' Mike Power kept his Irish roots

"The Irishman of Yeamans Hall," Mike Power, circa 1998

Michael Joseph Power began his life of golf as a caddy at the legendary Old Course at Ballybunion in County Kerry, Ireland, and he was to end it there Saturday, being buried in the family plot at Killahenny Catholic Cemetery near the first hole, not far from the house in which he was born 90 years ago.

Power, a retired golf pro with the Yeamans Hall Club of Hanahan, died June 14.

The Old Course at Ballybunion was founded in 1893 and has been considered one of the top international golf courses by numerous industry magazines and guides.

"Before we knew of Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, we knew Mike Power," eulogized Charlton deSaussure Jr., vice president with Yeamans Hall Club.

In 2011, when Darren Clarke won the claret jug at the British Open tournament at Royal St. George's Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent, England, (in him) "we recognized Ireland's love of golf, people and life that we had come to know so well in Mike," deSaussure continued.

Power, nicknamed "The Old Pro" by his friends and colleagues, began his tenure at Yeamans Hall in 1953. He started as an assistant pro during the winter months, became the first year-round head pro in 1976 and remained in that position until his retirement in the early 1990s.

In 1958, he noticed a lump on the instep of his right foot and after doctors determined that it was a rare form of cancer, they amputated his leg below the knee.

That didn't stop Power from playing the game he loved, though. He received a prosthetic leg and just two years after his rehabilitation, shot a record 64 at Yeamans Hall. He later went on to win the South Carolina PGA Chapter senior division tournaments in 1978 and 1979.

After his rehabilitation, he would eventually get to the point where he would walk the 18 holes while playing on any given day. But there was a time when Power would play without getting out of the golf cart, like a polo player.

Claude Brusse, the head golf pro with Yeamans Hall since 1993, recalled that Power "was a blast to play with" and that it was all about speed.

"He would drive his cart up to the ball, and without thinking, pull a club and hit and then go to the next shot. He could play 18 (holes) in under two hours easily," Brusse said.

Even at 70 years old, Power still had the strength to drive the ball a long way and "had an unbelievable wedge and putting game," Brusse recalled. "Once Mike hit 80, he started to slow down a bit. He would come out two or three times a week and play nine holes."

Early on in his career, Power would tell his assistants he was going to get in a "fast nine," according to a Post and Courier profile on him in 2004. He would play nine holes in a little more than a half-hour. "I think I got that from Ireland, when we would sneak on a course to play," Power said.

Power passed away before he could see his fellow countryman Rory McIlroy win the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone tournament and the PGA Championship in July and August. He likely would have been proud to know that McIlroy is now ranked as the No. 1 golfer in the world.

Keitt Hane met Power in 1952, when Power made his first visit to the club at Yeamans Hall. Hane was a young teenage beginner and Power taught him the rudimentary principles of the sport.

"Mike was never too busy to help me ... and (get) the basic golf fundamentals and etiquette built into my golf game," Hane reflected. "Our friendship continued through the years, not only in golf, but personally, as well."

Hane joined Power on a trip to Ireland and says some of his best memories of Power are from that week-long trip. "He was my personal driver and tour guide. We visited every golf club within a hundred miles of Ballybunion, and Mike knew and was greeted warmly by friends at every stop," Hane said.

In Ireland, Power also took Hane through the Peat Bog museum and admitted that's how his hands got so big and strong. Power worked the peat bogs as a boy.

Power's hands were the first thing that Brusse noticed when they met. Brusse was "amazed at how well he could play golf with such large hands! You couldn't miss Mike in a room. He had a booming voice in his unmistakable Irish accent."

"Mike was definitely Irish," Hane recalled. "Happy disposition, ruddy complexion, loved Irish whiskey ... (had) the Catholic names Michael (and) Joseph and served in the Royal Air Force in WWII."

DeSaussure said that Power assisted in visitors becoming "enchanted" with Yeamans Hall. "Mike represented much of what Yeamans Hall meant to all of them," he said. "His optimism, good cheer, kindness and humility endeared him to all."

Power's longtime friend Frank McCann echoed these sentiments in an email sent to The Post and Courier just after Power's death. McCann said Power was "much loved" and a "one in a million ... gentleman, friend (and) Irish character."

The pros and members of Yeamans Hall Club will not soon let go of the memory of Mike Power.

The Summer Golf Association has named the club's championship tournament trophy in his honor.

As written by a friend and colleague on the funeral home's message board, people will never forget Mike Power, "the Irishman of Yeamans Hall."

DeSaussure summed it up in his eulogy: "Mike Power visited Yeamans Hall for a day and stayed for a lifetime."

Reach Liz Foster at 937-5582.