Last Sunday (the 15th), Pep Guardiola, the manager of Manchester City, played golf with his son, the head professional of Sandiway Golf Club, and European Tour ace Tommy Fleetwood…as you do. He had told the press he would be doing this after his team had beaten Tottenham 3-1 the previous evening and journalists had asked if he would be watching the next day’s game between Manchester United and West Brom, when defeat for his crosstown rivals would confirm City as the Premier League champions. Given that West Brom were bottom of the league and the match was at Old Trafford, it seemed pretty certain that United would not lose and City’s coronation would be delayed for at least a further week. But Guardiola claimed he was not concerned about that anyway. “The only score I want to know is bogey or birdie,” he said.
But, as a former Man United manager once said, on the occasion of his greatest triumph, winning the European Cup in 1999, “Football. Bloody hell.” West Brom only went and won the game and, after getting a bit of a drenching from the rain, Pep had prevailed while ruminating on his round. Of course, Sir Alex Ferguson, for it was he who said that famous short line, has form in this regard, too. He was playing golf when United won their first Premier League title courtesy of a shock win by Oldham at Aston Villa in May 1993. A fellow golfer hailed him with the news from an adjoining fairway.
I saw a TV programme the other week in which Paul Ince revealed that he had to curtail a round of golf to meet with Inter Milan officials when he switched to the Italian club from United in 1995. Coincidentally, Ince had become a Liverpool player by 1998 when he played in a TaylorMade golf day at Mill Ride in Berkshire as part of the England team’s commercial commitments ahead of the 1998 World Cup. In his group was Derek Lawrenson, a Liverpool fan and now golf correspondent of the Daily Mail. Lawrenson had a hole-in-one for which he won a Lamborghini…as you do.
(Back to Manchester City. The two-times Masters champion, José Maria Olazábal, who like Guardiola is Spanish – albeit Pep might be more inclined these days to classify himself as Catalan – played golf at the Etihad Stadium last season; that is, he hit a wedge shot, a very fine one, from the goal line to a flag on the halfway line as part of the R&A’s publicity campaign for last year’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.)
Many footballers love to play golf. I read that Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey were less than pleased when Ryan Giggs, the new Wales manager, banned golf during a recent trip to an overseas international. That sounds a daft decision. Golf occupies several hours of a day in a comparatively risk-free sporting environment; it’s a healthy pursuit and surely preferable to playing cards or going on a four-hour bender? For a footballer, it has to be the ideal other sport. In their down time, of course, golfers fish. Maybe coarse fish? In Olazabal’s case, though, down time means time to go hunting. For Pep, next season it will be time for more pot-hunting.
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