We know it sounds crazy, but Niall Horan could be the most important man in golf


Many of golf's big names will be teeing it up at Wentworth next week for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth (although the likes of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia will not).

Many of the world's best golfers will battle it out from Thursday to Sunday, in front of a live audience likely to exceed 100,000, with millions more watching on television. 

But, strange as it may sound, the most significant name in the field may actually be teeing it up on Wednesday, in the Celebrity Pro-Am. 

Niall Horan, the 22-year-old of One Direction fame, will play alongside Justin Rose and Chelsea captain John Terry. 

Niall is a popular chap

Horan is a hugely passionate golfer, with aspirations far beyond his current 12-handicap. He has caddied for Rory McIlroy during the Par-3 Contest at the Masters, lists McIlroy and Rose amongst his closest friends, and recently launched his own golf talent agency, called Modest Golf Management. 

He also nearly brained a spectator during last year's BMW Championship Pro-am, but we won't dwell on that...

It's great to see the golf-mad Irishman wanting to create a business in the game he loves, but it could be that he has an even bigger role to play in the game's future. 

The game of golf is constantly looking for ways to encourage more youngsters to take up a sport dominated at amateur level by the over-50s. There's regular talk of nine-hole golf, cures for slow play and different formats such as footgolf as possible ways to get younger people into the game. Those are all admirable endeavours, but could Niall Horan do more than all of them put together? 

Niall Horan has 25.1 million followers on Twitter. That's more than Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter combined. In fact, you could add together the following of golf's 20 most popular golfers and you still wouldn't be able to reach anywhere near as many people as Niall Horan can on his own. 

It's the same story on Facebook, where Niall Horan has over 10 million fans. By way of comparison, Tiger Woods has 3 million and Rory McIlroy has 1.1 million. 

So a popstar has lots of fans on social media. Big deal. What's that got to do with golf?

Well, when Niall Horan tweets something as inane as "Morning!", it gets retweeted over 100,000 times, reaching millions of people all around the world. 

When he recently tweeted about the Irish Open, which he is attending alongside friend and host Rory McIlroy, it received 29,000 retweets and 63,000 likes in under 24 hours. 

That is the kind of attention golf simply cannot achieve elsewhere, especially amongst a younger audience. 

When Niall Horan plays golf, an enormous number of young people see him doing so. It would be silly to suggest that they are all going to run down to their nearest American Golf and take up the game after being inspired by a Niall Horan Instagram post (15.5 million followers there, by the way), but it's a numbers game. If 10 million people see Horan playing golf and just one per cent think, 'actually, maybe golf does look pretty cool, I think I'll give that a try', that's 100,000 new golfers. 

Niall is a tidy golfer to boot

Many existing golfers couldn't care less whether Horan makes a birdie or falls over carrying Rory McIlroy's bag, but it's not existing golfers the game needs to attract or that Niall can help entice. 

We hope that Niall continues to play and enjoy the game he so clearly loves. If he starts winning majors, golf won't know what's hit it...