England cricket stars Joe Root and Stuart Broad talk tips off Tour pros, Augusta or the Ashes and driving across two fairways to find Stokes' tee shot...
2019 promises to be the biggest season in the history of England cricket – and Joe Root and Stuart Broad will be right at the heart of the action.
It all gets underway with a three-match Test and five-match One Day series against the West Indies in the New Year, and ends with a chance to win back The Ashes in August. Sandwiched in-between England entertain Pakistan in preparation for hosting the World Cup (May 30-July 14), where they are strongly fancied to emerge victorious for the first time.
Throughout it all, captain Root and bowler Broad will be leading the way – and fostering team spirit on the golf course.
Like the majority of their England teammates, both are pretty handy with a set of clubs, with the Root telling us: "We're always playing golf while we're on tour."
We discussed everything golf with the pair at four-time Ryder Cup venue The Belfry, before they opposed each other as captains in a Ryder Cup-style challenge match. Broad's side claimed the spoils with a 4 ½-1 ½ victory...
How did you get the golf bug?
JR: I was always knocking a golf ball around as kid, but didn't really start playing properly until I was 18 – which happened to coincide with me taking cricket seriously and eventually professionally, so then I took my clubs along with me a bit more. It's a great way to wind down and enjoy some down time.
SB: I think I was six when my mum bought me my first set of righthanded clubs from a charity shop! I played right-handed until I was about 11 when I grew out of those and then realised I was actually left-handed. I played a little bit until I was about 16 or 17 and, similar to Joe, when I started playing cricket for England at 21-22. The opportunities to play courses in South Africa, Australia, and the Caribbean were too good to miss. Days away from the pressures of cricket was golf, and that's where my love for the sport grew.
Who's the team's best golfer?
JR: Jimmy Anderson has the lowest handicap, six. Mind you, if things don't go right for him on the course, he can be an angry man.
SB: Yeah, Jimmy has the best handicap, but I think that Jos Buttler has the purest golf swing and the most talent as a golfer. JR: He's one of those people who can do and has got everything. He's just a natural athlete. As you can imagine, he hits the ball a long way, too.
SB: Stokesy hits it miles too, but he's quite erratic.
JR: Yeah, he normally comfortably hits it the furthest – but that's all he's really bothered about!
SB: We were once playing on tour when he missed the fairway... by two fairways. It is quite embarrassing when you're driving a buggy to try and find it, apologising to the other players on those holes as you're going across them.
Who has the edge when you two play together?
SB: Our games are a complete flip. I can hit it pretty well off the tee and usually manage to find the green in regulation, but am useless around the greens.
JR: I'm a great scrambler. If I have a good round it's because I've regularly got to get up and down. My short game is my saviour.
SB: He's one of these guys who plays off 12, but if you watch him on the chipping and putting green before you go out, you think this bloke's off two! He gains his shots around the green whereas that's where I lose my shots.
JR: My problem is keeping the ball in play with my driver and long irons – hitting it straight basically – and hitting greens from around 150 yards. It's terribly frustrating! That's what prevents my handicap coming down quickly. I put it down to the fact that we don't get the opportunities to play on a regular basis. It's difficult to find any ball-striking consistency.
Where have you played?
JR: We play loads when we're on tour, really nice courses all over the world. Among the stand-outs for me are Jack's Point in Queenstown and Cape Kidnappers, a beautiful course, both in New Zealand.
SB: The hardest one we've played was Glendower, which we played the Monday after the South African Open so it was all set up for the pros and we played off the back tees as well. It was an amazing experience. We realised how amazing the Tour pros are. Ben Stokes – probably the biggest hitter in the England camp – was hitting his biggest drives, but was still 40 yards short of where they were hitting it! We were practically hitting driver and rescue clubs on every par 4, whereas usually for us it's a driver 9-iron.
JR: Leopard Creek in South Africa is pretty special. We quickly seized the opportunity to play there! But it's hard to pick a favourite because they all have different features and qualities. Jack's Point was beautiful with the mountain range backdrop and the sunset behind it. That moment alone was spectacular.
SB: I think the back nine at Apes Hill is spectacular views-wise – you can see both sides of Barbados. My favourite hole, built around memories, would have to be the 18th on the Brabazon at The Belfry. You've got to hit over water with your tee shot avoiding the fairway bunker and then you've got a longish iron over water to a three-tier green. We play the Brabazon every time we have a Test Match at Edgbaston and there's always something on the last hole so there's banter flying everywhere – it's not easy when you're stood over a 6-iron and need to hit a 180-yarder into the wind.
How competitive are you when you play golf?
JR: On tour we play for poker chips. If you find a bunker, you get a sand chip and the same for trees and water. On the flip side you're rewarded for a par, birdie, chip in and a one-putt. It gets pretty competitive, especially when you get down to the last hole. You're standing on the tee hoping to avoid any penalty chips...
SB: Very rarely does cash change hands, but the losers usually end up paying for dinner later on which is quite a nice way of doing it.
Would you rather take the final wicket to clinch the Ashes or play a round at Augusta National?
SB: That's probably the hardest question I've ever been asked! It's a bit of a dream to play Augusta. If you add on play Augusta in the Masters on the Sunday with Tiger Woods and then get back in time on Monday to lift The Ashes at The Oval, that would be the perfect scenario!
JR: You're fortunate to have done that (win the Ashes) three times already! Sounds like a good answer, though.
There must be some similarities between being good at cricket and good at golf?
SB: Good hand-eye coordination obviously plays a part. But I actually think the mental side of the two sports are key – in both, you need to put negatives behind you very quickly. As cricketers we have an inbuilt ability to do something pretty average, but then do something pretty special the next moment. In golf, even top players can hit a duff shot – but then respond by sticking one within a foot of the hole. I think, by trade, we're naturally very good at recovering from poor moments.
What's golf's biggest appeal?
SB: It gives you four hours with your friends – off your mobile phones and actually talk to them as opposed to Tweeting one another. It gets your mind away from the pressures and stresses of everything else and it's as competitive as you want to make it, while you get a great feeling if you play well. Plus, you get to see some amazing scenery.
JR: Thanks to the handicap system, you can compete even if you're not very good.
Had any good tips?
JR: When I struggled with my chipping, a pro told me to adopt a reverse grip, almost like I was putting, to get used to making a good connection with the ball again. Within 10 minutes I was back to chipping well again and that was a great feeling.
SB: I picked up something from Justin Thomas, one of the best long iron strikers on Tour, and he said don't be scared to get steep with your long irons. So now, with a 4-iron off the tee, I try to get my hands above my head, releasing to go steep down into the back of the ball. The last time I played with Joe it worked a treat and this controlled 4-iron went gun-barrel straight down the fairway.