A quick 18 with Pat Jennings, the best hands in golf

A quick 18 with Pat Jennings, the best hands in golf
A young Pat Jennings 

A young Pat Jennings 

Goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings did it all in an incredible career with Spurs, Arsenal and Northern Ireland. The best hands in irish golf? Move over Shane Lowry, big Pat might get the nod.

  • Pat Jennings
  • Club: Greenore
  • Handicap: 12

1 How did you get into golf?

I never played golf at all until I went to England and Tottenham were in Scotland for some pre-season matches. Three or four of our boys were into golf, people like Jimmy Greaves and Bill Brown and I went out just to caddie for them. I was 19 and I’d never been on a golf course before. Watching the game and thought, “Uff, where have I been all these years?” I couldn’t believe it. I was hooked.

2 Was it frowned upon by managers?

Bill Nicholson never wanted us playing golf two days before a game because he always felt he had you so finely tuned, he didn’t want you walking 18 holes on the golf course. Johnny Giles said Don Reavie had a golf day every week for the Leeds players. It was a manager thing. If the manager played golf, it was okay sort of thing.

3 What’s your home course in Ireland?

When I came home, I joined a little golf club up here called Greenore. I would have spent hours down there in the summer. In fact, I am still an honorary member there. As soon as I come home — I still work in England, still at Tottenham — I go and play Greenore. That’s my local course and everyone makes we welcome there, which is nice.

4 What are you playing off now?

My lowest ever handicap was six but I have gone up to 12. I need an age allowance now. I’m still hitting it quite well but were before I could get it up and down from anywhere, I am struggling with that now. But that’s golf. It doesn’t matter. 
For me there is never a bad day on the golf course when I think of people lying up in hospital and what wouldn’t they give just to be able to go out and walk the course, never mind worry about missing a putt or hitting a bad drive. My youngest brother has MS and it makes you think. What wouldn’t he give to go out and walk the golf course?

5 Do you have any golfing ambitions?

I would play every day of the week, if I could. I live on the outskirts of London near Hertford and I’ve got four or five courses near me from Hanbury Manor to Essondon, The Hertfordshire (I’m an honorary member there). I;m a paid up member at Brickendon Grange but I am lucky enough to be associated with a lot of clubs through a lot of charities.

6 Which charities are closest to you?

The Variety Club, which does the Sunshine Coaches; Sparks, which is a Children’s Medical Research Charity. There’s The Willow Foundation, which is Bob Wilson’s charity. And I have the PFA Golf and the League Managers and Coaches. So there are always golf days.

7 Who’s the best golfing footballer? Alan Hansen was handy, they say.

So many play! I play quite a bit in La Manga, which is my favourite resort. And we have a footballers golf classic there every year, run by Terry Mancini. This year Terry had 43 teams out for his 20th year. I must have played in every one of those. I go way back to the Seve Ballesteros days in 1985-’86, when he did the Henry Cooper Classic there. Seve was unbelievable.

8a What’s your greatest golfing memory?

I’ve had so many - playing in the Irish Open pro-ams and the British Masters up at Woburn. I played with Lee Westwood in the BMW PGA at Wentworth last year. And John Daly in Portrush. He’s an absolute gentleman. I played with Paul Lawrie at Royal County Down in the Irish Open. And taking of Newcastle, I have a golf classic in the first week in October in aid of Co-operation Ireland. I’ve been doing that for 22-23 years. The late Cecil Whelan used to come down every year and take a team to play at Royal County Down. What a course it is!

8b Have you an Irish favourite?

We are just blessed with so many great courses. I was at Lough Erne with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and what a place that is. Magnificent.

9 What’s your most treasured possession?

I’ve got my Football Writers Association “Footballer of the Year ” award from 1973 and PFA Players' Player of the Year award from 1976. But I’ve got so many memories. I am two short of 1,100 first class games in soccer. So you can imagine the great days I’ve had playing football.  My daughter just tweeted me the other day to say, ‘Dad today is the anniversary of the day you scored against Man United in the Charity Shield in 1967.”  [Manu U 3 (Charlton 2, Law), Tottenham Hotspur 3 (Robertson, Jennings, Saul)] 
It was a free-kick that Dave Mackay rolled back to me in the box and I was trying to hit our centre forward Alan Gilzean up front. I think Alex Stepney thought he’d pick up a miscontrolled ball and it’s missed Gilly and Alex is now in no man’s land. Big bounce and it’s in the net. We wondered would they give it. We’d never seen it before. Lucky enough it was on telly and it took poor old Kenneth Wolstenholme about 30 seconds to make up his mind that Jennings had scored a goal.

10 What’s your greatest regret?

That I never won the League Championship as it was called at the time. I won the FA Cup, the League Cup and the UEFA Cup but never the League. I suppose that’s my one regret from football. But personally, I had my two awards, which were fantastic. I played in two World Cups. Played against Brazil on my 41st birthday. Even bigger was captaining the Rest of the World against the Americas. The Americas had Maradona, Rivellino, all that lot.

11 Which golfers do you admire?

I love to see the Irish boys doing well. We’ve always punched way above our weight for a small little country, no matter the sport. Rory, Harrington, Lowry, McDowell, Darren Clarke. It’s incredible. 

12 They all have the talent too. Who was the most talented footballer you ever knew? George Best was some talent. 

George was my room-mate. We started with the international team the same night. Vetch Field, Swansea, 1964. We beat Wales 3-2 that night. In this country he was probably the best player I’ve ever played with. It’s my regret for him  that he was such a fantastic footballer and never got to play in the World Cups with us. Although the played 37 times for Northern Ireland.  I’ve been so lucky to play with players like Dave Mackay, Jimmy Greaves. I played for 22-23 years. I’d never try to pick a best XI. There are too many of them.

13 Messi or Ronaldo?

There is nobody to beat them at the moment. Or George Best. It’s impossible to pick from those guys. You’d be happy with any of them in your team.

14 What was your sporting hero?

All my life it’s been a fellow Newry man called Peter McParland. He was born 200 yards down the street from me on Chapel St in Newry.  He scored two for Aston Villa to beat Man United in the 1958 Cup final. My dad took me to Windsor to watch him play for Northern Ireland.  He was the highest goalscorer for Northern Ireland in the 1958 World Cup [with 5].

15 Are you a man with regrets in life?

Not at all. I am very happy and still involved with the IFA and McDonald’s work for “Grassroots Football”. I was all over the country recently doing Regional Awards for those fantastic people who do all the work - the coaches and the parents. It’s wonderful.

16 What’s you idea of happiness? Life now?

Yes. Absolutely. I worked on a timber gang on a mountain when I was 17 and 10 days later I got picked for the Irish Youths team and got to play a big tournament at Wembley. World famous Wembley. I’ve been so lucky.

17 Is there a Pat Jennings motto?

As a goalkeeper you can’t get carried away. You’re on a high one day, a low the next. But it’s been fantastic — 119 internationals, two World Cups. I was one of the lucky ones.

18 What can we expect from Spurs this year?

We just faltered in the last month last season but we qualified for the Champions League so I’d settle for the same again this season. Apart from the last month!

This Quick 18 first appeared in the Irish Independent's Thursday "Tee to Green" golf supplement on August 18, 2016.