England and Manchester City stars Kyle Walker and John Stones on hitting it miles, playing with Harry Kane and the best golfers in football...
Kyle Walker and John Stones are Manchester City and England teammates... and big golfing buddies. When their club clinched the 2018 Premier League title, they celebrated the occaion by playing a fun round of golf together - with Stones bizarrely kitted out in a bunny costume.
The defensive pair played key roles in City's double success this season (they also won the League Cup), and we caught up with the duo before they headed out to Russia, where they spoke about being cautious with their desires of returning with a trophy.
Before they went out to Russia, they told us: "We need to be realistic. There are a lot of good teams out there and our record in past tournaments hasn't been fantastic. Obviously, I hope we can go as far as we can, but to win would be like a miracle, though we have the players to do it with most playing in probably the best league in the world."
If by any chance however, England do return home victorious, who knows what costume Stone will be sporting when he joins sparring partner Walker for the inevitable celebratory round on their return?
Read on below to find out how both players got in to the game, who hits it the furthest, and who they reckon are the best golfers in football...
Who are the best golfers currently on the football scene?
JS: That's a tough call, because there are so many good players around, but if I had to pick one it would have to be Harry Kane who, I believe, is playing off four these days.
KW: I used to play with Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton & Iceland) and I think he plays off two - he and Harry would be the best players I played with when I was at Tottenham. "Gaz" (Gareth Bale) is also very good and hits it an absolute mile, though Harry's short game was a little bit better than Gareth's - though that might have changed since he had his own course built in his back garden!
How competitive are you?
JS: Professional footballers are always competitive and that competitive nature extends to the golf course. At an England training get- together at The Grove, Kyle and myself took on goalkeeper Jack Butland and defender Harry Maguire and because we were giving them shots, they thought they were going to beat us. We had other ideas, and played absolute blinders and comfortably took the spoils.
KW: Yeah, we blew them away – even offered them double or quits on the 18th hole and took that as well! It was only a tenner a time, but that didn't matter – we had the bragging rights. That was the important thing.
What's been your best golfing experience?
JS: The time I played with Harry Kane against Jags (Everton captain Phil Jagielka) and James Milner in another England get-together, this time at The Belfry. We got to the 18th and it was level-pegging, but Harry sunk a massive putt from about 40 yards to clinch it for us!
KW: Mine would have to be seeing a close friend, not a footballer, register a hole-in-one. It was a great experience and I'm glad I was able to share it with him, though he wasn't too pleased about ringing the ball and buying everyone drinks in the clubhouse afterwards. By pure luck I decided to video the shot and stuck it up on Instagram. I live down the road from Dunham Forest GC and actually went close to scoring a hole- in-one there myself yesterday – I used the bank around the green to good effect and it trickled down off it and finished next to the hole.
How did you first get into golf?
KW: I grew up on a Sheffield council estate and there were plenty of grassy areas nearby and that’s where I first started hitting balls with some school pals. I was about 13 and we got more and more adventurous. The first course we ever went to was Beauchief, a local municipal course. I fell in love with the game there.
JS: I was in my early teens as well and picked up the golfing bug back home in Barnsley when one of my best pals, a keen golfer, persuaded me to go along and join him for a game. I’ve been playing on and off ever since.
KW: Nowadays, I only play golf in the summer. Obviously football comes first and I tend not to play two days before a game just in case it takes it out of my legs or anything. It’s all about finding the right time, but luckily we’re in this position now where we’ve won the league plus the gaffer (manager Pep Guardiola) is very big into his golf so I had a few end-of-season days off for a swing.
JS: We’re spoilt for choice for great courses in the north-west, with so many on the doorstep. We just enjoy playing and having a good laugh on the course and for us we need to have a little bit of motivation. Sometimes we can go out and have a game and get carried away with nothing riding on the outcome and you end up playing sloppily. That shouldn’t happen – we need to try to go out there and keep improving...
What's the golfing competition like at Man City?
JS: Kun (striker Sergio Aguero) likes to play.
KW: And a lot of the medical staff play as well as ourselves, the gaffer and assistant manager Brian Kidd. Actually, the gaffer has been talking about taking us out for a golf day and I'm looking forward to seeing how he shapes up because I gather he puts a lot of hours into it.
Do you see much golfing action on pre-season tours?
KW: Not this year. Sometimes in pre-season you're here, there and everywhere so you're lucky to get a sneaky round in. Our best chance is with England because we've got more free time on our hands.
JS: That's right, and I've played with "Jags" a few times when we were out in Singapore and Miami – golf is always better when the sun's shining!
What about favourite courses you've played?
KW: The Ocean Course in the Bahamas was pretty special.
JS: I'd love to play the Old Course at St Andrews. We stopped up there and stayed at the Old Course Hotel overlooking it, but unfortunately didn't get the chance to get on it.
KW: One of my favourites is near here, Royal Birkdale, and hopefully on our next day off I'll get the chance to play it. Football is the most important thing, but if you've got a spare day off and haven't got any family responsibilities, you can go out.
JS: A relaxing round of golf tends to take your mind off a lot of things...
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your games?
KW: Our (Man City's) golf-mad masseur Carlo (Sertori) would say my driving – I'm hitting it around the 320-330 yard mark. I do whack it a long way! Sometimes my short game can let me down, though yesterday both my chipping and putting was spot on. At the end of the day, like in football, it's all about achieving levels of consistency.
JS: I'm up and down. I can play some brilliant shots, but in the same round I can strike some really wayward ones and, as a result, a decent score gets away from me. For me, the problem is more about consistency and concentration.
KW: Another thing is that being professional footballers, we've all got big egos, so we just try to smash it as far as we can.
JS: He can hit it a long way, just not always in the right direction...
KW: I play a fair bit with my father-in- law and he hits it a steady 200 yards every time, and he plays off single figures. That's something we can learn from. Sometimes you can't take on the big shot when you want to, you've got to pull it back a bit.
JS: I've always got a little routine when I stand up to address the ball. Then I know I'm set and can get in a bit of a groove, but it's not easy to forget the bad shot you hit on the last hole. But somehow you've got to and instead of one game at a time in football, it's one shot at a time in golf...
KW: You're right. If you think you're going to hit it in the water you'll end up hitting it in the water!
What are the best things about playing golf?
JS: Being out there on the course and relaxing. It's such a different environment for us. We're used to a rowdy environment and playing a team sport.
KW: It's a completely different. It's just you, the ball, hit it and go. Obviously, there's a lot of focus involved for four or five hours or so, and those concentration levels can also only help you improve as a footballer. I'm self-taught; I have never had a golf lesson in my life, though I wouldn't mind one because I think that will improve me a lot and show me where I'm going wrong. I've always said I'd like to be play off a single figure handicap one day and I think that's a realistic aim, even though I'm currently off 15.
At the end of the day, I've got to keep plugging away... it's all about repetition. The problem for me is that when I don't play, say for a couple of months, I expect to carry on playing as I was before the break and hitting the same shots, but golf doesn't work like that!