The former Olympic swimming gold medallist, who lives a pitch and putt away from Pearl Valley, tells us about his relationship with golf.
How old were you when you started playing golf?
I spent my youth mostly in the water or kicking a rugby ball in Bloemfontein. I started playing golf only after I graduated from the University of Arizona and was living in Tucson, Arizona. I think there are something like 50 courses in the area, although most of the more serious visitors head to Phoenix which is about a 90-minute drive north.
What is the state of your game?
I know people joke about ‘how difficult golf can be because the ball is not even moving when you hit it’, but I find it easier to hit a polo ball from the back of a moving horse, so that tells you how my golf is going. Having access to Pearl Valley, I should be playing a lot more but I only play once a month at best.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your game?
I have very few strengths to speak of. Maybe to be able to book a tee time at Pearl Valley? I always enjoy myself out on the course, though, as it’s just a beautiful place to be.
Olympic legend Michael Phelps has made golf look easy, while your 4x100m teammate Roland Schoeman is also a very good golfer. Are they exceptions to the rule?
I know both those guys worked very hard at their golf and continue to do so. They have also taken that fiercely competitive nature from their swimming days on to the golf course. Playing good golf doesn’t come as easily for a swimmer as it does for a cricket player for example. They have to work at it.
Pearl Valley, ranked in the top three courses in SA, is a tough course. What are your favourite holes?
My favourite holes are the ones without water. Let’s say the 12th is my favourite. It is a par five that isn’t as daunting as it looks off the tee. There’s a blind rise and you’ve got to aim left and try to get a good strike. If you don’t, it can be a l-o-n-g hole!
Which are your favourite golf courses?
Dove Mountain in Tucson [where the world matchplay has been held a few times] stands out. It is a 27-hole course that was designed by Jack Nicklaus. Here in South Africa, Gary Player Country Club at Sun City is always an awesome experience.
You must have played in plenty of pro-ams. Who have been your most memorable playing partners?
Events like the BCX SuperSport Shootout, Laureus golf days and Pearl Valley Celebrity Golf Day are always special and you get to play alongside your sporting idols sometimes. To single out a few is too difficult but sometimes you look back at old pictures and you miss some of the guys that have passed on, such as [boxer] Corrie Sanders and [rugby player] Chester Williams.
Do you watch much golf on TV?
My day job keeps me busy and the PGA Tour events are usually in the middle of the night, but I do enjoy staying up for The Masters. I also find The Open Championship and the Ryder Cup compulsive viewing.
Have you ever had a hole-in-one, or is the approach to land on the green and hope?
Can we have this question again this time next year [laughs]. Not even close …
Golfers are always full of advice out on the course. What is the most common piece of advice you’ve been given?
Stick to swimming! All jokes aside … golf is a great game but some people just aren’t cut out for it. My brother-in-law [CJ Stander] is a better golfer than me and he’s a 15-handicap!
– This Q&A first appeared in the March 2023 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.