Irish pop star Ronan Keating, an ultra-keen golfer, is still on cloud nine following his first-ever visit to the US Masters accompanied by his wife Storm. Here’s the full story – and photos – of one of the best weeks of the Boyzone singer’s life. So much so that he cried tears of joy….
“I am a lucky man, no doubt about it. I have had some incredible experiences, like singing with Elton John at Madison Square Garden or performing with Pavarotti in Modena in Italy. I didn't plan these events, and I certainly don't take them for granted. It's just that performing is what I do for a living. But recently I prepared a bucket list of things I want to experience in my life, things that I'd like to plan.
And so it was that I found myself in the august surroundings of Augusta. I have played good and bad golf for more than 25 years: I absolutely love the game and if I could do anything other than sing it would be to play professional golf.
I stumbled upon the game when I was about 13 and my brothers were living and working in New York. To make a few extra quid, they caddied in upstate New York and when they came back to Ireland they brought the game with them. We were a working class family and Gaelic Football was our sport. But when my brothers returned I took up golf, and ever since I have been hooked.
Going to the Masters was on my bucket list, so for my 39th Birthday my wife Storm organised a trip to Augusta National. I found out in the course of a 20-hour journey from Australia that we would be guests of our good friend Gary Player. Yes, Gary is a friend and someone I admire greatly in my life.
He is an inspiration to me, and I wish that all the young golfers would spend some time with Gary and understand what it takes to be great as he is truly one of the best players of all time. He also had a hole-in-one at the Par 3 event on the Wednesday leading up to the tournament - not bad at 80 years young! I’m still waiting for my first ace.
Walking through the gates of Augusta National, I squeezed my wife’s hand and thanked her. I actually couldn’t believe I was here, we checked in our phones and proceeded through the security scanners and we were finally in.
I cannot tell you how manicured and perfect everything is - it's like a scene from a Nicholas Sparks novel, with white picket fences and the greenest grass you have ever seen ( I even asked someone if they sprayed the grass and he replied “hell, no sir”). I once read a book called ‘Golfing with God’ in which the writer imagines that Heaven is whatever you want it to be so his version of heaven was Augusta National. Now I understand why.
These are the most coveted golf acres in the world, and the hardest golf course to become a member, unless, of course, you are a captain of Industry or a Fortune 500 boss. And yet this little skinny kid from Dublin was there! I stood at the side of the first fairway and took it all in, the lush fairways, the elevated tee box (which blew my mind because on TV it all looks so flat).
Conveniently, my mate and former world No 1 Lee Westwood was about to tee off on 10 so we headed there. He was my tip for the tournament, so we planned on sticking with him for the event. Lee was playing with Tom Watson and Tom had confirmed that this would be his last Masters so you can imagine the crowds and the love that was shown for Tom on every hole. It was quite overwhelming but hard to see any golf as the crowds were five deep on every tee and green.
We watched all sorts of golf through the afternoon - holes in one, cuts, slices, fades, an albatross, birdies, bogeys. It was incredible to watch these men, and to see them putt 20 feet in one direction for the ball to turn and turn again to finally reach the hole. It really was an education, mind boggling in fact.
Come Saturday and the cut was decided, the game was well and truly on and our host Gary Player invited us to visit the Clubhouse. I never imagined I would get this opportunity in my lifetime so we arrived at Magnolia Lane, the 300-yards driveway that leads to the Clubhouse, the coveted street that is exclusively for players and members.
Gary told me that every year when he arrives on the first day he gets out of the car and walks the 300 yards and gives thanks for all he has achieved and done in his career: can this man get any cooler?
It’s the perfect clubhouse with its dark green carpet and white walls, and the silver trophy sits in the bay window. Gary and I then took the narrow winding staircase up to the Champions Room. So there I was with one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game, inspecting the trophy cabinet and the personalised lockers of all the past winners. This may sound unlikely, but I started to cry as I was so overwhelmed by what I was seeing.
Sunday came around and Storm and I got up early to play Champions' Retreat, a complex of three nine holers designed by Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. This place is truly amazing: the attention to detail is incredible, although the greens are like Augusta, so there is no shame in three-putting. We loved every minute. After this fabulous experience, we returned to Augusta for what was set up to be one of the most exciting final days for years.
Lee was teeing off at 2:15 and he was playing alongside fellow Englishman Danny Willett so we got our walking shoes on and off we went.
The conditions were perfect, the sun was shining and there was little or no wind. It wasn’t until the back nine that things really started to heat up when leader Jordan Spieth with a 5-shot lead started to falter and open the door for Willet and Westwood
Danny was looking stronger but I kept hoping that Lee would catch a break and move into the lead. Then, on 15, after an approach shot that leaked over the back of the green he chipped in for an eagle and we went wild. It was electric and we really thought that this was it: it was his turn finally to put on the green jacket.
Sadly, Lee bogeyed the next and Danny just got stronger. The final three holes were the most exciting golf I have ever watched, willing on my friend to win but also admiring the exciting charge from Danny. It doesn't get any better.
Walking up 18, we couldn’t even get near the green. It was 20 deep as all the chairs were placed surrounding the final hole. We jumped up and down and tried to catch a glimpse between the people in front of us, and it makes you realise how exceptional the coverage on TV is, as you get to see every shot from every angle. Nevertheless, it doesn't convey the atmosphere or the beauty of the course. It's hard to take it all in.
In the end, Danny Willett brought it home in spectacular fashion and my wife and I sat ringside as a very unhappy Jordan Spieth placed the green jacket on Willett's shoulders to rapturous applause. And, with that, the sun set on our once in a lifetime adventure, and item one on my bucket list was ticked off….