Ronan Keating: Former Boyzone star says golf at St. Andrews is scarier than acting



CNN

Give Ronan Keating a microphone and send him on stage to engage a sold-out stadium crowd, and the Irishman will be relaxation personified.

But give him a driver and put him on the first tee in front of a group of golf fans in St. Andrews and the former Boyzone star become a ball of anxiety.

He’s sold millions of records, performed for the Pope and British royalty, but for Keating, playing in the annual Alfred Dunhill Links Pro-Am at the legendary Scottish venue is a different beast altogether.

“Plaster and cheese, two different worlds. Even in the practice round, I was cracking the first one [tee],” he told CNN’s The Jazzy Golfer, at the tournament in October.

“When you have a crowd of people following the pro you’re playing with, it’s the most nerve-racking experience. There’s nothing that comes close.”

However, don’t mistake nerves for lack of skill.

An avid golfer for over 30 years, Keating plays off an 11 handicap, the same number of appearances he has made in the famous Pro-Am.

Born and bred in Dublin, the young singer’s sporting exploits initially revolved around the native sports of Gaelic football and hurling.

Keating had never given golf much thought until his brothers returned from college in the United States.

Studying in upstate New York, his brothers had worked part-time as caddies at some of the region’s most prestigious courses, including the six-time U.S. Open’s Winged Foot Golf Club.

And after his brothers handed him the clubs, Keating has rarely been seen without a set.

    Keating tees off on the Old Course's 5th hole.

Although Boyzone rose to global popularity in the mid-1990s, followed by a similarly successful solo career at the turn of the century, the fairways remained a constant sanctuary for Keating amid life’s demands as a pop star.

“If I could do anything else in my life as a job, it would be to be a professional golfer,” Keating said.

“It gives me freedom, it gives me peace of mind, it gives me something to focus on away from other things.

“For your mental health, something like golf is a wonderful thing … it’s amazing to be able to clear your head like that.

“Go out and hit a ball, forget about all your problems, everything that’s going on, work, stress. It gives me peace of mind.”

Keating (centre left) on stage with Boyzone during a performance at London's 02 Arena in 2008.

Keating has only had one golfing idol: Gary Player.

They say you should never meet your heroes, but for Keating, encounters with the nine-time major winner have only enhanced the golfer’s legendary status.

Since 2018, the pair have hosted an annual fundraising event in Player’s native South Africa, with this year’s effort in March raising money for sick and marginalized children in the country.

Part of the event saw Keating and Player play the same hole 18 times, once with each passing four-ball group, but the experience was anything but monotonous.

“I was there for five hours with one of the greatest golfers of all time,” Keating said.

“We laughed and told stories, it was amazing, one of my favorite moments in this game.

“He’s the nicest man in the world, he’s like all of our dads … he was an amazing golfer, obviously, but he’s still an amazing golfer and an amazing man.”

The player waves to Keating during the Gary Player Invitational at Wentworth Golf Club, England in 2013.

Although a three-time Open champion, Player never lifted the claret jug at St. Andrews and Keating are still chasing their own personal triumph on the Old Course.

Before the start of this year, Keating was determined to play without expectations for the first time in 11 outings at the event.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to play well and it’s ridiculous. Why should I? I don’t do this for a living,” he said.

“I’m here as a guest and I’m supposed to enjoy myself, so I’m going to try to do that this year.”

Aim low, reach high. Together with Scottish golfer Connor Syme, Keating channeled his inner player to record a very impressive fifth place finish.

Syme and Keating pose at the famous Swilcan Bridge.

With winners Callum Shinkwin and American art dealer Alex Acquavella by six shots, the duo led the majority of a star-studded field and edged out father-son pair Rory and Gerry by one shot.

But for Keating, the real winner was St. Andrews himself.

While the Pro-Am revolves around two other iconic Scottish links courses during the week, at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns respectively, Keating has a soft spot for the self-proclaimed ‘home of golf’.

“Kingsbarns is the most beautiful and picturesque, but St. Andrews is so special,” he said.

“It’s just a remarkable place — the landscape, the golf course, the history. To have the opportunity to play is a real privilege.”

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