Niall Horan talks about his growing influence in the sport, signing young players, the importance of women's golf and his company Modest! Golf's upcoming tournament this August
Niall Horan has made himself one of the most influential people in golf.
This might sound crazy for a 25-year- old who's built his fame and fortune on singing in boyband One Direction. But he's loved the game since long before Simon Cowell first spotted him on an X Factor audition in 2010.
Some people might have scoffed when Horan launched Modest! Golf Management in 2016, but the company's progress – and Niall's commitment to it since then – has left no doubt over how seriously he is taking this business venture and his ultimate goal of growing the game.
The Irishman is in a unique position with a global status that includes over 40 million followers on social media (90 per cent of which are female), a successful company managing professional players and running golf events, plus the ear of all the sport's power hitters, from Rory McIlroy to European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley.
Horan's growing involvement and influence can only be a positive – and he revealed his vision to TG at the launch of his new event, the ISPS Handa World Invitational (Aug 12-18)
The growth of Modest! Golf
"I was thinking about this recently, actually. Three years ago, we were player-less and the first player we ever signed has just won his second European Tour event (Guido Migliozzi), which is crazy when you think about. It was quiet there for a while, with people having their first years on tours and getting their rankings, and now it's really starting to kick on. Guido, Connor Syme, Jack Singh Brar and Leona Maguire have all won recently."
Another player on Modest!'s books, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, also claimed his first victory at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation.
"Overall, it's just going well. Getting involved with Dr Handa and doing things like the ISPS Handa World Invitational is the next step for us as a company. Getting involved in the women's game too has been big for us. Having the love for golf that I do was the reason I wanted to set up the company in the first place, and here we are three years later with some of the most influential people in golf. It's been a good first few years and, hopefully, after this tournament in August we can kick on again and really try and get this game moving."
Below: Niall Horan and Guido Migliozzi during the Pro Am at the Dubai Duty Irish Open
Signing young, unranked players
"That's the whole reason why we wanted to start the thing in the first place, we wanted to see young people succeed, and if I can be a small part of watching them win a major championship then it would be a great story to be able to tell. You come in and you've got no reputation in golf whatsoever. You're just a fella who has a few quid and walks through a door. You can't just go around demanding that you sign top 50 players straight away. I didn't want to be that guy. I was just so passionate about watching these young lads succeed. Maybe the next thing for us is to go down that route, but that's three years in the making."
Note: At the end of June, Modest! Golf announced that they had signed World No. 40 Tyrrell Hatton
Growing the game
"We're always trying to find ways to be innovative and grow the game. The way I started was by trying to sign young lads who were unranked and guys who were still in college over in America. Justin Rose has just got involved in the Telegraph Junior Golf Championship and things like that are how you grow the game. Rose is one of the top players in the world, and he's English, and if kids watching him on television want to play in his tournament then simple stuff like that will grow the game. Like the girls who follow me on Twitter. Augusta National is the perfect example. I go and do the Drive, Chip and Putt every year with them. It's having people around who actually want to grow the game and aren't doing it for completely different reasons. I'm a golf nut so it would be great to get involved in all sides of golf at some point."
My growing influence in golf
"I've always been in love with golf and only in the last five or six years have I thought that I could maybe do something to help, and now watching it turn out like this is really mad. The company has been flying, the guys have been doing really good work and we've just taken on a new member of staff. You want people around you who actually want to change the game and I'll take that description as 'one of the most influential people in golf ' because I'm in it for the right reasons. I want to see this game succeed. I'm not going to move the needle massively, but I'd say with 40 million followers and about 90 per cent of them being female, I'd like to think that we can pull a couple of per cent of them into the game."
Inspiring people to try golf
"It's happening quite a lot actually. More than I thought. I'll be doing meet and greets with people on the street and one or two people will come up to me and say they started playing because I play golf. It's exactly why I wanted to start Modest! Golf and be involved with the ISPS Handa World Invitational. I met this girl in the street in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and she started playing golf seven or eight years ago after seeing me play it and now she's in the junior team at the University of Southern California. She's going to be in one of the top college teams in the country! If I can have a small percentage of my following say that to me then golf is in good shape."
The women's game
"The importance of the women's game is huge. If you grow the women's game, you grow golf, as far as I'm concerned. There's so much talent out there. I watch college golf on a weekly basis, I was at the Augusta National Women's Amateur and you can see the talent that just doesn't always get seen on TV. That's what we need to change, if we can get girls on TV more and doing stuff with sponsors like Charley Hull with ISPS Handa, that's how you grow the game. Hopefully when we get to Galgorm Castle in August, we can bring more females through the gates as well."
As it stands, Solheim Cup Captain Catriona Matthew will tee up at Galgorm Castle, along with fellow Ladies European Tour winners Meghan MacLaren and Carly Booth. Ireland's Leona Maguire, the former World No.1 Amatuer, is also part of the field.
The future of pro golf
"I think it's on the right path and having people around like Keith Pelley, who is trying to do great things, and Dr Handa, who has been heavily involved in golf for the last 30 yards and even more so now, can only be positive. There aren't many tournaments where men and women can play together, and Dr Handa is involved in two (ISPS Handa Vic Open and ISPS Handa World Invitational) and that says a lot about where we're at.
"I have the same vision for golf as he does and partnering up for the ISPS Handa World Invitational and potentially making this into a bigger event in the years to come is really exciting. Golf took a lull for about the last 10 years, but it's on the up and the quality of player out there is better than ever. It's harder for people to win and you feel so happy for them when they do because as golf people we understand how hard it is to win. The sport is now being dominated by high-profile young guys and girls, like Lexi Thompson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, and Rory McIlroy has only just turned 30. They're all young and they're the biggest stars of the game."
The importance of hard work
"The one statement that always made me think was that if you think you're working hard then there are 100 lads out there working 20 times harder than you. I don't know whether that helped, but our lads are starting to turn the corner now and the hard work is really starting to pay off. I know personally how hard they work and seeing it pay off is a really special thing. You have to work hard. We wanted to keep it small and we want every player to represent us as a brand. The reason we started was to grow the game and we want to see hard-working young lads and girls."
Kit Alexander interviewed Niall at the launch of the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women, presented by Modest! Golf Management. The event is an innovative re- branding of the Northern Irish Open that will feature male golfers from the Challenge Tour and top female players, including Charley Hull, playing in two separate but concurrent tournaments for equal prize money. It will take place at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort and Massereene GC from August 15-18, 2019. Visit www.worldinvitational.golf and follow @World_Inv_Golf for more information.