South Africa’s greatest boxer Brian Mitchell talks about his golfing hero, getting two holes-in-one and why golf is now a big part of his life.
What’s the hardest you were ever hit?
By my ex-wife. The second hardest was by my second ex-wife! I fought a lot of good guys. Tony Lopez was a five-time world champion. We were the best in the world in 1991 and we went toe-to-toe twice. He was a good puncher. I also fought Joe Rivera from Puerto Rico who knocked me off my feet, but I got up and beat him over 15 rounds. In those days I had a lot of tough fights.
So, when did you start playing golf?
About 20 years ago somebody invited me to a golf tournament and I was useless. I’m probably still not far behind that. I’m an average 16-handicap at Glenvista. But I loved the camaraderie and the fact that with a handicap everybody could play against each other. You can’t handicap in boxing because even if I fight with one hand behind my back I’m still going to beat you. I also love the networking and meeting new people. It’s the greatest social sport on the planet. Today it’s one of my businesses because I do a lot of guest speaking and sell memorabilia at golf days. I’m not just a boxing commentator. Golf is now a big part of my life.
How did your relationship with Gary Player come about?
Gary and I became friends a few years ago and then he invited me to play at his Gary Player Invitational at Sun City. The great thing is I won my world title at Sun City in 1986. I was also privileged to win the Gary Player Invitational at Sun City. Gary is one of my all-time heroes. He’s probably South Africa’s greatest sportsman. All of us top sportsmen look up to Gary.
Would you say the win at the Gary Player Invitational is the highlight of your golf career?
Well, I’ve actually also got two holes-in- one. One at Benoni Country Club and one at Centurion Golf Estate. So, for a crap golfer I’ve done OK. But yes, winning that title in a team with Darren Clarke was great.
Most sports stars in other codes have something they bring from their sport to golf. Does your boxing background help or hinder your golf?
With boxing you have got to move a lot otherwise you get bliksemed and in golf you’ve got to stand still otherwise you get bliksemed. That’s been the difficult switch for me as a golfer, to learn to stand still. But there are some similarities. In both you need to follow through with your hip.
What are some of the memorable rounds of golf you’ve had?
I played with Ernie Els when we were both sponsored by Nashua. I’ve also played with Mark McNulty, Nick Price and, of course, Gary Player.
Are you happy with the state of world boxing at present?
It’s not what it was in the 1980s. You don’t have those huge personalities like Leonard, Duran, Hagler, Hearns and in South Africa me, Coetzee, Thobela and Baby Jake. In the ’70s you had heavyweights like Ali, Frazier, Foreman and Norton. But boxing is still strong and very popular.
What’s still on your golf bucket list?
I’ve accepted I’m never going to be a great golfer. But the beautiful thing about this game is you don’t need to be good to enjoy it; you’ve got a handicap. I just want to keep enjoying my golf.
As possibly South Africa’s greatest boxer of all time, the super featherweight won the world title at Sun City in 1986 with a 10th-round knockout of Alfredo Layne. Mitchell defended his title a record 12 times. It was made all the more difficult by the fact South Africa’s ban from international sport meant he had to make all his title defences outside the country. In 2009 Mitchell was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.