2007 World Cup-winning Springbok captain John Smit talks about his love of the game, taking money off Schalk Burger and Fourie du Preez, and tells some classic golf cart tales, writes DAN GILLESPIE.
Describe your relationship with golf. Do you love it, hate it, or love to hate it?
I absolutely love playing golf, being out there on the course. I used to get pretty worked up if I wasn’t playing well but now I take it as it comes, one good or bad swing at a time.
What is your handicap and do you have aspirations to reduce it?
I’m sitting on a 12.6 index. It’s been coming down since I moved to Gauteng in January so I’m hopeful it’ll continue that trend and come down a little more.
How often do you manage to get out on the course?
In the past five years it’s probably only been about five times a year, but since moving to Gauteng I’m playing at least once or twice a month.
Do you have a regular fourball?
I wouldn’t say regular but when we were on tour Schalk Burger and I were normally partners and I can’t ever remember losing with him. The best fourballs are the ones with good mates. Just last week I had a delightful morning at the River Club where Butch [James] and I collected our first win over Schalk and Fourie [du Preez]. I’m not sure who was more surprised – us or them.
Guys like Burger, Du Preez, Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield seem to be golf nuts. How does your game stack up to theirs?
I am nowhere near the same league as Vic, Fourie and Butch. Schalk is probably closer to my level, but no way is Jean in our league. He is without doubt the kakkest golfer of all of us! But he’s good for a laugh, especially if he’s had a long night before.
Who would your dream fourball be and which course would you play?
Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Bono and myself playing at Augusta National sounds pretty cool.
A lot of the rugby players play golf in their free time on tour. Do you have any stories from those days?
I’ve been involved in several golf cart incidents in my time, but two spring to mind. The first was when Trevor Halstead and I rolled our cart at Selborne on a Thursday before a Currie Cup final. How we didn’t get hurt is still a miracle. The second was in New Zealand, at Lake Taupo, where Butch and I didn’t see a hidden bunker and ramped our cart into it. We then spent an hour trying to get other guys on the course to help us push it out.
You’re also known for your love of endurance sports like the Cape Epic. Is there anyone you’ve ridden with who you think would make a great golfing competitor?
I have done a few Epics with the legendary former Proteas coach Gary Kirsten. He looks like he has the skill and demeanour to destroy you on a golf course.
Have you ever had a hole-in-one?
Sadly no. The closest I have come was at the end of August at the River Club but that was still a two-foot putt. I have witnessed one, though. It was in New Zealand with Kevin Putt, who is by no means an accomplished golfer. But he hit one in the teeth, it raced parallel to the ground at a million miles, hit the little hill in front of the green, popped up and landed smoothly on the green to roll in for one. It was the most disgusting shot I have ever seen and Kevin celebrated as if he’d won a Major. Though to be fair, I would have too.
What are the best courses you’ve played on?
I have been lucky to play on some great courses around the world. Lake Taupo in New Zealand is a treat, the River Club here in SA is my favourite local course, and then the famous St Andrews is another favourite. Luckily, I’ve had some handy rounds there in the past.
How much golf do you watch on TV and which are your favourite tournaments?
I don’t watch too much, but I love The Masters and the Ryder Cup. They’re both super exciting.
Considered one of the Springboks’ greatest players, Smit’s international career lasted from 2000 to 2011. Along the way he collected 111 Test caps across the front row (83 as captain). He appeared in a record 46 consecutive Tests between 2003 and 2007, and captained the Boks to the 2007 World Cup title. Under his leadership, the side also claimed the Tri-Nations titles in 2004 and 2009, as well as a series victory against the British & Irish Lions in 2009. He retired from the international game after the 2011 World Cup, ending his playing days with Saracens in England.