My life in golf: Wladimir Klitschko

Published:

Boxing legend Wladimir Klitschko is spending more time trying to improve his 18 handicap after hanging up his gloves last summer

{We caught up with Klitschko after he played in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last year, where he talked to us about why he took up the game and the similarties between boxing and golf.}

Former world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko will go down in history as a true King of the Ring. After his dramatic defeat against Brit Anthony Joshua at Wembley last April, the 6ft 6ins Ukrainian decided to retire following a 21-year career in which he won 64 of his 69 fights and at various times held the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO world heavyweight titles.

Klitschko is the second longest serving champion of all time behind Joe Louis with 23 title defences to Louis's 25, including a nine-year period of 18 consecutive defences. He also won the super-heavyweight Gold medal in the 1996 Olympics before he turned professional.

He discovered golf after one of his rare defeats in the ring. He lost to South African Corrie Sanders, a fine golfer himself, in 2003 –a huge upset at the time–and set about studying everything about his opponent. That's when he found a link to golf...

It's true, I started playing golf as a result of a fight against the late Corrie Sanders. I thought to myself 'how did he manage it, he was so good and his hands were lightning fast.' I wanted to understand and study Corrie better. It's like in chess: to see what they see, sit where they sit.

The next year I got clubs as a birthday gift and started playing. What I didn't realise at the time was that my first clubs were two inches short for me! Not surprisingly, I struggled to hit them properly. But the important thing was I enjoyed it... and had been bitten by the golf bug.

I think my game is gradually improving – I have a few good days followed by a few bad days. That's golf. To be honest, I haven't really practised a lot – probably only playing about three times in the past year or so, but that was because I was in training, making it tough to fit any golf in. I'm not playing as well as I want. But it's a process so don't judge me yet.

Now having retired from boxing I should be able to manage my time better and set a few days aside for some golf. I have got the chance to become a member of PGA National in Florida where there are a lot of great golf courses. I also have homes in Germany and the Ukraine, where you will also find a lot of very good courses – my fellow countryman, footballer Andriy Shevchenko is so good at golf he's virtually a professional!

As an amateur and a professional boxer, I have achieved everything I dreamed of, and now I want to start my second sporting career. But I'm definitely not going to become a pro golfer! Golf is probably the most complicated sport you could choose to play... and I'm so happy I'm not doing it for a living. I just want to treat it as a hobby, have fun and enjoy it. I see it as a stepping stone to bringing more enjoyment to my life and that, for me, is what the sport of golf is all about. It's a great way to relax and unwind from the pressures involved in my career.

I do have a good swing, but it's all about the precision... and that's what I am looking for. What I find most challenging is consistency, but that applies to all levels of golfer whether you're an amateur or professional. Sure, I have some weaknesses in my game, but I am going to try to work and improve on them. I can hit a good long ball but the only problem is that it doesn't always go in the right direction! Distance-wise I'm not sure, let's just say pretty far.

When I have adrenaline in my blood I perform better, as I found out at the Dunhill Links in Scotland. You're on the first tee, trying to make the perfect swing even though there are a lot of people and cameras around. I'm used to that... but not on a golf course! St Andrews is the mecca of golf, and it is an honour to play there with the pros. I was super-proud and excited to play there again and I don't think I hit any spectators with my ball!

It was a fantastic experience with plenty of sunshine and good weather. Unfortunately, my golf wasn't so hot, though I still had so much fun. I wished I could have played better than I did over the three days, but I now have plenty of time to prepare for the next one.

You know, the best thing about it was the reaction from the crowds. I loved the courteous behaviour of the galleries which makes golf so easy compared to other sports. I mean easy in that I received so many compliments from the people whether I hit an occasional good shot or even a bad shot. I was very surprised that they were so complimentary and that really impressed me and made my week...I need all the help I can get with my game at the moment.

There are some similarities between golf and boxing, as strange as it seems. You have to be mentally and physically in tune, fully concentrated and focussing your mind all the time. Lapse, drop your guard for a split second, and you could be in trouble. That is not an easy thing to do.

Boxing is called the sweet science for a reason. Like golf it's a complex sport in some ways, but the rules haven't altered much. But whereas in golf, balls can be made softer and clubs are improved with technology, in boxing little has changed over the years, except the number of rounds. But the sanctioning bodies, managers and promoters can help to ensure the popularity of the sport, while others can destroy boxing through self- interest. Some managers and promoters think about the income they are generating rather than the longevity of the sport.

And Klitschko isn't the only man who has swapped gloves for clubs... 

JOE LOUIS: The legendary heavy- weight champion was introduced to golf in 1935, a year before he lost for the first time as a pro to Germany's Max Schmeling – a shock his son partly blamed on his father's golfing obsession.

SUGAR RAY LEONARD: Often regarded as the best boxer of all time, Leonard also has a passion for golf and says "when I play, it is wonderful."

JOHN CONTEH: One of Britain's best, the former World light heavyweight champ runs his own Golf Classic Series in aid of charity.