With the Legends Tour rolling into Ireland this week for the Irish Legends event at Seapoint Golf Links we caught up with Ireland stalwart Shay Given ahead of his participation in the event.
1. Handicap & home club?
My handicap’s 16 and I play out of Portsalon in Donegal.
2. Your get into golf story is very interesting – Tell us about your dad’s market garden?
Ah yes! We had a market garden business, growing lots of vegetables and that sort of thing but we changed it all to a Pitch and Putt course and Driving Range. It was a drastic change but the workload didn’t lessen, there was a lot of grass to cut and lots of balls to collect! It’s gone now but that’s where my golf started, using any bit of spare time in the evenings to hit a few balls.
3. With that access, did golf ever compete with your affection for football?
Nah, it never got to that level. If I’d picked up a club and I was a natural then who knows what would’ve happened but the game was always very much a challenge. It obviously helped having the Pitch and Putt course – my short game is decent so it did help in the long run but I’m not a brilliant golfer, as my 16 handicap would suggest!
4. Earliest memory watching golf?
Like everyone, I was watching the Irish lads any time a big tournament was on the telly but as you get older, you start to watch it even more. Lowry, Harrington and McIlroy are all big heroes who are constantly there to look out for, and when you look at the bigger picture, obviously Tiger Woods was the man. We’re a similar age so it’s been great following his career as well.
5. Thoughts on LIV Golf, ruination of the game or the way of the world?
I think players should be allowed to play wherever they want, I don’t think they should be restricted. I know McIlroy and even Lowry have come out strong against it but there should be a big enough world for them all to compete in all the competitions. It should be a personal choice for them. It’s a shame it’s all got so messy and hopefully a resolution can be found. You’d feel for the players on both sides a bit as it must be a little awkward in the locker-room. The whole thing’s created such a big divide.
6. There’s such mad money being thrown around on all tours now. Football is no different. Did you ever worry about a disconnect between players and fans?
Maybe but then you only have to look at Formula One and so many other sports to see that big money’s right across sport. I think it’s more about your upbringing. You could be a very successful businessman and be a bit of an egg, or a very successful sportsperson and be a bit of an egg. I think it’s more about how you’re brought up and how you see life. I don’t think the money should change you.
7. Strengths and Weaknesses of your game?
My strength is probably off the tee, my driver’s not bad. It doesn’t go miles but it goes straight which helps… famous last words off the first – I’m playing Adare tomorrow, I’ll probably be taking somebody out now! Weaknesses, my putting’s not great. Room for improvement there definitely.
8. Do you get lessons?
I have done in the past. I’m good mate’s with Damien Taylor, the snooker player Dennis Taylor’s son. He’s a golf coach and he’s been good with advice but it’s just about time for me. I’m busy doing TV, media work, four kids now and all the other things that life throws at you. I’d love to be able to put more time into my golf.
9. You’re teeing up at the Irish Legends at Seapoint. Excited?
For sure. It’s always great to come home and even more so when there’s golf on the itinerary. I’ve heard great things about the course and it will be great to rub shoulders with some legends of the game who can show me how it’s done.
10. Do you get nervous playing in Pro-Ams?
I haven’t played loads. I played Ballyliffin for the Irish Open Pro-Am and it was a great experience. I didn’t play great but a big crowd had gathered at the last hole and I got up and down from the bunker and got a big round of applause. I was thinking, if they had seen me playing the other holes they wouldn’t have been clapping me too much. I peaked for the right moment though. I must need that bit of pressure to bring the best out of myself!
11. Favourite golf course?
I’m definitely biased towards Donegal but for me it’s Portsalon. It’s so beautiful. They’ve put a new tee-box in at the second hole and it’s only getting better. Paul McGinley has designed a couple of holes as well so if you’re reading this article and you ever get a chance to go up to Donegal, check out Portsalon. Ballyliffin is great too but for the beauty that surrounds it, it’s Portsalon for me.
12. Bucket list golf course?
I’m aiming high but I’d love to play Augusta. I was lucky enough to play St Andrews once and I loved it. To be able to tee off at the Home of Golf was special but Augusta also sticks out.
13. The best golfer you’ve ever played with?
I can’t really think of anyone who stands out! I’d love to play with Shane Lowry one day because he’s good friends with my sister’s husband. He’s obviously busy with his schedule as well though! Apart from that, I’d say someone like Alan Shearer – he’s pretty handy around the course. I played with Gareth Bale as well, he’s a top footballer but he’s a top golfer too.
14. What’s the draw for footballers to golf?
I think it’s just a sport that allows you to switch off your mind and unwind from the pressures of football. People talk about the golf bug, don’t they? You hit a few good shots and you’re back on next week. You could have a brutal round for 17 holes and par the 18th and all you want to do is get back out there. It’s one of those sports that grab you. People who don’t play golf struggle to understand it but it’s just a game that keeps bringing you back.
15. Who’s the best footballer you’ve ever shared a pitch with?
It’s probably Messi I’d say. He’s not bad! Ronaldo wasn’t either to be fair, I know there’s always a big debate between the two but I think Messi is just unbelievable. He never scored against me though, not for Argentina or Barcelona so there you go! How many goalkeepers can say that?
16. If we could give you a Mulligan on your own playing career, how would you use it?
It would probably be on one of the FA Cup finals with Newcastle. I was there for so long and to come so close, it would be great to get one of those back. The shootout for Ireland against Spain in the 2002 World Cup was another one. I would’ve liked to save a few more of them but we missed the first three so it mightn’t have made a big difference. On a personal level, I would’ve liked to have my Packie Bonner moment but it would’ve helped if the other characters had scored as well! I know with Mendieta’s penalty, people say ‘why didn’t you just stand up and kick it away?’ but I always think it’s very difficult for a goalkeeper to stand still and do nothing but whatever way he hit it, it hit into the ground and rolled over my trailing leg. These things happen. We missed a penalty in normal time as well. On a different day we wouldn’t have needed the penalty shootout but there we go.
17. You had an elite performance mentality in football. Can you bring it to golf?
I think you can when you talk about mindset but as I say, I treat golf as a bit of a release so I’ll never be too hard on myself. Yeah you can get frustrated but then I think of big moments in football where I’ve made mistakes. Messing up a shot or missing a putt on the course isn’t exactly the end of the world. At the level I’m at, I just want to enjoy it and take my mind off other things in life.
18. At the highest level, golf is a game that promotes longevity. You’re playing the Celebrity Series at Seapoint on golf’s over-50’s tour. You played football into your 40s. Gigi Buffon is still playing at 45. Could you envisage a day for goalkeepers playing into their 50s?
I don’t know about that. I was always fighting with my right knee, injuries and niggles and stuff which made my mind up for me. Golf’s different. Yeah people have their injuries but there’s less impact on major joints. I haven’t seen Buffon playing but I don’t know how he’s still playing even at 45. It depends on the level and how well he’s protected but at the same time, I can’t see him playing on to 50. It just shows his dedication and professionalism that he’s got this far.
Tickets for the Irish Legends are now on sale at www.tickets.legendstour.com