• Lemke Column: Different Ball Game

    Lemke Column
    Lemke Column

    Former tennis world No 1 and eight-time Grand Slam singles tennis champion Ivan Lendl probably summed it up best, writes GARY LEMKE.

    ‘Golf gave me something tennis couldn’t give me any more. I need to compete. I had been trained to compete all my life and I couldn’t just walk away from that’.

    Lendl, now 60, famously admitted that he played up to 250 rounds of golf a year to maintain a scratch handicap, after he’d retired from tennis aged 34, although he went as low as a plus-2. Still, he wasn’t good enough to tee it up as a professional golfer, despite entering the US Open qualifying tournament a number of times.

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    One of the beauties about golf is that anyone can beat anyone else on any given day, thanks to the handicap system. You can take on and beat Ernie Els and get him to buy the beers afterwards, even if you’re 15 shots worse than him over the 18 holes.

    Then you get the Ivan Lendls of this world. Gifted in their own sport, he simply had to feed the competitive edge once spinal damage and arthritis had ended his tennis career. So, he became a left-handed golfer and harboured professional ambitions.

    Obviously Lendl is an exception to the rule, but over the past few years as editor of this magazine I have enjoyed publishing the golfing exploits of ‘non-golfers’ in our Celebrity section – this month decorated paddler Oscar Chalupsky is featured. The love for the sport and the competitive edge is not dulled by the disappointment that we all feel on the golf course when the game bites back.

    Jacques Kallis is the South African sporting great who I reckon has probably gone on to be the best golfer in retirement, of those who played another pro sport in the 2000s, but I may well be wrong.

    Those who know reckon that Fourie du Preez is probably the best former Springbok to pick up a set of golf cloubs, while the best current Bok is said to be Franco Mostert. Kallis, on the other hand is close to scratch on his best day and is also a lucky player, having scored a hole-in-one at the par four 2nd hole at Durbanville a year ago.

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    Kevin Pietersen, the cricketing maverick, has also become obsessed with golf but Kallis has his number on the course, but the fact that sportsmen of such high profiles take golf so seriously is a huge endorsement for the sport.

    I do know that Roy Wegerle, who played football in Pretoria before going on to play in the top-flight in England for Chelsea, Luton, QPR, Blackburn and Coventry and earned 41 caps for the United States, earned his European Tour golf card and played in the 2002 Dunhill Championship at Houghton Golf Club.

    One of three soccer-playing brothers, he almost came into golf by default. ‘I quit football in August 1998 after the World Cup in France and just decided to try something else,’ he said. ‘I could always hit a golf ball but I never really knew what the game was all about. I played a few rounds with Kenny Dalglish, Alan Shearer and Ray Wilkins, we all loved it but knew nothing about it.

    ‘I started playing and gradually things started to fall into place. I started enjoying the game and one thing led to another, and here we are now. I came out to South Africa to visit my family and thought I would bring my clubs along and try a few of these qualifiers, just for experience more than anything else.’

    His experience at Houghton was short and brutal, shooting 76 and 80 to miss the halfway cut, 22 shots behind leader Roger Wessels after 36 holes.

    All of which highlights just how good the top golfers are and that you can’t simply cross codes and expect to take on and beat the pros at their own game.

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