When cricket power couple Mitchell Starc and Alyssa Healy aren’t guiding Australia to victories around the world, you’ll find them on a golf course battling for the ‘Stealy Cup’. Just don’t get in their way.
• Interview and photography by Brad Clifton •
Alyssa Healy was apologetic.
“So sorry, we’re going to be about 20 minutes late. Training ran a little over today,” she texts ahead of our 2pm tee-time at Terrey Hills Country Club in Sydney’s north.
Healy, gearing up for the Women’s Big Bash season with the Sydney Sixers, and hubby Mitchell Starc, prepping for the Twenty20 World Cup, had a lot on their plate and were commuting from across the other side of Australia’s largest city. But they were determined to not let work get in the way of a good time. And true to their word, they made it – the boot of their car loaded with golf clubs, not cricket bats, themselves decked out in sleek golf attire from head to toe – not one shred of evidence to suggest they had just spent hours slogging it out in a net session.
“You guys look like you’re ready to go low,” I said nervously, wiping dust off my headcovers that were seeing light for the first time in months.
“We chase red and white leather balls around for a living, so we figured why not chase around a little white ball in our leisure time,” says Starc.
“I think it fulfills our competitive side,” adds Healy.
It was the perfect introduction to a couple that, while clearly not one to take life too seriously, takes great pleasure in overcoming any obstacle put in front of them.
Today’s challenge: nine holes in front of the cameras and solving some of golf’s great conundrums, like the gender-neutral tee debate, and which rules should go the way of cricket’s Mankad. Oh, and why Healy dumped her partner in life for someone better in mixed foursomes. “I’m very salty about it,” deadpans Starc.
Join us for the walk.
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Australian Golf Digest: How did you guys get introduced to golf?
Healy: I flat-out said no to playing golf as a junior when Mum and Dad tried to get me into it. I completely regret it now. I really only got into golf properly about eight years ago when Mitch and I joined Long Reef Golf Club (on Sydney’s Northern Beaches). I remember not wanting to play competitions with anyone. I just wanted to play socially with Mitch because I was terrified. But within the first four weeks I was playing with the ladies in the Thursday competition. I’m really lucky to have gotten to know a great group of ladies and I haven’t looked back since.
Starc: Dad always played – he was the golfer of the family. I’m left-handed but Dad was right-handed, and I remember I would take his clubs out and swing right-handed – I even played proper rounds right-handed for a little bit. Then, I started going to Rebel Sport and I’d buy a left-handed club and add it to my growing set. Eventually I started playing with my mates at Carnarvon Golf Club (in western Sydney) and here we are today.
Healy:Now we’re addicted.
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How did you two meet? Presumably on the cricket field, not a golf course?
Healy:We actually grew up playing cricket together when we were 10. I don’t remember because I was the only girl in the team. Mitch probably remembers better than me, but we’ve known each other for a long time.
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You guys are spotted together on golf courses more than cricket grounds these days. Fair observation?
Starc: Yeah, we call ourselves golf tragics. It’s all we spend our money on – golf clubs, balls and clothing. This one here [pointing to Healy] has about 30 pairs of golf shoes at home.
Starc: We watch golf all the time. We probably watch more of the LPGA Tour because we find it more relatable. I can’t hit it as long or straight like Rory McIlroy, but I can get a better sense for club selection and course strategy by watching the women. Speaking of golf clubs, they’re the first thing we pack for cricket tours.
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Were you able to get out and play more golf through COVID?
Starc: Absolutely. We’ve been really lucky because playing golf in our downtime was all we were able to do there for a while. Just being outdoors, in pairs, golf became the perfect tool to unwind away from the cricket field. I’m also very lucky that my wife loves golf even more than I do. I’m often getting the tap on the shoulder from her to go play. Don’t worry, I know how good I’ve got it!
Healy: He never has to go looking for a partner. I’m always ready to go.
Starc:I’m sure she’s probably sick of trying to find my ball in the bushes, though [Laughs].
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How underrated is golf as a ‘couples’ sport?
Starc: Highly underrated! It’s certainly not lost on me that I’m very fortunate to share the same enthusiasm for golf as Alyssa, and that we are both very competitive people. While I don’t often win our many rounds of golf, the social aspect is fantastic. We have been lucky to play some beautiful courses around the world together, and to share a passion – which for us is also an escape from cricket – adds to that appeal. Golf is something we play a lot, whether it’s on tour with one another or during the times we are home together. Hitting the odd decent shot or two, enjoying a nice walk around a course for a few hours, and finishing it with a drink or two is a decent day off together. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for many golfing couples to play on a Sunday at Long Reef Golf Club and for us to play some rounds with these other couples, have a drink
or two and enjoy the weekend of golf.
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Can you rank the best golfers in the Australian men’s cricket team?
Starc: We certainly have more golfers now than we did pre-COVID, as a result of the ‘bubbles’ and hubs we have been in and golf being one of the very few things we have been allowed to do. During the World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, we had between 12 and 18 players and staff taking part in rounds of golf, which was brilliant. Handicap-wise, Glenn Maxwell is the lowest marker – he plays off 1.6. We then have about half-a-dozen single markers and the other half off between 10 and 20. Mitch Marsh and I look after tournament structures on tour and have introduced a ‘green jacket’ that we play for on every trip. David Warner is always happy to be organiser of venues. He chases the tee-times whenever we land in a country. We take a TrackMan device and practice net with us when we go to places that aren’t known for their golf courses. So we’re a pretty keen crew. Alyssa would probably beat most of us, though (which I’m used to), and with more of the ladies’ team now playing golf, it would be great to one day have a joint men’s and women’s cricket-team golf day!
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With all this golf, you must have a best round and most memorable shot?
Starc: Sadly, I haven’t gone around even or under the card yet. Three-over at Long Reef is my best round. I was even-par off the stick standing on the 16th tee and came home with three straight bogeys – heartbreaker! [Laughs]. Any time my driver ends up on the fairway is a memorable shot, but I managed to hole-out from 143 metres on the first hole at Rowes Bay in Townsville while we were playing the One Day International series there this year, so that was a nice start. Next on the to-do list might be to get some lessons in! A friend of ours just opened up a golf studio on the Northern Beaches called Strokes Gained Studio, so I might have to spend some time in there.
Healy: Well, I’m yet to shoot under par or have a hole-in-one so I’m guessing they’ll be top of my list! I’ve had a number of rounds shooting even-par so need to work on my putting to make that extra birdie to get there. The favourite round I’ve played would have to be around Terrey Hills – such a beautiful course to play. A memorable shot on that day would be the 3-wood I hit onto the green at the par-5 16th. I normally mess up that hole, so to stick it close and make the eagle putt was a treat.
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What are your bucket-list golf destinations?
Starc: Augusta National, for sure.
Healy:Yeah, we haven’t done the USA yet so that’s definitely on a long list of things we’d like to tick off.
Starc: Tara Iti (in New Zealand) has probably been the favourite so far.
Healy:Yeah, from an overall experience point of view, that place was incredible.
Starc: It’s spectacular golf but an even better place for a beer.
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It sounds like you guys just play cricket to fund your golf obsession. What’s your best purchase to date?
Starc: [Laughs] That is fairly accurate! We are both suckers for anything golf-related, me more so than Alyssa, I would say. My best purchase is a tough one… During the first COVID lockdown we bought a golf net and hitting mat for our courtyard, and a little shot-tracker device. That one got a good run when the courses weren’t open and still does these days when we feel like a quick swing.
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Which is harder, Mitch: taking the new ball in a World Cup final or teeing off in the Australian Open pro-am?
Starc: Just teeing off on the first hole on a Saturday morning in front of the clubhouse and members is by far more nerve-racking than bowling. I’m doing well to keep it in play – out-of-bounds on the right at Long Reef is always a big danger for me. There were plenty of nerves on the first tee at the Vic Open pro-am a few years ago, too. Fortunately, I was in a great group that included Alyssa, Karrie Webb and Stacey Peters. I had played golf with the ladies before that round, so it was a very enjoyable and social day for us all. Alyssa and I would love to experience more pro-am events.
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You just mentioned Karrie Webb. What has she taught you?
Healy: Absolutely nothing about golf because she refuses to give me tips.
Starc: That’s a lie.
Healy: OK, she gave me a tip out of the bunker once, but it didn’t lead to any long-term improvement.
Starc:I remember an Australian Open pro-am at The Grange a few years back… Alyssa had never met Karrie and I had some time off from cricket for a bit so I thought I would carry the bag for Alyssa. There had been a bit of Twitter banter going on in the lead-up to the event.
Healy:I was really nervous [Whispers].
Starc:Yeah, well, old loudmouth here didn’t say beep for the entire front nine.
Healy: That’s because I was hitting them along the turf for first nine holes because I was so nervous
Starc: Anyway, they got to the 10th and Karrie absolutely smacked this tee shot and it echoed really loudly. Alyssa yelled out, “Did you just hit that twice?” and Karrie replied, “No, that’s what it sounds like when you hit the middle of the club.”
Starc: From that moment on, the floodgates opened, and the banter between Alyssa and Karrie went up a notch. It was the beginning of a great friendship, to the point where Karrie even came and watched me play cricket in England. I remember during an Ashes Test at Birmingham, I looked over in the crowd and there’s Alyssa and Karrie sinking beers in the distance. Karrie had missed the cut at the Open around the same time and she wanted to watch some cricket in her spare time so Alyssa hit me up for tickets. I got home from the day’s play and Alyssa texts me, saying they were out at some bar. They ended up kicking on really late and had a great old time.
Healy:I think, to give a more serious answer, as a professional athlete, what I’ve learnt in just spending a small amount of time with Karrie is she’s so giving of her time. Even for someone like myself, who’s not a pro golfer, she’s so happy to chat about cricket and golf and I fricking love that! For me, as someone who is on the back end of their career, it becomes a bit about legacy and what you leave in the game. [Because of Karrie], I now make a real conscious effort to make time for people. Karrie still wants to come play a round of golf, despite playing it her entire life. But that’s just the type of person she is.
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You two seem to bring that competitive energy from the cricket field to the golf course. What bets do you like to have with your playing partners? Any favourite ‘wins’ over the years?
Starc:That’s just in our nature as athletes, I think. We are all competitive beasts and that certainly doesn’t change, whether it’s Alyssa and me, Alyssa and the ladies, or myself and the fellas. We have a big golfing group on tour now so some guys may play for dinner, some for a few bucks or some for a beer. I’ve managed to team up with [fast bowler] Josh Hazlewood a fair bit lately, as a fellow lefty golfer, and we’ve managed to take some beers off some right-handers. He says he just breeds good golf in his company so we will let him run with that [Laughs].
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OK, let’s get serious. If you could change one rule in golf, what would it be?
Healy:Divots in the fairways! You should be able to ask whoever is marking your card to confirm the hole you’re in is a divot, and then take a preferred lie if the divot hasn’t been filled with sand. Actually, scrap that. Just a divot, any divot [hole], regardless of whether it has been filled with sand or not, should be free relief. I don’t want to play out of a bunker if I have hit the fairway.
Starc: I reckon you should be able to pick the holes you get shots on. I’m all over it.
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Would you pick the holes you’re no good at or really good at?
Starc:I think I’d go half and half. Hedge my bets.
Healy: I reckon I’d go the holes I’m really good at because those other holes I’m probably going to wipe anyway. Why would I waste shots when I can double down on others?
Starc: So how would you play it? Do you stand on the tee and call it if you’re feeling good about that particular tee shot?
Healy: Nope. You’d have to nominate your holes pre-round. You’d go to the
pro shop, say 40 minutes before your tee-time and say, “Pete, what am I off today?” If Pete says, “5,” you’d go, “Righto, I want holes one, three, six, 12 and 18 today,” and then Pete marks it down in the system.
Starc: It could change week by week, which is what would make it such a cool rule. One week I could pick all the holes I traditionally play well and then the following week, if I’m swinging it poorly, I could give myself an extra shot on the holes I know I’m no chance of playing well on. There’s a par 3 we play regularly where I get a shot because the men have to hit over water and Alyssa never gets that one. So, when I play it well, I’m guaranteed a 3-a-3 [Stableford points] and she’s stuck with a 3-a-2…
Healy: 4-a-1 [Laughs].
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Is scratch the ultimate goal?
Healy: I think it’s everyone’s goal! The lowest I’ve been off is 2 and it’s actually not that much fun [Laughs]. But, yes, I’d love to be able to play some really nice, consistent golf and get down as close to scratch as I can, just to say I did it!
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Who makes up your dream fourball and why?
Healy: I’m a massive fan of Rory McIlroy, so he’s definitely one. I’d also have Nelly Korda, Rickie Fowler and Hannah Green in there. I know I’m supposed to be playing with them, but I think I’d be happy to just walk behind those four
Starc: I’d have Rory too, along with Justin Thomas, Min Woo Lee and Minjee Lee. I love watching all four on tour and how they play the game. The way McIlroy and Thomas drive the ball is incredible. Min Woo and Minjee are seriously good players in their own right and obviously great Australians to barrack for. I was fortunate to meet them both at a Vic Open and even got Min Woo over to a couple of our World Cup games in the UAE while he was playing on the DP World Tour. I’d be happy to follow, watch or just tend the flag for all of them [Laughs]!
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No mention of each other, I see? Mitch, is it true Alyssa actually ditched you for someone better in mixed foursomes?
Starc: It is true, and I’m very salty about it. We have only had one crack at mixed foursomes and, to be fair, it didn’t go great for us. We kept putting each other into trouble… more so me being the one who played poorly but we didn’t fare too well. Alyssa would put me into bunkers and I’d return the favour by putting her into trees and bushes. It can only get better from our first attempt, but I’ve since been punted for a scratch golfer, which stings. Perhaps after we’re done with cricket we can team up again and take out the title to add to the Stealy
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The Stealy Cup? Do tell…
Healy: [Laughs] Yes, the Stealy Cup takes pride of place in our trophy cabinet, which is surrounded by some pretty cool medals and silverware. However, our replica claret jug is the most important and highly sought after! We realised one day after playing another round together at Long Reef that we’re both competitive people and we should realistically be playing for something each time. Alas, the Stealy Cup was born. It’s played on a points-based system with home, away and international points all accrued for winning and some losing points as well to keep Mitch feeling as though he’s in the contest [Laughs].
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Alyssa, you’re a valued member of Australian Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses ranking panel. Which courses in Australia are on your hit-list and which are perhaps underrated in your mind?
Healy: Yes, I’m very excited to be a part of the judging panel. I’m a bit of a golf snuff, so the opportunity to play some of the best courses in the country is a cool incentive. I fell in love with Melbourne’s Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club the first time I played it and still love it every time I get the opportunity to go down there and play it. I’m looking forward to ranking that one highly [Laughs]. The most underrated courses have to be some of the public courses down on the Mornington Peninsula and also along the east coast of Sydney. There are some really good layouts for all abilities and the views are spectacular too.
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Women’s golf coverage. How does it compare to women’s cricket? What would you like to see more of?
Healy:I love watching women’s golf. They are just so good. I’d love to see more of the players on the telly. We tend to see the featured groups and the big names a lot, but the extended coverage and increased number of cameras they dedicate to the Majors would be awesome. I’d also love to see a joint Presidents Cup, too. How cool would it be to see the guys and girls competing at the same time?
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There’s been a targeted push around inclusivity at golf clubs. How would you describe your treatment at golf clubs over the journey?
Healy:If I’m being honest, I never really wanted to join a golf club as I was too nervous at how I was going to fit in and be treated, as a young female wearing her short shorts [Laughs]. But, quite honestly, I have never had a negative experience. I have found every club I’ve played at to be incredibly welcoming and keen to see more women involved, which is great. Long Reef here in Sydney was the first club I joined and, as I touched on earlier, the ladies have been amazing to me. They even come down to watch some cricket when it’s on, which is pretty neat. I think the more we can encourage young people – women in particular – to take up golf, the better. It’s a great way to learn new skills and socialise, no matter what your playing ability is.
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Speaking of ability, we’ve all been playing off the same tees today. What are your thoughts on gender-neutral tees?
Healy: Yep, completely all for them. One of the reasons we love playing here at Terrey Hills Golf & Country Club is we can play from any tee. That choice is ours to make. From my point of view, there seems to be this fear around opening that discussion at golf clubs. In my mind, if guys want to play from the red tees, that’s what handicaps are for. The handicap system will adjust accordingly to playing a shorter layout. I think golf has really been holding itself back when it comes to this topic. Just open it all up and let people play how they want.
Starc:There’s also the social aspect to it. For example, I played with three ladies the other day and I had to march back to the blue tees and play my tee shots while they waited patiently up in front. I did the maths and I reckon I ended up playing half the round on my own, and that’s not really why we play this sport. There will be times when Alyssa and I play socially from the same tees, and I just give her a couple of extra shots. From a social aspect, it’s the only way forward for golf.
Healy: And for me, and not everyone thinks like this, but I really want to get better at golf and being able to play from tees a little further back occasionally will help me hit longer irons and allow me to develop my course management. There’s this weird perception that to play off the red tees you need to be wearing a skirt, but that’s just so backwards in thinking. What we should all be thinking is, I actually want a different challenge today so I’m going to play off the red tees. Not the ladies’ tees, the red tees – for a completely new challenge.
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While we’re on the hard topics, Mitch, what are your thoughts on LIV Golf’s disruptive arrival on the pro golf scene? Any parallels to the IPL or World Series Cricket?
Starc: It’s a very interesting one and obviously something that is featuring heavily in the headlines at the moment, with strong opinions on both sides. In terms of any similarities with cricket, World Series Cricket back in the Kerry Packer era was probably a close relation to the current golf situation, more so than that of the IPL. I think cricket sits in an interesting space with franchise tournaments heating up, which may see some similar opinions to the current LIV one in golf. Like everyone, I’m watching with interest.
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What’s one part of each other’s golf game you’d love to have?
Starc: Accuracy off the tee, for sure. I tend to not hit driver much because I don’t know where it’s going to go on any given day of the week. Alyssa just hits these nice little fades that more often than not finish in the fairway or very close to it. I’d take that every day.
Healy:I would love to be able to hit my 4-iron like Mitch does. I mean, he has to rely on it as he just mentioned, but I would love to be able to pick up my 4-iron and know I’m going to flush it like he does. Incidentally, have you noticed how none of us wants each other’s short games? [Laughs]
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It’s said cricket’s not good for your golf and golf isn’t good for your cricket. How, then, have you two managed to be talented at both?
Healy:Well, you’re right on one thing – they are horrible for one another. Cricket is pretty straight-lined whereas golf is super rotational. I think, ultimately, hand-eye co-ordination has allowed me to hit a golf ball half decently, but just when I feel like I’ve sorted out my golf swing, I have to go back to cricket training and I undo all the hard work. Putting is the hardest thing for cricketers to master as all we want to do is stand up there and whack it. We’re not big on wanting to use our fine motor skills for the short game.
Starc:Yeah, the slog-shot over cow corner (deep mid-wicket) doesn’t translate too well to the golf course, accuracy-wise, but when I occasionally get hold of it they can go.