Home » ‘Right into it’: The footy, cricket stars who are also gun, single-figure handicap golfers

‘Right into it’: The footy, cricket stars who are also gun, single-figure handicap golfers

Golf. It’s the ‘other’ sport so many elite athletes turn to to escape the rigours of their chosen professional career — and some get really, really good at it.

To celebrate the 2024 PGA Championship — starting on Thursday night AEST, foxsports.com.au — spoke to some of the stars whose talent extends from the footy field to the fairways, delving a little deeper into what the sport means to them.

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Halfback Chad Townsend is among a crop North Queensland Cowboys players who are both keen, and very handy, on the golf course.

The 33-year-old plays off an impressive handicap of 8, sharing single figures with teammates Kyle Feldt (6), Coen Hess (7) and Val Homes (8).

For Townsend, golf is “definitely an escape from rugby league or life”, but still a very competitive outlet.

“I’ve found playing with teammates they always want to win or they always want to beat their scores or beat their handicap,” Townsend told foxsports.com.au.

“I think with professional athletes, they are super competitive. There’s multiple aspects of it and it’s why so many players fall in love with the game.”

Spending hours on a golf course on top of the training demands of professional sport might seem tiresome for some, but for others, like Townsend, it’s therapeutic.

“A lot of times when we play golf, we try and play once a week, but we don’t really talk footy at all,” Townsend said.

“We’re playing in the comp, it might be, you know, three, three-and-a-half hours where we just kind of escape, you know, football and escape life.

“We might give a bit of banter and worry about playing well and trying to beat each other.

“I think it’s that aspect of it, that little bit of escape that makes us love it.”

Townsend reckons there’s actually a surprising amount of crossover between the skillsets of golf and footy.

“I like to think in regards to routine, short routine, putting, your swing overall. I used to liken it to your goal kicking,” he said.

“I’ve only goal kicked here and there, but speaking to Val (Holmes) he’s obviously got his goal-kicking routine.

“But if he’s hitting a driver he’s got a routine for that as well. So there’s crossover with that and then obviously you can get a bad break here and there.

“So trying not to mentally lose it and just kind of focus on your next job, which definitely sort of crosses over with both sports as well.”

As for the best player at the Cowboys?

“We’ve got a lot of good players to be fair. Kyle Felt hits the ball a long way. He’s really impressive with how he strikes the ball,” Townsend said.

“… And Val (Holmes) …. he can come up pretty clutch in circumstances. Talking about the crossover and how many times he’s come up clutch in games.

“In regards to field goals or goal kicks or moments and it’s pretty similar on the course.

“The boys call him a bit ‘arsey,’ but yeah, mate, he’s got a big play in for sure.”

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‘I’VE BEEN COMING IN HOT’

Another caught firmly in the midst of the golfing grip, Collingwood champion Steele Sidebottom, has broken a golden individual rule.

The 33-year-old, who was runner-up in the 2018 Brownlow Medal, had promised himself that should he ever reach a single figure handicap, he would hang up the clubs immediately.

But the dual-premiership Magpie, who will play his 318th game when Collingwood hosts Adelaide at the MCG on Saturday and now plays off 8, has found golf a habit that is too hard to shake.

It is partly due to the company. Every week he heads out with a group of Magpies including Jeremy Howe, Lachie Schultz and Darcy Cameron for a competitive round.

But it is also because of his form, with Sidebottom saying he is striking it better than ever.

“Now I don’t want to pump up my own tyres, but I’ve been coming in hot over the last month or so. I think my last six or seven rounds have been flags (rounds counted under Gold Australia’s handicap system). I’ve been in some form,” he told foxsports.com.au

“I have always said that once I got the single figures, I’d stop. But I am loving it. I feel like the older I am getting, the more I am enjoying it. (It’s) probably only over the last five or six years that I have gotten into actually playing properly.”

Sidebottom, an avid watcher of golf who will be tuning into the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky, is among a large cohort of golfing footballers.

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Former St Kilda and Essendon star Brendon Goddard featured in Division 1 pennant level in Melbourne.

According to a feature in Australian Golf Digest in 2019 by former top-line cricketer Brett Geeves, Goddard played to a handicap of +3 on the testing Melbourne sandbelt layouts. He was also a regular player partner of 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy.

Hawthorn forward Mitch Lewis was an outstanding junior golfer who played to a scratch handicap, as did former Giant and Hawk Tim Mohr.

Former Geelong sharpshooter Stevie Johnson is considered a shark around the links, while 2020 Coleman Medallist Tom Hawkins is among a group of Cats who are regular golfers. Three-time Coleman Medallist and Fox Footy pundit Jack Riewoldt is handicapped near scratch and played at Kingston Heath regularly during his playing days with the Tigers.

Over in the west, several Fremantle footballers have had the good fortune of playing a round on occasion with mad Dockers fan Minwoo Lee at the Royal Fremantle Golf Club.

Sidebottom, who played as a kid at the Shepparton Golf Club in regional Victoria, is a member of Green Acres Golf Club in Kew but plays with his Magpie mates at Southern Golf Club.

“Everyone has a hit now and then but at the moment, we’re always playing once a week. We’re right into it. There is a group of four of us who go around regularly,” he said.

“Howey is the best golfer. He is playing off four and he is good at everything on the course.

But then again, he is good at everything he does.”

Sidebottom rates Hadyn Barron, a good friend of Minwoo Lee who played The British Open at Royal Liverpool last year, and Blake Collyer, a mad Collingwood fan, as the best golfers he has enjoyed a round with.

And he has been keeping close tabs on the progress of Melbourne Storm star Ryan Papenhuyzen after the pair swapped handicaps and golf digits while enjoying a drink.

“It is a funny story. I was on the piss one night and I was speaking to Ryan Papenhuyzen and he is on a golf handicap app,” he said.

“You can wax someone’s golf link numbers and just check on their handicaps, so I am keeping a close eye on how he is hitting them. I think he might be off ten or 11 or something, so I have got him at the moment.”

OUR CRICKETERS ARE PRETTY HANDY TOO…

Unsurprisingly, the crossover of ability between cricket and golf is high and there are many examples of extreme talent.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting once played off a handicap of +3 amid suggestions he could give a pro golfing career a crack. Current New Zealand star Mitchell Santner plays off a similar mark and event half-jokingly considers himself a “fulltime golfer, Part-time New Zealand cricketer”.

The list of the handicaps among the current Australian national team is mightily impressive with Glenn Maxwell (1), David Warner (4) and head coach Andrew McDonald (5) among the best.

Rugby league throws up some of the more surprising handicaps with forwards — like Cowboys backrower Hess — proving the crossover talent is not just limited to backs and playmakers.

Raiders prop Josh Papalii, for instance, plays off an impressive 7 but winger Jordan Rapana is the standout of the Canberra club’s golfing fraternity hilariously likened to a “cult”.

Elsewhere, Sharks media manager Rob Willis has previously played in several professional tournaments including several DP World Tour competitions.

He now plays off +1 with former Cronulla enforcer Wade Graham playing off a respectable 6.

Dragons duo Blake Lawrie and Zac Lomax are said to “rate themselves” on the course, while Joe Stimson is the Titans best golfer.

Beau Fermor, Jayden Campbell and Phil Sami also love their golf while the Warriors have several avid players, including hooker Wayde Egan.

The New Zealand hooker hails from Lithgow in the Blue Mountains, NSW, where he and his two brothers lived near a golf course.

Wayde himself plays off 3, while his brother Tallan Egan also comes off 3 and is currently in the Warriors’ SG Ball side.

But the most impressive of the Egan brothers is Brock, who plays off a staggering +3.

Follow all the of the action from this year’s PGA Championship live and exclusive on Fox Sports and Kayo Sports from Thursday, May 16 to Monday, May 20.

GOLF HANDICAPS OF AUSTRALIAN SPORTING STARS

NRL

COWBOYS

Kyle Feldt – 6

Coen Hess – 7

Valentine Holmes – 8

Chad Townsend – 8

Scott Drinkwater – 15

Tom Dearden – 12

Sam McIntyre – 15

Heilum Luki – 17

Griffin Neame -17

RAIDERS

Jordan Rapana – 2

Josh Papalii – 7

Hohepa Puru – 8

Tom Starling – 12

Joe Tapine – 15

Zac Woolford – 17

Corey Horsburgh – 18

SHARKS

Wade Graham – 6

Rob Willis (media manager) – +1

WARRIORS

Wayde Egan – 3

Tallan Egan – 3

Dylan Walker – 6

Jackson Ford – 9

Shaun Johnson – 12

Freddy Lussick – 12

AFL

Jeremy Cameron (Geelong – 6)

Tom Hawkins (Geelong – 6)

Brendon Goddard (St K/Essendon – +3)

Don Pyke (West Coast CEO – 0)

Mitch Lewis (Hawthorn – 0)

Jeremy Howe (Collingwood – 4)

Steele Sidebottom (Collingwood – 8)

Finlay Macrae (Collingwood – 9)

Jack Riewoldt (Richmond – 2)

Daniel Wells (Nth Melb-Collingwood – 3)

Steve Johnson (Geelong-GWS – 3)

Jack Gunston (Hawthorn – 5)

Luke Bruest (Hawthorn – 5)

James Sicily (Hawthorn – 6)

Source: Australian Golf Digest, AFL Players Association

CRICKET

Glenn Maxwell – 1

David Warner – 4

Andrew McDonald – 5

Matt Renshaw – 6

Scott Boland – 7

Daniel Vettori – 8

Usman Khawaja – 9

Josh Hazlewood – 9

Mitchell Starc – 10

Travis Head – 12

Pat Cummins – 12

Mitch Marsh – 14

Source: Code Sports