James Nesbitt is absolutely mad about golf, but he still can't break 80...

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"Every year I’m determined this is going to be the year when I get much better,” says actor James Nesbitt. The 51-year-old actor from County Antrim is golf-mad, but his busy working schedule doesn't allow him as much chance as he'd like to hit the links. 

Do you play golf with many other actors?

There weren’t that many keen golfers on the set of The Hobbit, which is surprising actually. You find that lots of actors have a lot of time on their hands because most of them don’t bloody work and so they play a lot of golf! Damian Lewis is very good, Jason Isaacs is a good golfer and Phil Glenister, too. So we’ve got a bit of a club going and we have a laugh, but I try to avoid actors at all costs! It’s a bit like bankers going home every night and not wanting to count money.

When did you get into golf?

I took up the game quite late compared to most. I probably didn’t start playing seriously until I was about 30. I play off 16 now and that is the lowest I’ve been – I can play to a lot higher and a lot lower than that just because I play so sporadically and that also has an effect on my game. I was playing in Portugal recently and my chipping, which is usually very good because it’s something I seem to have a decent feel for, went completely to pot. Then my driving, which is normally poor, was really good, so it changes from day to day. 

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What are the strongest and weakest parts of your game? 

My long game is not too bad and I really love my 5-wood. I just seem to hit that club beautifully, but my putting is a different story. I use the claw grip now. I’ve played golf with Lee Dixon a few times and he has me saved on his phone as ‘Elbow Twitcher’! He once fell over laughing at my putting. That’s one area of my game that definitely needs to improve and so does my bunker play. I remember watching Lee Trevino doing some tips once and he spoke about cocking your wrists on the way back so I’m working on that and it seems to have helped.

Where do you normally play?

I’m a member at Dulwich and I just hardly get the chance to play because I’m away so much. But I’m really going to try and play a lot this year because I’m a Ryder Cup ambassador. As well as Dulwich I love Pebble Beach and Royal Portrush. Golf at home in Ireland is very special, particularly just now with our boys doing so well. 

Have you played with any tour players?  

At the opening of the Lough Erne Resort I was lucky enough to walk round with the Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy match. Rory was only 19 or 20 at the time and I’d heard a lot about him. I knew that he came from Portrush and I’m good friends with Graeme McDowell who had told me how good he was. I’d spent a bit of time with Rory’s parents and he knew who I was, so we chatted all the way round. There were 30,000 people there, but he was so relaxed and so polite. We’d be talking and when it was his turn to play he would say: “Please excuse me”. With the rain falling he’d just casually walk over to his ball and hit the most incredible shots. He shot 65 in the pouring rain that day and it was the greatest sporting thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

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Do you play in many pro-ams? 

I’m a remarkably tense person on the golf course. I’ve played in the Alfred Dunhill Links a couple of times and I get more nervous in that than anything I’ve ever done in my life. But if I play in something where there’s a bit of a crowd I always seem to have one spectacular moment, like a chip-in or something. I played in the Dunhill last year and I hit my second on the 18th at St Andrews to about three inches and the crowd of about 10 people went absolutely crazy.

What's the best round you've ever shot? 

My best ever round is an 81 at Pinta in the Algarve. That happened just a couple of months ago and I was gutted because I finished with a six and an eight. I was 67 through 16 holes which is astonishing for me and that eight came on the last. It was a par five and I was well down the fairway after my first two shots but I made a real mess of it from there. That could have been the first time I’d broken 80. I couldn’t believe it.

NEXT: Who's a better golfer: James Nesbitt or Damon Hill?