*This article first appeared in April’s edition of Irish Golfer Magazine*
Handicap & home club?
I’m playing off 9 and home club is Wentworth. When I’m in America I play all over though. Wherever I can get a game.
You’re back out on tour now, do the clubs come with you?
The clubs go more places than my guitar! They have to come. When we go on tour, that’s how we fill a lot of our days off, and we even play on some of our gig days as well.
A lot of people play golf to escape something… screens, social media. Is there noise that golf shuts out for you?
Absolutely, there’s nothing more grounding than a game of golf before you get the adulation of a crowd! I just love it, and that’s why I really got into it. I was playing a lot when I was younger just being Irish but once the band kicked off and we were traveling the world, we used to just play a lot to get away from the madness. It’s a nice release to be able to spend four hours thinking about something else.
We know you watch golf. What do you make of the PGA Tour changes and the direction men’s pro golf is headed?
I like it. What I’ve noticed since the elevated events kicked off is that the PGA Tour is just an unbelievable watch. If Scottie Scheffler didn’t exist, every weekend you would’ve had an amazing finish. He’s just so good obviously but Sunday nights are getting exciting again. When you’re a four-day watcher like myself, if you don’t get a good finish on a Sunday it can be like, ‘well why did I do that for the last three days?’ But just look at Sunday at The Players – what Tyrrell [Hatton-Modest! client] did down the stretch, shooting 29 for 2.7 million, or Min Woo missing a putt for the guts of 250 grand, that wouldn’t have been the case last season, that number would’ve been a lot smaller. It adds to the drama.
What about your own game… do you get lessons?
I don’t but I should. Half the issue is that I live in Central London and when I go out to Surrey or whatever to play golf, you go out to play, not practice. With the amount of time I get to play golf these days, all I want to do is play. If I had the time, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a lot of the coaches from just being around them and that would be the aim. If I’m struggling with something these days, I just send a video to someone like ‘Rosey’ [Justin Rose]… I know that sounds incredibly privileged but he’s become a good friend of mine and it’s cool to have that help. I’m sure if he ever needed singing tips he’d throw them at me!
This is our Masters edition – a little birdie tells me you’re playing Augusta the week before the Masters. Is that true?
Aww God, again, when it comes to golf I feel like such a pr*ck! The things that I’ve been able to do through golf are just insane. But yeah, we’re about to play Augusta. I’ve been lucky enough to have played it on a few occasions now and you know the way you play some courses and go, ‘well I’ve done it now, ticked that box’, this one is just on a different planet. It’s like nothing on earth. It’s what I imagine heaven to look like.
We heard you doubled the last to shoot 80 on a previous visit there?
That’s true. I was on the 18th needing a par for 78 and then doubled the last. I shot 80 which is still not too bad, eight-over, but I’m a much better golfer this time so that’s the big aim now. If you treat it as a golf course, it’s scoreable. But it’s very hard to treat it as a golf course. You nearly start treating it like a totally different thing. Your grip gets tighter. It all becomes a little tense and half of it is the want to play well on a great course like that. You kill yourself just thinking about it.
What’s it like being in the clubhouse at Augusta – can you be comfortable?
For sure! Once you drive through the gate at Augusta National the welcome is unreal. If you’re lucky enough to go for a dinner there, you wear your suit and your tie, but apart from that it’s great. The members are sound and it’s just really chilled, especially during tournament week. And the history of the place. Going up to the Crow’s Nest and seeing where the amateurs stay for the week and have since the Masters began. The original drawings of the clubhouse when Bobby Jones was first building the course. Comparing how the designs back then have evolved to now. It’s such a special place. It’s like when you go to the St Andrews’ museum. It’s got that golf Mecca feel.
You’re a fashion guy, where do you stand on dress codes in golf?
Banish them! Ah no, I’m joking. Personally, I’m a mixed bag. It depends where I’m playing. I can be more conservative at times and just wear my usual blue and cream. But the hoodie has been a revelation since Tyrrell won wearing it at the BMW PGA. They’re all wearing it now – Billy Horschel, Spieth, JT. I think it’s a generational thing but it’s about time we got comfortable with the fact times change and this is what people are wearing. If we really want to start growing the sport, and I know that’s a phrase that gets on people’s nerves, we need to stop taking stuff like that seriously.
Was there ever a fear that using your platform to promote golf could alienate fans who think the sport’s uncool?
No. To be honest, it’s always been about just getting people to try it. If you can get someone to pick up a golf club and hit a few balls, whether they’re good or bad, it’s still good craic. The amount of people who’ve said, ‘I’ve just been to Topgolf and I was absolutely useless but here’s a video of me and we had a great time’ – that’s what you want. And if you stick with it, you’ll get better. That’s not to say it gets easier. It’s still a really hard game even if you’re decent at it.
I’d imagine you’re the first musician to sign a contract with Callaway… how’d that come about?
It’s amazing and it came about organically. We met at The Open to talk about a couple of content things. Then it became, ‘do you want to sign up with us and play with our gear?’ They’d help Modest! with our grassroots work with the R&A and vice versa, so it was a great fit. They’re the ones really putting their money where their mouth is in terms of initiatives like getting people into the game with their ownership of Topgolf. I met the President of Callaway when I went to get my fitting in Carlsbad and just speaking to him, we’re all on the same page in terms of getting people into golf and how we do that.
How’s the Paradym equipment treating you?
The gear is off the charts. The new Paradym Irons are ridiculous – they are so forgiving. They feel incredible, how pure they strike the ball. I got an extra nine yards off my seven iron alone which I didn’t think was in there – I wasn’t even swinging it particularly hard. As for the Driver, I drive the ball decently anyway. I’m carrying it 270 to 275 yards which is decent for someone my size and weight, but I managed to find another seven or eight yards off that as well so it’s been impressive to see. Visiting the factory, I was lucky enough to get a bit of a tour around the place. They explained how they do all the aerodynamics, how they’re shaping clubs, the metals they use, the carbon, the thought behind it all and it’s so impressive. They’re definitely changing the game, there’s no doubt about that. As we can see from the top half of world golf – there’s a good few in there that are playing Callaway
ISPS HANDA World Invitational presented by Modest! continues to lead the way for gender equality in golf. Must be proud?
It’s been such a good event. It’s just grown and grown and we’ve seen the good of that. Word’s getting around that we’re one of the few in the world offering an equal prize fund for men and women and it’s a great thing to be involved in. I’d love to get back there for a day this year, festivals and concerts permitting. It’s always such a great event and hopefully the crowds will turn out like they always do again this summer.
As for Modest! Golf, it’s attracted some serious talent. Do you ever take stock in your head of how far it’s come?
It’s mad. When I think of the initial conversation I had with Macca [Mark McDonnell – Modest! Co-Founder] just over six years ago now. We started with literally nothing and now we’ve got Tyrrell back inside the top-20, the lads are going really well on the DP World Tour. The girls are flying. Obviously Leona is doing amazing and is inspiring the next generation of girls in Ireland. Brendan Lawlor’s still up there. It’s been incredible and hopefully we can kick on now and take on the States. We’ll see what happens. It’s a tough world out there but we’re going to try and cause a bit of disruption! A separate part of the business is working with brands too. To work with Irish based brands like Kinetica Sports and P2 Grips and help them grow globally is great.
We’ve heard about Augusta but is there a course still on the bucket list?
Hmmm… Pebble Beach!
Who’s the best golfer amongst your peers?
JT… Justin Timberlake. The man’s class.
Any contenders for the worst? Have you got Lewis Capaldi into golf?
It’s funny you say that. We’ve just got him a set of Callaway’s. He clipped a few balls, sent me a video and I’ll tell you what, the swing’s naturally there. Must be the Scottish blood in him. A while ago he was like, [in Niall’s best Scottish accent!] ‘I’m not f**ing playing golf, f** that! That’s a loada rubbish, old man’s game.’ Then six weeks later he’s asking me if I can get him a set of clubs! He’s mad into it. He’s playing on tour with the lads in the band as well now so if we can get him into golf, then anything is possible!
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