Jacques Kallis made his name belting a ball around a cricket field, but the Proteas legend is no slouch on the golf course, writes WADE PRETORIUS in Compleat Golfer.
The quest for perfection – and how that plays out practically – is often what separates the good from the great. Talent is just one factor that brings sportspeople into focus, but the drive and ambition is usually what elevates the true stars to that next level.
Therefore, it was no surprise to find Jacques Kallis at the Steenberg Golf Club driving range well before his tee time. Perhaps it was less of a certainty to see just how good his ball-striking ability was, considering he spent more than half his age in the middle with bat or ball in hand.
The quest for perfection reaped rewards when he scored his first hole-in-one, on the 177m 8th at Kambaku Golf Course in Komatipoort with a 7-iron, not long after this interview.
Kallis’ involvement in cricket has not subsided since his retirement a few years back, having taken up a coaching role at the Kolkata Knight Riders and their affiliate sides in T20 leagues around the world. He remains a busy man, but the sight of him on the range is not a rare one.
In fact, he can be seen almost every day of the week on the range at either of his home courses – Steenberg or Westlake. And just behind him will no doubt be a small group of onlookers wondering how such a good cricketer can also be a very good golfer.
Instead of searching for the perfect cover drive, he now yearns for perfection across all 14 clubs in his bag. And judging by his swing and ball flight, it would appear the hours spent grooving his swing have not been wasted.
‘In cricket you look to slide your arms and stay square on to face the ball, whereas in golf you look to clear your left hip if you are a right-hander,’ says Kallis, when asked if his time in the nets was a leading cause of his low single-figure handicap.
‘In cricket your right elbow is out, but in golf you need it to be tucked in nicely. It’s little differences like this that make it not 100% accurate to say good cricketers equal good golfers.’
The impact of T20 cricket has filtered into the other formats, and Kallis can see how cricket is looking to golf to increase power hitting. ‘A lot of guys around the world want to find ways to increase their ball-striking and it’s quite interesting to see how they are looking to the golf swing to give them the edge.’
Moving out of the international arena into a more social environment hasn’t seen Kallis lose his competitive edge.
‘The pressure is always there, because you have your own standards, no matter your handicap. You want to go out, play well, have fun and beat your mates. You live your whole life being competitive on the cricket field and it’s nice to continue some of that on the golf course afterwards, albeit on a different level. Golf certainty gives me that same thrill.’
Through gritted teeth Kallis admits that his long-time teammate and close friend Mark Boucher did indeed get the better of him in their last outing. ‘Yes, he did,’ says Kallis before adding some disparaging remarks about Boucher’s handicap.
‘I hate admitting it, but he won last time out, but he’s so dodgy off a nine. We are super-competitive, so it’s always a good battle because he also loves his golf. But ja, he’s unbeatable off his current handicap.’ Exactly the type of banter you would expect in your Saturday fourball.
Before Kallis goes from the practice area to the 1st tee box, he’s been greeted by roughly 15 people outside his group for the day. Not that he would take notice of it.
‘I enjoy meeting people, I really do, so I don’t mind stopping for a quick chat or whatever. I never played sport to become famous or anything like that. I played because I enjoyed it and I was good at it. You can’t begrudge that side of things because sport has given me so much, taken me to a lot of interesting places, and I’m happy to play my part.’
Golf or cricket? Both are lucrative in the modern era, but Kallis insists he would never go back and trade his Slazenger V200 bat for his TaylorMade P770s.
‘Golf is far too difficult … I look back on my career with a lot of pride and I wouldn’t change a thing. I really, really enjoyed it and golf is hard work. I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of good golfers and you quickly see how tough it is to be a pro golfer.’
After witnessing one of the writer’s lucky breaks with a thinned wedge into a bank in front of the green, which bounced up and rolled gently towards the back pin and came to rest six feet from the pin, Kallis was quick to shout, ‘That’ll work partner, there’s no remarks column on the scorecard.’
‘I think there are more bad breaks than good ones in this game,’ says Kallis, whose best score is a 65 at Durbanville Golf Club. ‘Golf is a great leveller. You can feel so good one day and the next you can’t do a thing right.’
Kallis has been linked to golf far longer than the day he decided to hang up his spikes. The image of him celebrating his maiden Test double hundred with a golf swing lives long in the memory. Ticking that feat off his cricketing ‘to do list’ came with the bonus of an honorary membership at Leopard Creek.
‘I can’t remember what I was on overnight [it was 102] but I remember the text I got from Johann Rupert, saying that if I got the double he’d give me the membership. It was a once-off offer. When I got to 200, I instinctively did a golf swing in my celebration. It wasn’t planned or anything, but I think Rupert enjoyed it and we’ve certainly had plenty of fun at Leopard since then.’
Looking back, Kallis admits that while not having a 200 next to his name never kept him up at night, it would have been something missing. ‘I think the celebration from the crowd that day showed me how much it meant – maybe to cricket lovers even more than me.
‘I still get goosebumps thinking about the reaction to it. It was a special moment, and then to get one a little while later at Newlands was ideal,’ says Kallis, who unashamedly acknowledges his bias towards his home ground.
He’s also got a bit of a bias to the courses where he spends most of his time, like Steenberg, Westlake, Leopard Creek and Fancourt.
‘We are fortunate to have plenty of wonderful courses in South Africa and tremendous people working at them
to ensure the conditions are almost always perfect.’
Kallis was among those walking in the galleries at Royal Birkdale when South Africa’s Branden Grace shot his Saturday 62 to make Major history. ‘It was incredible how easy he made it look. He was calm, even sharing a few jokes with Jason Dufner on the back nine. I suppose it helped that Gracie didn’t know what he was on his way to achieving.’
Kallis’ main takeaway from that experience was just how good the top players are on the putting surface. ‘Reading a green is a real art and the best get it right so often. Putting and the ability to stroke the ball on the right line is what separates the good from the great – it’s often the difference between hundreds of thousands of dollars and can even end a career if you aren’t getting it right.’
The man with the highest number of South African Test runs also loves the lighter side of the game and enjoys the same laughs as any golfer does, but stopped short of sharing the full story of his former captain Graeme Smith’s ‘expertise’ on the course.
‘He likes to have fun, and that’s the most important part,’ he says after hitting a sweetly-struck pitching-wedge from 150m to the heart of the green.
Now playing off a three, Kallis worked his way around Steenberg in the kind of fashion you’d expect from someone with unbridled sporting talent. He missed only one fairway and two greens in regulation. He holed every putt inside six feet and got to one-under-par on the 9th, holing a lengthy double-breaking putt by judging the line perfectly to see the ball stand on the edge of the cup before tumbling in on its last roll.
‘I’m playing nicely, but you know how it is, it could always be better. I like to spend at least an hour a day at the range – it’s something you have to do to master your swing. I used to hit the ball with a little draw, but I’ve changed – with a lot of time and effort – to a cut. It’s more controllable, especially away from Cape Town where
the wind tends to blow a little less.’
The effort on the range is timed superbly as he will join a host of international celebrities at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews Old Course, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie in October – the hottest ticket in amateur golf.
‘Yeah, I can’t wait. It’s the best week of the year. The show that gets put on is truly special and those three courses are phenomenal. The nerves are definitely there because it’s not my sport. But a 3-iron off the 1st should settle things down a bit.’
Just like any other amateur, he hopes to find the first fairway and from then on rely on practice making perfect.
Quick singles with Kallis
Best course abroad: ‘Wentworth. The new design changes have taken it to another level. It’s one of the world’s best.’
Golf during the IPL: ‘Our team owner is a great guy and we do get to play some golf. There are some great courses, but the one that hosts the Indian Open isn’t high on my list. It’s a real nightmare … those bunkers are just not golf.’
KP: ‘He’s a really good guy and we all get on. KP loves his golf, but I’m glad to say me and Bouch took him and
Ernie Els out during a round at St Andrews.’
The future of SA golf: ‘Yeah, we have a good few youngsters coming through. I’ve seen Jayden Schaper; he’s definitely one to watch as he gets older and stronger.’
– This article first appeared in the October issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale