Nick Willis reaches for his golf spikes


If golf is a good walk spoiled, then we’ve found the best way to ruin a good run. Last month, we brought you the story of Bernard Lagat attempting the world speedgolf champs in Oregon. Today, we chat to his rival Nick Willis, New Zealand’s 2008 Olympic 1500m silver medallist.

We hear you are a keen golfer, what’s your handicap?

"I’ll have to look it up. It is quite a while since I handed in a card at my home club [Willis is a New Zealander but based in Michigan, USA].

"I think I’m listed as an eight. Sometimes I might play golf three of four days a week, then because of training and competing, I might go two months without playing at all.

"When I’m in New Zealand I play as often as I can. My best ever score is three over par."

When did you first hear about the sport of speedgolf?

After the 2008 Olympics, I was lacking motivation to get back into training. I’d heard about a runner called Steve Scott [1983 World 1500m silver medallist]. Supposedly he was one of the inventors of the game, and I thought I’d give it a go, so that was my way of getting back into training.

"I went around my local golf course at the time and tried speedgolf. I had a fluke round where I sunk a bunker shot and my drives all went down the middle. I was exhausted after nine holes and I wanted to stop, but I was only two over at the time.

"I was encouraged to keep going and I made a few four-putts at the end because I was tired. I only shot a few shots worse than my best score [79 shots in 43 minutes].

How are you preparing for the speedgolf world champs on 26th October?

"I’m only going to have two to four practise rounds, mostly to figure out club selection. The beauty of speedgolf is that it doesn’t take too long. I am now a father, and I want to make sure I am not abandoning my family.

"A round of speedgolf takes less than an hour. It is quite a suitable recreational pursuit in that sense."

So which clubs do you think you will carry on the big day?

"In my one attempt I carried six. I don’t know yet whether I’ll carry a bag or carry the clubs in my hands. The question for me is whether I use a fairway wood or not.

"Do I sacrifice my drives for a three wood off the tee? But then I can also use my three wood off the fairway at the par fives.

"Or do you go with the driver, a club I normally hit fairly well? I found last time I used one or two clubs a lot throughout the round. I hit my six iron for nearly every shot. The advantage with this is it really feels like I was really homing in on that one club, and I got really comfortable with it.

"The six clubs I used were: driver, four, six and eight irons, a pitching wedge and a putter."

Are you excited by the competitions?

"It’s going to be fantastic. I don’t really feel too much pressure. We are playing one of the best courses in the world [Bandon Dunes] for free.

"In New Zealand we are often coined as: the jack of all trades, the master of none. Like most Kiwis, I know how to play a bunch of different sports and here is an opportunity to make use of all that time out on the links."

Watch a speedgolf compilation below:

What are your expectations?

"Just to play consistent golf, keep it on the fairway and not get any double bogeys. If I can play bogey golf with the odd par every third or fourth hole, and I run at a pretty good pace, that is probably the best way to approach it.

"I don’t think the right strategy is to attack the course and chase birdies because there is a bigger risk of hitting the rough and spending time trying to find your ball. I really have no expectations. I just want to play to my own level."

Do you plan to maintain your running fitness?

"I’m going to keep running. I took five weeks off in the summer [because of injury] and I don’t feel exhausted mentally. Normally, I have the break after the season, but I’ll keep on running to keep my condition going."

What about Bernard Lagat? Do you reckon you’ll beat him?

"It is is a novel experience for him. In Europe [during the athletics season] he kept saying: ‘Willis, Willis you have to give me tips.’ We don’t have too many expectations. We’ll play to our own level.

"The hardest thing to know is how much slower these guys run [compared to Willis and Lagat]. Last year they ran quite significantly slower than what I have assumed, but this year looking at the profiles, it looks stronger.

"There is a guy who has run a 1:12 half-marathon and is a scratch handicap golfer. There is also a golfer from the PGA tour competing."

Which other athletes would excel at speedgolf?

"A couple of guys who ran the Fifth Avenue Mile [a race Willis won last month] have similar handicaps to me. One goal I have would be to always have two spots open for the running community.

"Then we could organise a qualifying tournament each year for the main tournament, just for athletes. I guess the questions is, who is best at speedgolf - the golfer who can run, or the runner who can play golf?"