THIS is a story about golf and surfing. In 2017 I covered the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland for several South African newspapers and websites and one of the celebrities playing in the tournament that year was surfing legend Kelly Slater. The American was 45 at the time and still competitive on the world tour against the sport’s young stars.
Slater’s professional partner in the separate pro-am that year was South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli and I followed their group around the famous Carnoustie links. Boy, could Slater hit that little white ball! I learnt that his handicap was a very competitive two and, in chatting to him, he revealed that his best round had been a sizzling six-under-par 66. “And I’ve also made four or five 67s,” he said. It became apparent to me that if this guy hadn’t been riding waves all his life, he might well have become a professional golfer. He was almost as good with the birdies as he was with the “barrels”.
“Surfing and golf,” he declared, “are a lot different in some ways; one’s super fast and the other’s, like, super slow. But they are similar in other ways and by that I mean there’s that very real fear factor in both sports. In surfing, it’s big-time physical and in golf, it’s big-time mental.”
So where is all this leading? Well, Slater turns 50 on Friday this week and this past Sunday the Californian achieved what many deemed impossible. He won the World Surf League’s Billabong Pro Pipeline in Hawaii, just five days before hitting, age-wise, the big five-0. In a sport dominated by super strong competitors in their 20s, ‘Old man’ Slater’s feat has, not surprisingly, been described as one of the greatest achievements in the history of all sports.
Former Springbok flanker Rob Louw, who has also played golf alongside Slater, said: “I’m a surfer too and I know how incredibly demanding it can be both physically and mentally. In my opinion, Kelly is the greatest sportsman the world has seen, and you can see that competitive side of him in his golf too.” Now wonder Slater’s nickname is the ‘Goat’ (Greatest of All-Time).
In the final in Hawaii on Sunday, surfed in pounding, big waves, Slater defeated the local favourite, 22-year-old Seth Moniz, with a near-perfect score of 18.77 out of a possible 20. Moniz is the son of Tony Moniz, one of Kelly’s former rivals. And Slater has now won the Pipeline eight times.
The wiry, super-strong Californian has been world surfing champion a record 11 times, He was the youngest champion when he first grabbed the title at 20. And he was the oldest when he won it at 39. Now he could make it number 12 at the outrageous, highly improbable age of 50 when the WSL moves to Australia in April and May for two legs in that country. However, Slater is an outspoken critic of mandatory vaccination and Australian officials have said there will be no exemptions given to anyone who hasn’t had the jab. Slater’s also hinting at retirement. So, who knows, perhaps golf’s Senior Tour lies in wait!
Written by Randpark Club member Grant Winter