Ireland’s legendary rugby captain on caddying for his dad, struggling to see the ball, his love of the Dunhill and a woeful short-game
Brian O'Driscoll burst on to the rugby union scene in 1999, playing for his country first before he made a senior appearance for his club, Leinster. "In BOD we Trust" went on to enjoy a glittering career and legendary status.
Over a career spanning 15 glorious years, he captained Leinster, Ireland and the Lions and amassed 141 Tests (133 Ireland, 83 as captain, and eight for British & Irish Lions) making him the second most capped player in rugby union history. He remains the top Six Nations try scorer with 26 – contributing to a grand total of 561 points throughout his career. He celebrated a hat-trick of Heineken European Cup wins with Leinster and two Six Nations (2009 and 2014) on the international stage, leading Ireland to Grand Slam victory nearly a decade ago.
In his youth he was also a pretty handy Gaelic footballer as well as a single digit golfer, and since retiring in 2014 he's had more time to indulge his passion with the small, round ball...
My golfing life had a lot to do with my dad, who was a keen player.
I used to go out and do a bit of caddying for him as a seven-year old at Royal Dublin. We'd throw my 7-iron into bag the and I'd hit a few shots out there.
I had very bad eyesight as a kid, but couldn't wear contact lenses and with the golf ball being so small, playing on my own wasn't an option. I couldn't wear lenses playing rugby either, but luckily it's a bigger ball and I could see shapes and everything. I still have difficulty with depth perception. I didn't get my eyes lasered until I was 29; that's why my wedge play is brutal!
I play with a real mixture of people including my dad at Royal Dublin, but I play most of my golf at Milltown where I'm a member... it's two minutes from my house. I've got a regular group I play with there, some ex-rugby players, and some through the Dublin scene. It's just a very sociable club.
The thing is I want to win every time I take to the course. If we're only playing for a fiver, I want to win it. Competitive team golf isn't really for me, but when I go out with my friends I still want to win the money... free lunch is always nice!
I play off nine though I probably hit it a bit better than that. But I have a bit of difficulty with the short stuff, especially with my wedges... chipping around the greens. I've been to the Dave Pelz Academy at Killeen Castle and, to be honest, I just need to work on it and give it some time though with a young family that's easier said than done. I just need to practice good habits.
Golf is probably the most frustrating game ever, but then again you are sometimes rewarded with a good par save, a good up and down and it inspires you to do something else. In the Icon Series Rugby Legends event in the summer, our team captain Sam Torrance said 'don't go for the miracle shot, stay in the hole'. But that's why I play golf... for the miracle shot! Maybe that's my problem – you back yourself maybe too much. If there's any chance at all, I'll go for it.
I've played in the Dunhill Links in Scotland four times now. It's a class week. They're such brilliant courses and the whole week and experience is phenomenal, from the people you get to hang out with to playing with pros and understanding their mentality and watching their game, trying not to step out of line... or step on their line.
I would much rather play with pros who are really good fun and easy-going, though I understand it's their competition and that we fit into their remit. But having conversation, having fun and having a laugh is what it's all about for me and I've been very lucky in that regard. Plus, I've qualified a couple of times to play at the weekend, too. I've always played well at Kingsbarns – I love it there – and fortunately have only seen it in good weather. Carnoustie tends to beat me up and I've a sort of mixed bag at St Andrews.
I get the ball off the tee pretty well. Driving is one of my strengths while my putting is coming around. I've gone to a claw grip having seen it revolutionise my dad's putting, but there's still a lot of room for improvement – though I really was an awful putter beforehand! Tee to green I'm reasonably good, a little better than my nine handicap. Putting is a bit worse than nine... chipping definitely worse than nine!
I shot one over at The Island in Dublin when I was 18 or 19. I got down to eight when I was a teenager and then rugby took over. On the course, I'm lacking consistency... I can shoot plenty of birdies, but plenty of blobs, too. I think I've got the capability to play to a five or six handicap; below that I'm not so sure.
I never really played on my day off when I was playing or touring, just occasionally. I really liked Royal Birkdale last year and played Turnberry before Mr Trump moved in and loved it, though by all accounts the President has done a great job there. I love Portmarnock – I had a hole in one there – and I'm looking forward to seeing what the new Adare Manor is like. You've got to imagine that staging a Ryder Cup is an ambition of the owners.