By Evin Priest
A Socceroos Legend Obsessed with Golf.
FOOTBALLERS experience some sleepless nights during their careers. For Harry Kewell, especially, feeling the pressure the night before FA Cup and UEFA Champions League finals. FIFA World Cup matches, too.
But golf? An athlete who’s played in front of enormous crowds (and to bigger TV audiences) at iconic English stadiums such as Wembley and Anfield, or Germany’s Allianz Arena, loses sleep before a round of 18?
“Yeah. When I was a kid, I used to get that excited for golf I couldn’t sleep the night before I knew I was going to play,” Kewell tells Australian Golf Digest. “It was the same with football. I just love golf, always have. It’s just something different and it tests my ability all the time.”
The sleepless nights and days spent carrying his father’s golf clubs around western Sydney courses quickly turned into a lifelong passion for the links. And, eventually, a single-figure handicap.
A young Kewell first picked up a club at Fairfield Golf Club, before the career of Australia’s greatest footballer (as voted in 2012) took him around the world to such teams as Leeds United, Liverpool FC, and Galatasaray, as well A-League franchises Melbourne Victory and Heart (now City).
Though life for the TaylorMade-adidas Golf ambassador is now in Cheshire – in England’s frosty north – Kewell says watching the European Tour in prime time is one benefit of residing here. The Socceroos legend is in awe of the European pros.
“It’s amazing the mental strength golfers have; to go through each day sticking to routines and trying to repeat the same swing and having to adjust to so many variables – it would be mentally draining,” says Kewell.
Another perk of living in the UK is being able to “skip across” to golf courses in Portugal, Spain, Scotland, Ireland and Wales – “even Las Vegas.” Playing in European Tour pro-ams is also a bonus.
“I’ve been fortunate to play some sensational courses around the world; Gleneagles shortly after the Ryder Cup was amazing,” recalls Kewell. “And I love playing in the weather here; being tested in wind and rain.
“When Colin Montgomerie was European (Order of Merit) No.1, I played in a pro-am with him and (former Manchester United striker) Teddy Sherringham at The Belfry. Colin was unbelievable; just chatting with him and watching how great he struck the ball.”
But the proud Aussie – who famously scored the goal against Croatia to see the Socceroos through to the 2006 World Cup knockout stages – still believes his homeland boasts the world’s best layouts.
“Australia has the best courses I’ve ever seen. My favourite course in the world is The National Old Course ( Mornington Peninsula); it just takes my breath away and the views are just amazing.”
Kewell’s greatest on-course moment was also in Australia. Unlike his hero, Miguel Angel Jimenez, it wasn’t a hole-in-one, “but it felt like one.”
“I was playing in a Jeep tournament on the Gold Coast. I overshot a par 3 and was down a bank in spongey grass. I couldn’t see the flag, so I asked the pro in our group for some information. He said, ‘You know in the NFL when a team goes for a Hail Mary? That’s what you need.’ The slope was massive, so I grabbed my lob wedge and hit straight underneath it with some power. It slam-dunked in the hole!”
But can the 36-year-old compare that holed flop-shot with, say, winning the 2005 UEFA Champions League and 2006 FA Cup with Liverpool?
“They’re chalk and cheese; I can’t compare my life’s work and livelihood to golf. Even though golf’s my passion now,” says Kewell. “I’ve won the Champions League and FA Cup, I’ve represented my country in a couple of World Cups.”
Now the retired Kewell is giving back to Aussie football through the Harry Kewell Academy, which teaches children the fundamentals of the sport. But it doesn’t mean he can’t find the time to sneak a round in, here and there.
“When I was running a clinic for the academy in Victoria, I made sure I played at Royal Melbourne … wow, what a course.”