Some of my all-time favourite interviews have taken place in the most unforeseen settings.
A few years ago, I was scheduled to sit down with Jack Nicklaus at The Australian Golf Club during a flying visit. But time quickly got away and Jack had to get back to his hotel to check out for his flight home. He invited me to join him for the drive back, and after an hour-long crawl in Sydney’s peak-hour traffic, we had covered just about every topic in the game from the backseat of his car.
Then there was the time I spoke with Rory McIlroy at the premiere of Anchorman 2 in Sydney. McIlroy was in town for the Australian Open and I was asked to make a few calls on behalf of the movie promoters in a bid to get him to the screening. He had apparently sat next to the movie’s lead actor Will Ferrell on the same flight to Sydney but Ferrell forgot to extend an invitation himself. A few hours later I found McIlroy standing at a marquee bar outside the cinema, red-eyed and jetlagged but excited all the same.
Yet a few weeks ago I conducted an interview that may have trumped the lot in terms of ‘randomness’. I was in New Zealand’s No.1 golf retail outlet, The Golf Warehouse. It’s hardly an unusual scene for a golf interview. But this was different. The interview subject was the most powerful Kiwi in the land, who had literally flown into the country fresh off chairing a United Nations security meeting.
What chance a golf magazine had of interviewing a person of such political influence would normally be confined to the spaces of Parliament House, if at all?
Not with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. “Let’s do it down at my local golf shop.”
What unfolded over the next hour or so was an authentic insight into why New Zealand golf has never been stronger.
They say success starts from the top and for New Zealand golf it starts at the very pinnacle. Key is the most passionate golfer of all the world leaders – Obama included.
I had been warned he was a golf nut, but nothing could prepare me for his arrival. After being told by one of the two security guards onsite that he was “a few blocks away,” I gave a thumbs-up and continued picking up the latest drivers to kill time.
Suddenly there was movement. Earpieces were buzzing as a jet-black car pulled up outside and more security emerged. An immaculately dressed gentleman then hopped out and made his way through the sliding doors. “G’day, guys. John Key,” he says cheerfully before swapping pleasantries with shop staff as any regular would do.
“OK, where would you like to do this interview before I get dressed and hit a few balls?” he asks, limbering up.
We sat down and chatted for half an hour [see page 68] as Key’s security team – including his golf-obsessed chief of staff – relaxed and perused the store.
Key took great pride in talking about the rise of New Zealand golf, how a united governing body was doing wonders for the game at grassroots (hint hint, Australia!) and why keeping golf courses both accessible and affordable was a major reason for his country’s tourism boom.
It was then time for Key to get to work … on his golf game. With coach Rhys Bishop barking instructions, Key flushed shot after shot on a simulator, looking every bit of his impressive 10-handicap.
And then the moment that summed up the man. With another flight to catch and time ticking away, his chief of staff moved in.
“John, we’ve got to go,” he says with urgency in his voice.
Key stopped, mid-swing, turned around and reached for his mobile phone to check the time. “No we don’t,” he fired back. “I’ve still got one more minute.”
He grinned and went back to hitting balls.
With a guy like this in charge, it’s little wonder New Zealand golf is producing Lydia Kos and building even more world-class courses (there are currently four under construction in Queenstown alone).
And to think in the space of 18 months, NZ Golf has attracted more than 80,000 new social golfers to its fairways.
If only Malcolm Turnbull played the game … he’d be the guy hitting it left and right.
– Brad Clifton Editor-in-Chief @bradcliffo