Like Eamon Dunphy, John Giles has his theories about what it takes to be a great player — Nicklaus, Watson and McIlroy fit the bill. Football is his game but golf remains his great escape valve, an outlet to raise funds for the John Giles Foundation and a source of fun, as Dunphy found out to his cost.
- Club: Hollystown Golf Club
- Lowest handicap: 5.
- Current handicap: “At least 16.”
- Best round: 68 (-1)
1 We spoke about 10 years ago and you were off eight and playing like god. How’s your golf?
Well, I don’t play off eight any more, that’s for sure. It’s at least double that — I dislocated my shoulder a while ago. I wasn’t playing very well anyway. But look, I still enjoy it. I enjoy the exercise.
2 So when did you start playing golf?
I was 17 and at Manchester United at the time. After training on Monday we always had lunch at Davyhulme Park Golf Club and one day we borrowed a few clubs from the pro and went for a knock about. It was part of the tradition at that time at Manchester United. I remember Bobby Charlton and all the lads had a go. We just played a few holes and I remember I started playing cack-handed. We had a long off-season in football in those days and I used to go out to St Anne’s and Donabate when I came home in the summertime and it snowballed from there. My first handicap was 14 and I eventually got down to five. Edgbaston is my club in Birmingham, where I live. But I play in Hollystown all the time when I’m home. I love everything about it.
3 Is it true that Eamon Dunphy once had to carry you and your clubs to the next tee because he lost a bet?
Well, it was never as severe as that. But we had forfeits alright. Instead of playing for money, you might have to clean the guy’s shoes or carry his clubs back to the car. Tim O’Connor, Eamon, Tony Byrne and myself would have games up at Edmondstown. We had a rule in stableford that if you fell ten points behind anyone else in the fourball, you had to carry his clubs until you closed the gap to less than ten. It was great gas. But Eamon hasn’t played for ages. He got a bad back years ago and had to give up the game. So we don’t have those games anymore, unfortunately.
4 All modesty aside, what’s your most memorable round?
I won the club championship at Edgbaston back in 1989. I had a 68 in the first round, which was one under par. Just one of those days. That’s a good while ago. I’ve gone way up in handicap since then. My strength was always pitching and putting and my weakness, all the rest.
5 So the answer to the “driver or putter” question is obvious then.
Oh, probably putter. I’d still be better on the greens.
6 What’s the attraction of golf? Playing with pals?
It’s reaching for the stars and never getting there. And playing golf with people you like, otherwise you wouldn’t play with them. I used to play a lot with guys like the late Tommy Eglington. What a golfer Eggo was, low single figures. And what a great guy. He used to play in St Anne’s. He was a terrific footballer too and one of my idols. But he was also a very keen golfer.
7 What’s your most treasured possession — the first thing you’d save from a fire?
Most of my sporting trophies are with the FAI and at Hollystown. But if I had to pick something, I’d say my first cap for Ireland in 1959. I always wanted to play for the international team and went with my father to all the internationals at Dalymount. I was just short of 19 and had only played a couple of matches for Manchester United when I was picked to play for the Irish team. It was a boyhood dream come true really. And we had a good win on the day. We played Sweden, who had beaten England during the week and had been runners up in the World Cup the previous year. We were 2-nil down and I was lucky enough to score a good goal and we went on to win 3-2. It was a big day. A really enjoyable day.
8 Who were the sportsmen you admired when you were growing up? Did you have heroes?
Well, when I went with my father to Dalymount to see the international matches, Jackie Carey was the top man. He was captain of Manchester United. He was Footballer of the Year in 1949. There were other people I really admired, like Tommy Eglington and Peter Farrell. But I think Jackie Carey was the main man when I was growing up.
9 Of course, Jackie Carey was the man who gave you your first cap. What was it about him that you loved?
He had great skill and he was a great leader. He was just a great player. A brilliant player. You have to have those qualities of skill and leadership to be considered a great player. He was terrific and for me and most of my pals, he was our favourite.
10 Do you have a favourite golf course or golf hole — a special place that makes you think, this is paradise?
Well, I feel that about most golf courses. (Laughs). I just love getting out to play. I love the game. It was a great help when I was playing football because it was great relaxation. I was an ordinary hacker, but I was able to enjoy the game. And that’s the great thing about golf, you don’t have to be a Jack Nicklaus or a Rory McIlroy to enjoy it. I don’t play very well now, but I still enjoy it. Getting out on the golf course is great relaxation. It’s been a big part of my life away from football, so wherever the hole is, I will enjoy it.
11 You don’t sound like a man who has many regrets in life. Do you wish you could go back and do things differently? Do you want a mulligan?
No. I was a very lucky person. I was able to play football at a certain level and I played for a long time and did most of the things that I wanted to do and got great satisfaction from it. So no regrets. Very lucky. Very fortunate.
12 Pat Jennings said something similar, though he did say he’d love to have won a League medal. But not you?
It’s nice to win a medal but if you look at the overall career, Pat was a great player and a great goalkeeper. A great goalkeeper. If you are lucky enough to be in professional football and good enough to play at a certain level and play for a long time, as Pat and I did, you have no regrets at all.
13 If you could change one thing about your golf, what would it be? Or about your footballing ability?
I wouldn’t change anything in football and in golf, I wouldn’t be a serious enough player. Football was my profession and I had to be good at it. In golf, I have good days and bad days, just like any other hacker.
14 Who is your favourite golfer of all time?
Jack Nicklaus would be my man. I thought he was great. He had a great feel for the game, a great sense of the history of the game and he represented the game brilliantly. There was never anything controversial surrounding him. He was a good sportsman, a great player and to this day he’s won more majors than anyone in the game. He had the ability but he also had a great temperament and carried himself so well. I have great admiration for Nicklaus.
15 What does it take to be a great pro? Who do you admire in football nowadays in terms of skill, leadership and representing the game well?
I think Messi does it better than anybody else. He is a good character. He does his stuff on the pitch. He is not controversial in any way. He’s a great player.
16 What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Without health, personally and in your family, nothing matters. Touch wood, I am okay and the family is okay.
17 Name your dream fourball?
I have some many great, close pals, but if I could pick from the stars of the game, I think Rory is great, Nicklaus obviously and probably Tom Watson. When Rory plays his best, he’s probably better than anybody else.
18 Do you have a motto? What's the John Giles code?
Do your best. That’s all you can do. In any sport, or in any walk of life, do the best you can, regardless of the situation Whether it is an important match or not, be professional about it and do the best you can on the day.
This Quick 18 first appeared in the Irish Independent's weekly Tee to Green golf supplement on September 15, 2016