The Springbok World Cup winner and new Bulls captain talks about playing after lockdown, his first set of golf clubs, Ernie and Louis and teammates who are at home on the course. By Michael Vlismas.
First up, your first round of golf when golf courses reopened. How was it?
It came as a surprise actually. I shot 81. I was like, wow. I didn’t expect that. It’s the first time in years my drives were all down the fairway. Maybe lockdown did my game good.
When did you start playing golf?
It was around 2006 when I moved to Bloemfontein to play for Cheetahs. One of my mates there said, let’s go play golf. I was keen to learn but I didn’t have a set of clubs. He suggested we buy a set. But that stage you’re young and you don’t have a massive salary, so when I saw what a set of golf clubs cost I said, no way am I paying that. So I went to Game and bought a set of Dunlop clubs. And I shot a 79 in my first round. But the funny thing is, I’ve never been able to shoot 79 since.
Does your game match your rugby style? Are you a power player, or do you have a soft touch around the greens?
I’m much better with the long-irons. I can hit it far. I love my 6-iron. I hit that one the purest. My subtle touches around the greens aren’t up to scratch unfortunately. I’m struggling with my chipping, so I play what you’d probably call ‘old man golf’ in that I hit a lot of bump-and-run shots to the greens.
Who are some of the pro golfers you admire?
Ernie is definitely one of the guys who’s always had a massive relationship with the Springboks. He was the first golfer I met and he’s a super guy. He’s spent a lot of time with the Boks, watching matches and joining us in some of the post-match receptions. And I really admire what he’s done for autism. And I met Louis Oosthuizen at a function we had on Johann Rupert’s farm after the Rugby World Cup. He’s also a great guy. All the golfers seem really laid-back.
There have been some pretty decent Springbok golfers over the years. Of the current Boks, who would you rate as the best golfer?
Well, Schalk Brits is retired now but he was definitely one of the best. Franco Mostert plays fantastic golf. If he didn’t play rugby it would’ve been golf for him. And Faf de Klerk plays a good game too.
Is there anything from golf you try to apply in your rugby?
Definitely. Staying cool and calm under pressure is something I admire about golfers. If you hit a bad shot, or if you make a mistake in rugby, you’ve got to put it behind you as quickly as possible. The mental game is also as big in rugby as it is in golf. I really believe that in the game today, rugby is 80% mental and 20% physical. If you can beat your opponent mentally, you’re definitely going to beat him in the other areas of the game.
You were only eight when you lost your father to cancer. Gary Player lost his mother at age eight, and says it framed everything he became because he just wanted to make her proud. In your case, was there a similar feeling?
That’s the biggest thing. Your first hero in life is your dad. When he passed I really wanted to create a legacy that he could be proud of, and that one day, when I’m done, I have hopefully achieved everything I wanted to. I drove back from Pretoria and training with the Vodacom Bulls recently and stopped in Touwsriver, where my dad is buried. I went to his grave and spent some time there, and just quietly said, ‘I hope you’re proud of me, Dad.’
You have an impressive record of having played a few Ryder Cup courses …
Yes. I’ve been lucky to play Gleneagles and then Le Golf National. Some other great courses I’ve played are Royal Melbourne and a private member’s course in the UK called Queenwood.