From the running track to the golf course

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 Lagat: Pass me my putter

When track and field stars play golf they like to do it fast, obviously. Here SPIKES talks to USA endurance runner Bernard Lagat ahead of his upcoming debut at the 2013 Speedgolf World Championships.

First, exactly what is Speedgolf?

Well, according to the organisers of the World Championships, Speedgolf is pretty much just what it sounds like – golf played very quickly. Competitors play 9 or 18 holes and run between shots. Scores are calculated by adding the time taken to complete the round and the total strokes taken. For instance, if a competitor shoots a golf score of 80 shots and it takes 60 minutes to complete their round, their Speedgolf score (SGS) would be 140 (80 + 60).

Hi Bernard, so how long have you been playing golf?

“For about five years. I have had no formal lessons and I started playing with friends – dads from the same school as my children. I only really play golf at the end of the athletics season, September through to April.”

Nice. So what’s your golfing handicap?

"I don’t really have a handicap as I don’t play regularly enough, but my best score is 89. One day I’d love to get into golf more seriously and then someone could determine my handicap. It was a really good day for me to score 89. As a runner, the thing that golf has allowed me to work on is my patience, which is something I don’t normally have much of. I always have to be quick, quick, quick after I hit the ball. Even when I’m playing golf it’s intense. I have that competitive instinct."

So how did you hear about Speedgolf?

"The first time was through a journalist friend of mine who thought I’d be awesome at it. I never thought about it again until I watched this TV programme that showed Speedgolf and I really loved it.

"I made a few inquiries and then found out that the World Championships were coming up and I said I was interested in playing. Then I met the founder of Speedgolf, Tim Scott, at the Prefontaine Classic and he told me not to panic. He said: ‘It’s the same golf that you already play. I want you to try.’ I thought: ‘This is Tim Scott, the founder, actually talking to me about this, so let’s do it.’”

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Lagat: "I’m just going to go to the World Championships and enjoy it."

Have you ever played a round of Speedgolf before?

"No, not yet. I still have time to, though, and hope to make an arrangement with my local club president in Tucson (Arizona). Tim Scott is actually coming to Tucson for a few days soon and so I hope to get some pointers."

What are your hopes for the World Championships?

"I’m just going to go there and enjoy it. If I get a round of 90 and I run 40 mins I think I’ll be very competitive. The winners of these events are very good athletes, but they are also very good golfers who can hit 71 or 72 shots. To play that consistently and run that fast is unbelievable. For me, a very good day is to hit under 90."

(Note: The world record holder Christopher Smith managed 70 shots in just 54 minutes – the length of time it normally takes professionals to complete three holes!!!)

Will it be a challenge to control your breathing between shots?

"I don’t think that breathing will be a problem. My last race of the season is on 22 September and I’m going to keep training afterwards. Breathing hard while running and then stopping to hit the ball is the same as interval training on the track. The main challenge for me will be trying to use the clubs for different purposes, not losing the ball and not taking too many dropped shots. And also controlling my short game on the green.”

How many clubs will you use?

"I think I want to take four or a maximum of five. I probably won’t take a driver and will instead take my hybrid No.5 (a kind of a mix of a wood and an iron). I might take a six or nine iron and a pitching wedge, which I’ll have to learn to play off the sand [should Bernard’s ball land in the bunker he would normally use a sand wedge]. The one club I know I will definitely take is my putter."

We hear Nick Willis, New Zealand’s 2008 Olympic 1500m silver medallist, is also competing. Will you beat him?

"He will be the only person tougher to beat on the run! He has played Speedgolf a number of times and he has also played golf since he was a little boy. He will be very tough."

Would you like to see Speedgolf at the Olympics?

"Oh my goodness! I’d go all out for that. I’d get the best golf teacher so I can be good. It would be awesome."

Which other athlete would you like to see play a round of Speedgolf?

"It would be fun to see Michael Phelps go for it. He’s a keen golfer and the most decorated Olympic athlete ever. It would be interesting to see how that would turn out. I’d like to see him run with athletes like us."

Watch Christopher Smith in Speedgolf action:

The 2013 Speedgolf World Championships take place at Bandon Dunes Golf Course in Oregon on October 26-27. Find out more at www.speedgolfinternational.com.