He’s a Wales and Liverpool icon. But when it comes to golf, Ian Rush is happy he can make up for his poor iron play with the putter. Once a great finisher, always a great finisher.
- Ian Rush
- Club: Caldy Golf Club, Liverpool
- Handicap: 16
1 You’ve a big connection to Ireland through the Shabra Charity. What does that mean to you?
It’s great to be able to help the Shabra Charity in way I can. I do what I can to support the work they do. Oliver Brady promised to help provide expensive equipment needed for medical research and Rita Shah is now carrying on that word. So I am happy to try and help the Shabra Foundation raise the money to put this machine in place and hopefully help people have a better life. I never met Oliver but I love horse-racing and I met Rita that way. I would see Oliver on TV and he was clearly passionate about everything he did. He gave his word that this machine would be provided and Rita is trying to make his promise come true.
2 How did you get started in the game?
I used to play when I was a kid — not at an 18 hole course but with pitch and putt or just hitting balls around the place. Football came first, obviously. And I tried rugby being from Wales. But golf was another thing we did. Later I played in Flint Golf Club where I grew up in Wales, and for the past 15 years I’ve been a member of Caldy Golf Club on the Wirral. I play regularly at Royal Liverpool too. But I am more of a horse-racing fan than a golf fan, to tell you the truth. When I played football, I’d go to horse-racing in my time off rather than play golf. It was only when I retired from football that I got the clubs out a bit more.
3 Is golf a big deal for you?
I have good days and bad days but my two sons play and they’re very good. But for me, the most memorable day I had in golf was when Tiger Woods won The Open in Royal Liverpool in 2006. I was the first player ever to wear Nike football boots in the UK and with my Nike contacts, I was lucky enough to be able to take my sons to see him win in Hoylake. He only hit one driver, I remember. I was Nike from 1983 or ’84.
4 So as a casual player, we won’t find you out on Caldy in a 50 mph wind? Have you any golfing ambitions?
No, I am a fair weather golfer. When played Moyvalley, the weather was bad for the Christy O’Connor Jnr Pro-Am, so I would’t have played if it had been just a game with the lads. I’ve never even had golf lessons. In an ideal world, I’d love to play a lot of pro ams but for me, getting down to a 10 handicap or maybe to single figures would be the icing on the cake.
5 Driver or putter? I suspect you’re a good finisher.
I’m a good putter. And I can get a drive away. My problem is between 80 yards and 180 yards. I’ve never had a hole-in-one but one day I took driver, went in the rough, chipped out and holed out from around 160 yards for birdie. The greenkeeper was up at the green clapping me, thinking I’d holed me second. But apart from that. I’ve never had a hole-in-one or even seen a hole-in-one.
6 What’s your most treasured possession?
I think my FA Cup winner’s medal from 1986. I’d dreamt about scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup final since I was a kid. I’d won the League, I’d won the European Cup, I’d won everything. But my dream was to win the FA Cup final and score the winner. So in 1986 my dream came true. We won 3-1 (v Everton) and I scored two goals. That FA Cup medal means a lot to me.
7 Was it almost like winning The Open?
Yeah, it was. I’d won the league two or three times and the European Cup. I’d won every cup but the FA Cup. So that was something special
8 Do you have any big career regrets?
My only great is not qualifying for a major tournament with Wales. With Liverpool, I have no regrets. But with Wales, we never qualified for a major tournament so to see Wales do so well in the Euros this summer was special. I am the Elite Performance Director for the Welsh Football Trust now and had 10 of that squad when they were 14 years old. To see them go from boys to men was special. To be involved with that team and to see Wales qualify after 58 years for a tournament was very, very special.
9 John Charles was the big star when Wales last qualified for a big tournament prior to that — the 1958 World Cup. Like you, he went to Juventus. You’ve had some special clubs.
Juventus is the equivalent of Liverpool in Italy. It’s a very special club and as Michel Platini said, I went to the right club at the wrong time. But I have no regrets. I went as a boy and came back as a man. I learned more off the pitch than on it. It was one of the best moves I ever made.
10 It’s some journey from Chester to Turin via Liverpool. Who were your big influences?
My dad, Francis. He was the one who helped me. He was a steelworker but he gave up everything to help me. And a fella called Cliff Sear, my youth team manager at Chester. Neither of them are around today but they both helped me a lot. They were the most important people in my life and they made me who I am today. They just believed in honesty and integrity — play fair, work hard. My dad was a big Liverpool fan and he said, ‘Be nice to people on the way up because they will remember you on the way down.’ I always remembered that.
11 Who is your golfing hero?
Tiger Woods. I will always have special memories of Tiger from the time he won The Open at Hoylake. We had our connection with Nike and he said to come down with my two sons and walk a few holes in his practice round. Well, I got a call about 10 the night before to say that he was playing that well that he wasn’t going to have a practice round. Anyway, on the Friday, Tiger’s people rang again and said to come down on Saturday morning to the practice ground and my sons could have their picture taken with him. True to his word, Tiger did the picture and let us stick around on the practice ground 10 yards from him. I’ll never forget it. I had my phone on silent and I thought, ‘I’ll take a picture here.’ But it clicked, Tiger turned around and I blamed my son, who was only 12 at the time. But Tiger just laughed and gave the thumbs up. He was so relaxed. He was a real gentleman. He’ll always be my favourite.
12 I assume he’d make your dream fourball.
Yes. Tiger, Ian Woosnam because he is Welsh and I know him quite well, and I’ve played with him. And then Pádraig Harrington. That would be my fourball.
13 Do you have a sporting hero, growing up?
Frankie Dettori is a good friend of mine. And Peter Chapple-Hyam, the trainer, would be another. In football. I supported Everton as a kid and Bob Latchford was my hero. He scored 30 league goals in 1977-78 and got a prize of around £10,000.
14 Do you see Messi and Ronaldo getting 50 goals a season in English football?
I still think the Premiership is the hardest league in the world. If anyone gets 30 goals in the Premiership it is like 50 goals in Spain. In Spain there are two great teams, maybe three with Atletico as well. But they can rest players and know they are going to win. For me the Premier league is the hardest league in the world. Even against the bottom team you can lose. Look at Liverpool losing at Burnley. It’s just so competitive.
15 If you had a mulligan in your career, what would it be?
With Wales we had a chance to qualify for USA 94 against Romania in Cardiff and lost. We missed penalty [at 1-1 Paul Bodkin took it and hit the bar] and if I had a mulligan, I most probably would have taken the penalty this time. But you have to look forward not look back. I have seen Wales qualify for the Euros and the next thing is to see them qualify for the World Cup.
16 Are you still competitive?
I’d never turn up just to make up the numbers. Even though I am not a good golfer, I wouldn’t let myself down. In the pro-am I was with a pro, a four handicap and a 10. So I had my job to do and I came in on four holes. That’s what it’s about. You do your job. That’s how you get satisfaction.
17 What can we expect from Liverpool this year?
We’ve got a great manager and everyone loves him. If they could win a trophy and finish in the top four, that would be great. It seems realistic. I was playing the last time they won the league so finding the right manager has been like searching for the Holy Grail — Brendan Rodgers, Rafa Benitez took them so far. But Liverpool have expectations. Manchester United have expectations. For me they are the two biggest teams in the world. Hopefully Jurgen Klopp can do what Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish did. He’s on the right track.
18 What’s the Ian Rush motto?
Life is too short. Play hard, and play fair. Give it your best shot.
This piece first appeared in the Irish Independent's weekly Tee to Green golf supplement on September 29, 2016