From messing around on the course to breaking 80 regularly, former Springbok Ryan Kankowski has been bitten by the bug and can’t get enough, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
When did you get into golf?
I used to mess around during my rugby years but never took it seriously. I didn’t mind the odd golf day for a laugh or for team building. I picked up a few injuries which meant I couldn’t hold the club, so I packed it up until 10 months ago. I thought about giving it a proper go and I’m loving it.
How often do you play?
Don’t laugh but I probably play five times a week! I’m just getting out there as often as possible and trying to learn everything I can. It’s a wonderful and frustrating game. The more you learn, the more seems to go wrong.
So that must mean your handicap index is improving?
It’s down to a 5.6. I’m going to try to play two to three times a week consistently and then spend time practising all the different shots you need to master to take your game to the next level.
Where can we find you?
Probably at Serengeti – it’s a superb place to play. The new par-three course is incredible and brings a new element to your game. You have to be able to play so many different shots and everything is in top condition. I like getting out there two or three times a week to work on a different area – it’s a gamechanger. I’m also enjoying playing with the Pigeons golf group. They play so many different courses and that’s been fun. I’ve probably played 90% of the courses in Gauteng in the past year.
What is your main weakness?
A wedge into the green seems to be my biggest struggle. You can smash your driver 320 metres down the fairway and then the ‘little’ shot into the green can wreck your card. I’m learning that this game is about opposites, you need rhythm and flow. It’s not like rugby, where you can just use force to get your way.
Do you regret not taking up golf sooner?
I can’t tell you how much I regret not playing more during my rugby days. We managed to get on to Wentworth thanks to Ernie Els and I’ve played a few other top courses, but I never took it all in and appreciated the history and conditions. I would give anything to go back and play with my current mindset.
How does the rugby team environment differ to the individualism of golf?
There’s no one to blame in golf. If you miss a shot or, worse, hit it out of bounds, it’s on you. You also have the chance to rectify your mistake and a moment of brilliance can be rewarded well in golf, which isn’t always the case in rugby. Different golf courses allow for different results too. Some let you get out of trouble quicker than others.
How does being a pro sportsman help?
The mindset makes a huge difference. You never think about missing a putt or having doubt over the result. You know you are going to win and pressure isn’t something to be concerned about. Both sports have some options for getting the best result, so in golf it’s about whether my body will allow me to execute. Even rugby players have good imaginations and can see how the best do it. I love going out there and trying to emulate a few of the Sunshine Tour pros I have played with, or even recreating European Tour-level shots. A pro sportsman never backs off and always believes, and that mental strength helps a lot.
Who would be in your dream fourball?
Tiger Woods as a start. And then you must pick Jack Nicklaus. They are hands down the best. I’d probably take a friend along to enjoy the round. There are so many great golfers out there, but I quite like the sound of me and a mate and the two greatest in history.
Would you rather face the haka or tee it up in front of 100 people?
The haka any day. I’ve never teed off in front of that many people but I get anxious just at the thought, especially when they line up alongside and make you feel a little claustrophobic. I’m struggling to picture just hitting the ball … and then imagine you shank it or something like that; it must be terrifying.
It took the former Sharks loose forward, who turned pro in 2006, just a year to make his Springbok debut and it was a memorable one as he scored en route to a 34-12 victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium. He had another year to remember in 2008 as he starred for the Sharks at Super Rugby and Currie Cup level, which earned him a regular place in the national squad. He notched up 20 caps for South Africa before spending time in Japan with Toyota Verblitz and the Red Hurricanes.