Thomas Sharkey was only beginning to show off what he was capable of on the golf course.
The 21-year-old Georgia Southern Eagle died early Sunday morning, along with his 8-year-old sister Bridget, in a fire at their home in Helensburgh, Scotland. Police in Scotland believe the fire was arson and are investigating Sharkey’s death as a murder.
After being redshirted in 2009, Sharkey was determined to have an impact for the Eagles on the course.
“He really had to work at his game to get to the level to compete in tournament golf,” said GSU coach Larry Mays. “We redshirted him his first year, and I think after he went home he realized he had to work harder to compete in our lineup. We were pretty competitive, and he had a competitive spirit.”
He turned his frustrations into positive energy, and worked his way onto the travel squad, where he played in seven tournaments, earning a letter for the 2010-11 season.
“He had to grind out his rounds to play. He didn’t have the prettiest swing. He had what I call a homemade swing,” Mays said. “He worked to get competitive and make the travel squad. Once he realized he was being too hard on himself on the golf course, he let that go and started to blossom. It was fun to see him progress to where he not only got in the lineup, but he started shooting some significant rounds for us.”
Sharkey’s biggest day came right here in Statesboro, where he shot a 3-under, 69 during the second round of the Schenkel Invitational at Forest Heights Country Club.
Even after the career-best round, Sharkey saw room for improvement.
“It was a tough [back] nine,” Sharkey said after shooting 4-under, 32 on the front nine on March 19, 2011. “I thought I had a chance at a good score, but after a birdie on three I didn’t make much. But a 69’s a good score. I’ll take it.”
His off-the-course contributions to the team will be missed equally as much as his play for the Eagles.
“As I had to make the call to all the players, the one thing that kept coming out — past the whole of the tragedy — was that it’s their buddy,” Mays said. “That’s their friend. That’s the guy who started all the conversations and kept all the conversations going. He loved the banter, he loved the ribbing, he loved the give and take — he was good at both — and he’ll be missed.”
Mays is starting to learn that Sharkey was just as popular away from the team as he was when the Eagles were together.
“Sharkey was pretty popular, I’m finding out,” Mays said. “I don’t delve too much into their personal lives here on campus, but through Facebook, tons and tons of students are saying, ‘Remember those times in the library…’ or, ‘Remember those times going out…’ or, ‘Remember those times in class…’ Not only was he popular on the golf team, but I think he made a mark in the student population as well.”
The Eagles are making plans to honor Sharkey beginning for the 2010-11 season. Sharkey, a rising sophomore would have been an Eagle until the end of the 2012-13 season.
“It’s going to be tough getting in the van every week,” Mays said.
Sharkey’s parents, father Thomas, senior, and mother Angela were injured in the house fire and rushed to the hospital.
According to reports from The Scottish Sun, police are treating the deaths of Thomas, Jr. and Bridget Sharkey as murders.
The Scottish Sun reported that a pub which was set to open and was being run by Thomas Sharkey, Sr. was torched weeks before its scheduled opening in 2010.
Chief Inspector Fergus Byrne was quoted Monday in The Scottish Sun saying, “Extensive inquiries have been ongoing all day at the scene, including a full crime scene forensic investigation by scientists, the fire service and Strathclyde Police.
"This investigation is continuing, however we believe that this fire was started intentionally and the deaths are now being treated as murder."
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.