CONFIDENCE  has never been an issue for Wendell Sailor.

After shooting to Aussie sport fame as an 18-year-old winger in the famed Brisbane Broncos team of 1993, Sailor never met a challenge he didn’t back himself to achieve, in style.

He became a dual international, was suspended for two years for a positive drug test and then worked his way back to not only play first grade rugby league again, but to win back the respect of the sporting public.

Growing up as a Torres Strait Islander in Brisbane, golf was never on his radar. Until a young man by the name of Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods suddenly made golf cool to the younger crowd. Sailor was hooked – challenge accepted.

Before our interview even begins, Sailor is quick to establish that even though our respective handicaps would suggest a similar ability, he would be victorious should a showdown eventuate.

“We’re the same; both off 10. I reckon I’d get your money playing both off 10.”

With natural talent and unashamed confidence, there’s not much Sailor has been unable to achieve. But a single-figure handicap remains his most elusive sporting achievement.

Former NRL and RU player Wendell Sailor during the Jack Newton ProAm at the Cypress Lakes Golf Club, Hunter Valley, NSW.
Former NRL and RU player Wendell Sailor during the Jack Newton ProAm at the Cypress Lakes Golf Club, Hunter Valley, NSW.

Australian Golf Digest: What’s your most nerve-racking pro-am moment?

Wendell Sailor: I don’t get nervous at too many pro-ams… The Australian Open was probably the one I was most nervous about playing. There was me and George Gregan, another one of the sponsors and Peter O’Malley. This was a couple of years ago [at The Lakes], the year John Daly lost those seven or eight balls in the water, we played in front of him the day before. I was probably more nervous because I hadn’t worked on my game. I think I was off 13 or 14 at the time and there was a pretty big crowd there too, it was probably the biggest crowd I’d played in front of in a pro-am.

AGD: When did you first get interested in golf?

WS: It was about when Super League started, back in 1997. Allan Langer and a couple of the Broncos boys used to go out and have a hit, Mick Hancock and a lot of the boys and me being me, I never liked to miss out. I had a hit and I hated it, I hated it because it was just so hard. I thought, This won’t be hard, but the harder it got the more I wanted to play. Then I went and got some lessons off a guy by the name of Ian Triggs, who coached John Senden and Karrie Webb, and he said to me, ‘Dell, if you ever want to have some lessons, let me know.’ And he did well for me because I went from 18 to about 13 in three or four months and we were playing quite regularly.

The funny thing was, Allan Langer used to make me bet. He’d say, ‘If you want to play you’ve got to bet.’So he used to fleece me a little bit – not much, $50 or whatever – so I went and started getting some lessons and I started fleecing him and he refused to play me anymore. Then he’d use me as his partner.

AGD:What’s the great appeal of golf for you?

WS: You can spend five or six hours on a golf course with someone and learn more about them than if you went to lunch or something because you talk about sport, you talk about family, you talk about everything. I just love it. I spend most of my time on the golf course if I’m not working or with the family.

AGD: Who played in that Broncos group back in the late 1990s?

WS: Darren Lockyer played back in the day, ‘Gordie’ (Gorden Tallis), myself, Darren Smith, Tonie Carroll… There was a whole heap of us. The Walker brothers, Ben Walker, Shane Walker, Chris Walker, I reckon about 70 per cent of our team played golf at that time.

We’d play at Indooroopilly or sometimes we’d go to the Gold Coast on our days off or even Toowoomba. We loved our golf.

AGD: Before you picked up a club, what did you think of golf as a sport?

WS: I thought it was boring. I thought it wasn’t for me and I tell you what the catalyst was for me getting involved –and it wasn’t Allan Langer or any of those Bronco blokes – I watched a guy called Tiger Woods. He came onto the scene around 1995-96 and I just watched this bloke with so much charisma. I used to muck around with Gordie and say, ‘Yeah, that’ me, Tiger Dell.’ We used to get all the Nike gear and the red shirt so on the golf course I started calling myself Tiger Dell. ‘Oh yeah, Tiger Dell!’

I just loved watching it, with Tiger, Phil Mickelson and David Duval. Phil Mickelson, he’s got the best short game. I used to love watching him play that lob shot, the ball would land like it had butterfly feet. That’s one of my favourite shots, the flop shot with the lob wedge. It’s that ego shot. You know you shouldn’t probably go for it all the time but I like to go for it.

AGD: What’s the best course that you’ve played?

WS: St Andrews, undoubtedly. I played there back in 2005. I played for the Barbarians and we got our schedule and we were starting in London and we were staying at St Andrews. We also played at Aberdeen but we had our Barbarians golf day at St Andrews and we stayed at the St Andrews Hotel on the Road Hole. I remember rooming with Owen Finnegan and I was a kid in a candy store. You looked out the window and saw all the holes, that was awesome.

AGD: What are your memories of playing St Andrews?

WS: I was just happy to be there. I actually played all right but when you go to those courses you’re just like, Wow, I can’t believe I’m here. Whether it’s St Andrews or Pebble Beach or Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand, you just take it all in and there’s just so much history there. The last couple of years I’ve been asked if I wanted to go to the Masters but because it’s smack-bang in the middle of my work it’s really hard.

AGD: You’re a dual international; who plays more golf, league or rugby boys?

WS: I think you’d find they’re about the same. A lot of the guys have pulled back a bit on the golf now. They’re either on their computers or iPods or Twittering… I know a lot of the Dragons boys don’t play golf; it’s changed a fair bit since I played. Even the rugby boys, I’m not sure the rugby boys play a lot of golf these days; I know Quade Cooper doesn’t play much golf. When I was in the Wallabies there was Steve Larkham, George Gregan, myself, Mat Rogers, Matt Dunning, there were plenty of us.

AGD: Who is the best golfer among the league boys?

WS: I’d have to say [former Dragons captain] Ben Hornby. He plays off 1 and he went 1-under about three weeks ago around here at Wollongong. Braith Anasta’s pretty good too. I’ve never played with Braith but I’d say Braith Anasta and Benny Hornby.

AGD: What are the strengths of your golf game?

WS: Honestly, my short game keeps me in it. Even a lot of the pros – I play in the Jeep Pro-Am up on the Gold Coast – and I always talk it up. ‘Great touch for a big man.’ My putting and my chipping keep me in it because off the tee, I can hit ’em long but I can spray one or two drives because I find it hard to power down. All I want to do is jump on it sometimes and that’s a problem that a lot of us have.

AGD: You’ve been a great supporter of the Jack Newton Celebrity Classic over the years, what is it that draws you to ‘The Jack’ each year?

WS: I’ll tell you what I like about Jack Newton. What Jack does for junior golf and what he does for diabetes is outstanding. The last few years I’ve taken the family up there and really enjoyed what it is about. Years back when it all started, it was like going to the races and you all got a bit excited. I saw Adam Crawford one year go double-bogey, double-bogey and then shoot three or four under because he was still hungover from the night before. It’s a bit like a Christmas party on the golf course but I just like the people that you meet there. They can be celebrities, sportspeople, junior golfers, sponsors, they can be anyone but you all get along and people are all there for that common cause. They all love enjoying golf but they also love supporting Jack and I think Jack’s a wonderful bloke. He’s always supported me through good times and bad times and that’s why I always make an effort to go for Jack and the junior golfers.

AGD: What’s your best score?

WS: My best score is 2-over at Brisbane back in 2001. I eagled the first hole, and went birdie and double-bogey so 2-over is my best score. I’ve shot a few 5 and 6-overs but nothing close to that 2-over that day

AGD: And what’s been your lowest handicap?

WS: Ten is the best I’ve played off but in the off-seasons I’d play to 6 or 7-over but because you’re not playing comps you don’t get to hand cards in and when I do play in the comps I tend to play to my handicap. I’m not saying I choke but I don’t shoot the lights out. It’s funny, when you’re betting with your mates and having some fun with it you seem to play a lot more disciplined. I’m not sure what happens. I’ve never got down to eight or nine or single figures. That’s always been my goal but I’ve struggled to get down below 10, 10 has always been my best.