IT can’t be easy being told you should have taken up another sport. 

When South African great Gary Player suggested to Ricky Ponting he made a mistake by picking cricket as a career, he wasn’t criticising the Tasmanian’s ability with the willow. Of course, 13,378 test runs at an average of 51.85 justified Ponting’s decision to strap on the pads.

What nine-time major winner Player was actually suggesting was Ponting had something special with a golf club in hand – perhaps something even more glorious than that trademark pull-shot that put the man known as ‘Punter’ on top of the cricketing world.

“The way you hit the ball, you’re wasting your time playing cricket,” Player reportedly told Ponting during a trip to Europe. Over time, Player’s comments became a constant reminder of the natural ability Ponting had tucked away behind those powerful Popeye forearms.

While the runs kept coming in his day job, so too did the birdies in his spare time, and it was soon evident that Ponting may well have taken us all for a ride. Could this bloke actually be a pro golfer wrapped in a cricketer’s body?

Excuse the hype, but this isn’t another story about a supremely gifted athlete or celebrity thinking he’s good enough to beat the golf pros at their own game. We’ve seen them come and go – some embarrassingly so.

Ponting’s fixation with the ancient game is built more on a competitive passion for the sport and, undoubtedly, a rare talent for it.

He’s beaten good friends Aaron Baddeley and Daniel Popovic over 18 holes, holds an impressive +1 handicap and boasts a career-low round of 66.

They’re impressive numbers for a man who these days has a little more time to head to his local courses at both Cronulla and Royal Melbourne to work on his game.

But of course, sub-par numbers don’t necessarily translate to ‘professional golfer in waiting’. As all pros know,
the step from scratch marker to life on tour is the biggest and most difficult step of all … and one 99 per cent of those who try, inevitably fail.

But fellow cricket legend-turned professional golfer Dean Jones believes Ponting can buck the trend like he did and become a ‘dual professional’.

“He’s good to go,” Jones declared.

“He hits it super-long, he’s a great putter and he just loves golf. He spends time with his mate Marc Leishman, he has dozens of sets of golf clubs – I’ve seen his garage and it looks like a Drummond golf store. When he’s not playing cricket, he lives and breathes golf.”

Jones spent years contemplating a career in golf post-cricket, and eventually made the switch when he turned 50 and was eligible for the seniors tour.

He contended on the local PGA Legends circuit before putting his career on hold due to cricket commentary commitments overseas.

At 41, Ponting has plenty of time on his side if he was to follow in Deano’s footsteps to the “old man’s” tour.

But, there is also the option of following Davis Cup tennis star Scott Draper’s lead and make a play for the PGA Tour of Australasia.

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But it won’t come easy, no matter how talented Ponting is, according to Draper.

“The hardest part is making up for lost time,” says the 2007 NSWPGA Champion.

“The years that I had in tennis – not having them in golf was the most difficult part. You look at today’s golfers – they start as juniors, grow up playing tournaments and learn course management.

“All those years Ricky did in cricket he applied his own standards on discipline and hard work. But there’s no doubt learning the nuances of a new sport takes a bit of time and that’s something Ricky will need to be prepared to do.”

Both Draper and Jones admitted they received reality checks once they had made the top grade in golf. Little did they know, the real hard work was yet to begin.

“I was a club golfer who got to a handicap of +2 and shot 9-under to win my club championship. But I quickly realised on tour my short game was horrific and that I really only had one or two shots in my bag – I basically had no idea,” Draper confesses.

“I cannot believe how much I learnt about the short game – playing from different lies and all that. Ricky would have the same issues. He’ll need to pick people’s brains and play as much golf in tournament conditions to adapt to the pressure.

“Tournament golf is another step up. I remember going to Kingston Heath for a round straight after the Australian Masters was held and I went out and shot 28 points. It’s a different game all together under tournament conditions.”

Jones, long regarded as a larrikin around his mates in the cricket world, struggled to adapt to golf’s individual lifestyle.

“It’s a very lonely sport,” says Jones. “Unlike in cricket, Ricky will have to get off his backside and book everything … from flights, accommodation to hire cars. It’s quite intimidating when you get on tour.

“I remember shooting a couple of 69s in a tournament and thought I was in with half a chance to win the tournament.Then I looked around and saw guys like Ian Baker-Finch,Wayne Grady and Rodger Davis and thought to myself, I’m kidding myself being here. It’s been fun but it’s a lot more lonely than cricket and that will take some adjusting if Ricky was to give it a go.”

Cronulla club professional Colin Arnold – father of Aussie European Tour player and good friend of Ponting, Scott
Arnold – has seen enough of Punter to know he has serious credentials in the sport.

“I suppose he will have a go [at turning professional],” Arnold says.“Whenever he has spare time I see himout here
practising his short game and putting, playing a few holes. He’s obviously a very strong and talented player – he hits it a mile with those forearms of his. But while he’s still playing cricket it will be hard for him to pursue golf. If he pulls the
pin on cricket completely and turns all of his attention to golf, he’s a chance (of making it).”

But Arnold knows it’s still a big if at the moment. Ponting has been enjoying cricket coaching and Big Bash commentary commitments and what his plans are for this year and beyond are still to be worked out. But you can bet they will include some golf in there, somewhere.

In the meantime, Draper said Ponting must seek advice on every part of his golf gamewhen the opportunities arise.

“The most beneficial thing I did to improve my golf was ask the best people what I needed to do to get better,” says Draper. “What practice routines I needed to have.What training I was required to do. I was probably a pain in the arse for all those people I hassled but I wasn’t afraid to ask a bunch of questions.

“The biggest mistake I made was getting caught up with technical perfection rather than getting the ball in the hole. I
would tell Ricky to keep it simple out on the course and let his natural talent take over.”

Australian golf eagerly awaits Ponting’s next career move.