May 22 2013 Latest news:
Nathaniel John , West Ham Correspondent
Friday, June 15, 2012
Hammers midfielder eyes a career in professional golf when his footballing days are over
West Ham midfielder Gary O’Neil has been enjoying some free time at the end of a busy season by taking part in two professional golf events over the past couple of weeks.
The 29-year-old enjoyed a brilliant second half to the footballing season in east London, as he successfully made his comeback from injury before staking a place in Sam Allardyce’s starting XI towards the crucial run-in.
O’Neil’s personal campaign then climaxed with the Championship play-off final at Wembley, where the Hammers beat Blackpool 2-1 to clinch a place in the Premier League next season.
However, despite his impressive performances on the pitch, O’Neil revealed that he is eyeing a career in professional golf once his footballing days are over.
“I’ve loved playing golf since I first took it up,” said O’Neil.
“I am realistic enough to know I need to improve a lot but if I could be a pro golfer when my football career ends it would definitely be something I would look to do.
“It’s something that, if I can get good enough at, I’d be interested in doing once I get to 35 and stop playing football.”
O’Neil played in the Your Golf Travel Classic at Bovey Castle in Dartmoor and the Ulster Bank Open at Galgorm Castle in Ballymena, Northern Ireland as an amateur recently, but the former England under-21 international enjoyed an insight into the life of a professional golfer.
“Bovey Castle was my first ever professional golf event. It was nice of the EuroPro Tour to invite me to come and see what it is all about – and it was a good experience,” he said.
“I play off scratch at the London Club in Kent but it is a bit different playing there on a Sunday morning with friends than it is playing on the EuroPro with the professional lads who are on tour doing it week-in, week-out.
“I found it difficult at Bovey but I tried to enjoy it anyway. It was tough going and it was quite nerve-racking as well. I was hoping to get a few weeks of practise in before I came but with West Ham in the play-offs I didn’t have the chance.“
At Bovey Castle, O’Neil carded a first-round score of 79 on the par-70 course and struggled in his second round, signing for 89 to total 28 over par for the tournament.
However, he improved at Galgorm Castle and achieved a two-over-par 74 in his first round and 80 in his second.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t great at Bovey,” said O’Neil.
“Galgorm was slightly better; I did quite well in my first round and proved to myself that I can shoot a half-decent score even though I didn’t play great golf.
“I need to do more practise; the pro golfers are fantastic and are working on their game day-in, day-out. I didn’t expect to go and do anything special, it was just for the experience and I really enjoyed it.”
And O’Neil even likened playing in his first professional golf tournament to making his professional debut in football, when he was at Portsmouth at the age of 16, in 2000.
“Playing in my first professional golf tournament has been similar to my football debut,” he said.
“I don’t get that nervous anymore ahead of football matches but when I think back to how nervous I was for my debut and for my second game it’s probably quite similar to how nervous I was at Bovey Castle and at Galgorm.”
The newly-promoted Premier League footballer is now taking a well-earned family holiday but will be back on the golf course at the end of June in a bid to win a place at this year’s British Open, before he starts pre-season with West Ham.
“I’ll be playing in the British Open qualifying at the end of June,” he said.
“I did it two years ago and hopefully playing on the EuroPro will stand me in good stead. I found that more nerve-racking than the Open qualifying was two years ago, and that will be at my home course as well, so hopefully I’ll feel quite comfortable for that.
“I know the course well but it is only 18 holes so you need to have a good day, but you never know.”