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West Ham midfielder sets out on pro golf journey

West Ham midfielder sets out on pro golf journey

June 5th, 2012

West Ham United midfielder Gary O’Neil is eyeing a career in professional golf once his footballing days are over.

The 29-year-old has been getting a feel for the sport by taking part in two events on the 888poker.com PGA EuroPro Tour.

The Your Golf Travel Classic at Bovey Castle in Dartmoor and the Ulster Bank Open at Galgorm Castle in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, were O’Neil’s first appearances in professional golf and gave the former England Under-21 international an insight to life on a pro tour.

At Bovey Castle he 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.

“I’ve loved playing golf since I first took it up,” said O’Neil, who played in the two events as an amateur. “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.

“Bovey Castle was my first ever professional golf event. It was nice of the EuroPro Tour to invite me to come see what it is all about and it was a good experience.

“I play of 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 being in the play-offs I didn’t have the chance.

“I love my golf and I know some of the EuroPro Tour players. I was invited to come and play a couple of weeks and see what it is all about. 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. It’s a chance to see what it was all about and how my swing would stand up under pressure. Unfortunately it wasn’t great at Bovey!

“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.

“I think my perception of how good the pro lads are was fairly accurate. I have played with a few of them socially before and I knew they were good. I knew I needed to improve to reach their level and that remains the same. I don’t think there is anything major that needs changing, it’s just about having the time to be able to practise.

“A few of the guys said how good my short game is but my problem at the moment is consistency. My bad shoots seem to be a lot worse than the bad ones the pro lads are hitting. I hit a couple of loose ones with my driver at Galgorm which were 40 or 50 yards off line and that will cost you two shots straight away. For the pro lads their bad shots are sneaking into the rough and that is about as bad is it gets. I need to repeatedly hit the ball and try and find some more consistency.

“Playing in my first professional golf tournaments has been similar to my football debut. 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 football 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.

“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-wracking than 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.

“I love playing golf and I am really grateful to the guys at the EuroPro Tour for inviting me to play these two events and if they invite me next summer I’d like to get a couple in, and then you may see me full time in about seven years!”

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