Golf pros - the football experts

We ask top players how World Cup will interfere with their game

Bob Warters's picture
Sat, 1 Jun 2002

The talk of the European Tour, has not been the Volvo Order of Merit, the quality of the courses on the circuit, the upcoming Ryder Cup or even the state of Colin Montgomerie’s back.

Jamie Spence - soccer fanatic.

Just like the offices, the playgrounds and the pubs of Britain the talk has been of football – and the World Cup in Japan and Korea.

And as I discovered when I questioned a load of players at Woburn this week during the first round of the Victor Chandler British Masters – everyone’s suddenly an expert!

"It’s amazing," said Jamie Spence, a lifelong Arsenal fan. "Everyone’s talking about it and everyone has a point of view – the players, the caddies, the officials. The talk is of nothing else – and will be for the next few weeks."

As a result, the quality of golf may suffer with such a distraction. Everyone wants late tee times so they can watch the matches over breakfast and it doesn’t disrupt their practice.

Says Spence, whose grandfather was a professional footballer, and who played local football before golf took over: "We’re really looking forward to the Sweden match because England is going to stuff ‘em. Individually we’ve got a better team and if Sven (Eriksson) has got the right attitude with the boys, we can’t lose."

Spence has even organised a sweep of the 32 competing nations among the players (at £20 a time) but feels not too confident about his own selection – Ireland. He rates Brazil and France as favourites to contest the final but reckons Cameroon are a good outside bet. He has taken the next two weeks off his schedule to watch the matches on TV.

Joakim Haeggman.

Swede Joakim Haeggman told me there has been much rivalry among the golfers over the England v Sweden clash on Sunday.

His favourite past-time is fishing but admits he has been caught up with the football atmosphere on Tour .

"I’m told England hasn’t beaten us for 34 years and we’re pretty confident we can’t keep that going, especially as Sweden’s always pretty good at team sports. I’m looking forward particularly to the opportunity of bugging everyone else if we win."

Former Spanish open winner Brian Davis at one time considered careers in football and cricket, as a midfielder for Hertfordshire Schools. But he concentrated on golf because he says he doesn’t like ‘relying on other people, to be successful. He preferred golf because it’s an individual sport.

Brian Davis - Arsenal supporter.

"I’m a big Arsenal fan and know how dangerous Freddie Ljungberg can be so I’m praying England get a draw. If we get through our group it will be amazing but after that we could be a dark horse, especially if Michael Owen plays well."

Namesake Mark Davis, who won the Austrian Open in 1991 and is recovering from a wrist injury, says his only claim to fame as a footballer was as a left-winger in his school team.

But now he’s an avid West Ham United follower and watches them whenever he can, especially Joe Cole and Paolo Di Canio because ‘they can turn on that little bit of magic.’

"Football is huge on the golf Tour. Everyone’s having a bet on how their favourite team will do and there’s a lot of banter about," said Mark, who will be hoping he’ll miss England’s game with Sweden.

"If I do it means that I have made the cut and with a 10.30 tee-time I’ll have a chance of making some money this week."

Olle Karlsson.

Olle Karlssson, fifth at Woburn last year, admits he’s is one of the few Swedes who doesn’t normally have an interest in football. He was an ice-hockey fan as a youngster.

"But I’ll still watch it on Sunday, with the other Swedish players, if I’m not playing in the tournament. I don’t want to miss a good atmosphere."

England’s former Dunhill and Ryder Cup star Paul Broadhurst has a deeper football connection than most golf fans realise. He’s a Leeds United fan but has a season ticket to his local team Atherstone United, who he’s supported since he was a boy.

"I’d like to think England can go all the way and win it but we’re a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team and at times we don’t seem able to create anything. If I’m honest I’ve probably got a better chance with Italy, who I’ve drawn in the sweep."

So what about Paul’s golf? Are there signs that he’s returning to the top level after losing his playing status?

"I’m playing on invitations at the moment and there are signs that it’s coming back. But I’ve driven the ball absolutely atrocious today and was three under at the turn. I finished up level par but I can’t keep scrambling."

Andrew Coltart - interesting angle.

Andrew Coltart, as a Scot, is happy to give what he describes as ‘an interesting angle on the World Cup.’

"I think England – Sweden will be draw and Argentina will win the group. England have a chance of getting through but everyone’s piling a ton of pressure on them.

"Six months ago they weren’t going to qualify now they’re going to be world champions before a ball’s been kicked," said Coltart, who’s a lifelong fan of Queen of the South FC.

Paul Eales, pro golfer and radio analyst, has been a football fan of Liverpool since he could stand up and studies the game closely.

"I’d like to see France win the World Cup but I don’t think they will because a team from Europe has never won when it’s been played outside our continent.

"As for our lads, they’ve got to win our group to avoid France in the next stage and that’s a big ask. I’d put England as outsiders but not too hopeful," added Eales, who’s still looking to achieve a lifelong ambition to meet his boyhood hero, Kevin Keegan.

Thomas Levet.

Defending champion at Woburn, Thomas Levet admits he has deep discussions about football with fellow Frenchmen on Tour, including Jean Van de Velde, Gregory Havret and Raphael Jacquelin.

"I’m not a fan of football in France. I don’t like the way they behave and try to cheat and get free-kicks. I don’t like their attitude. But I watch French players playing in England and for the national team. Marcel Desailly of Chelsea is my favourite," said Levet who played field hockey to a high standard as a youth.

Sheffield United fan Mark Roe, says he’s desperate for the English to beat Sweden, chiefly for the bragging rights it will give them over the strong Swedish contingent on Tour.

"If we get beaten the stick we’ll get will be unimaginable, but if they’re as slow as they are on the golf course we may never finish the match!" said Roe, who had drawn senegal in the players' sweep.

Sven Struver - German viewpoint.

Sven Struver revealed that a career beckoned in football as a professional with top club side Werder Bremen until golf took over.

"I played to a pretty high level but decided I would be more successful with my golf," said the German, who doesn’t rate his country’s chances but thinks Brazil, Italy and Argentina will contest the closing stages.

Even with big cheques at stake over the next few weeks, Europe’s top golfers will have to seriously work on their concentration if the World Cup is not to distract them.



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