In the immediate aftermath of England’s Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa, Mike Tindall admits he was down. Disappointed for his mates still playing at the coal face of world rugby, deflated for a nation desperate to relive the glory of 16 years ago, but also reflective of the power that sport has over our lives.
‘We actually live our lives around sport, and it determines not only our schedules but our friends, partners, moods, health and our wellbeing,’ says the 2003 England Rugby World Cup winner and husband to Zara Phillips, the eldest granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II.
‘It’s a huge determining factor on so much of who we are and what we do, and that’s why any defeat hurts. It makes us reflect on the decisions we’ve made.’
And yet, Tindall’s decision to deflect the downturn he experienced in his own wellbeing as a result of retirement from rugby inadvertently brought about a new sporting dawn. ‘I’d always played golf, but a stroll on the course then turned into an afternoon, then a daily occurrence, then the events came and it has become almost a big a part of my life as rugby did.’
‘There are few places to connect better than on a dew-soaked course early in the morning. Each day is a new one… as is each round!’
RSNG Your Mike Tindall Celebrity Golf Classic is now several years along. How did the event came about?
MIKE TINDALL, ENGLAND RUGBY WORLD CUP WINNER ‘It came about seven years ago, I had a meeting with some people I was involved in. The idea was to create something like Help for Heroes – whose primary goal is to help ex-military forces with the transition from getting out of the military back into civilian life. I had just retired from rugby and golf was something I’d always wanted to get into. I went to a lot of golf days so I thought I should do one myself, and it really grew from there.’
‘We try to make it as much fun as possible; it gives me a good chance to see people who I’ve met through various things – be it rugby or other sports or some TV things I’ve done – and get them all out, have a fun day and try to raise some money.’
‘ISPS Handa are the main sponsors of the event and have been for a few years. They do so much stuff, not only in sport – their passion is to get blind and disabled golf in the Olympics. We try to keep everything on the same wavelength, so everything’s related to sport and everything’s related to the military, and a lot of the stuff that ISPS Handa helped with – like the On Course foundation which gets injured servicemen and people coming out of the military jobs through golf – all ties quite nicely together.’
‘ISPS have done some other bits as well – they’re quite big players in the Ladies’ European Tour – and they do stuff about how sport can promote peace and how it can help in Third World countries and get kids off the streets.’
‘It’s all tied together and it’s all based around what’s given me so much fun in my life, which is sport, and trying to share that with others.’
RSNG Do you have a particular favourite course around the world that you’ve played?
MT ‘If I had to pick a favourite golf course it would be Old Head in Kinsale, Ireland. I’ve been lucky enough to play it and few times and the scenery and the charm that just does for me every time.’
‘It’s a place you yearn to go back to no sooner have you left – it is absolute tranquillity… just you, a golf ball and a scorecard.’
‘For something so picturesque it has its challenges as well. You don’t want to mess with the wind down there or it’ll make you look like a fool!’
‘My handicap is 10 at the moment I’d like it to be in the single figures at some point – it’s a work in progress’
RSNG What’s your handicap looking like at the moment?
MT ‘My handicap is 10 at the moment. I’d like it to be in the single figures at some point. It’s a work in progress.’
RSNG Golf or rugby first these days?
MT `Rugby always has the special place in my heart, and will always distract me more than golf, but I can’t say I prefer one over the other because they are so different.’
‘I think because they are sports for such different seasons, there is some room for them to work side by side.’
‘It does seem though that whenever I start getting really on it with golf, the rugby season kicks into gear and begins to dominate my time. I lose all that strength and momentum that I had before. And whatever you say about golf, it requires dedication to get to the point where you’re really comfortable.’
RSNG Do you go on a lot of golfing holidays?
MT ‘Not that much since I retired, but the plan is to go on a few more and play a few more courses abroad… experience a bit more what’s out there, so that’s definitely in the pipeline.’
‘Princes Harry and William purposefully avoid competing against me – they must not like losing or something.’
RSNG Perhaps you could tempt along Princes Harry and Wills?
MT ‘No, no, Harry and William purposefully avoid competing against me, they must not like losing or something. I know they play football every now and again at Christmas time, but I’ve never been able to get up there early enough to play with them. Someday I’ll do it, and I’ll take great pleasure in taking them down!’
RSNG You must be quite proud of Harry’s role in the Invictus Games?
MT ‘Well, yeah, what’s he’s done is amazing, isn’t it? The time it takes is mind-blowing, and having been in the military and served in that way it’s ingrained in him, and it’s ingrained in a positive way. He has the power to bring a lot of people and a lot of countries together, and give these guys the ability to compete.’
‘Having worked with a lot of ex-servicemen through charity stuff like Rugby for Heroes, and the On Course foundation, that’s all they want. They want a chance to compete and a chance to have that feeling that you only get through sport. You know… the nerves before the game, the exhilaration or disappointment after, it’s very unique to sport.’
‘It’s great that Harry has been able to give them that outlet, and give them that ability, and it’s great for them. You only need to speak to those who have competed – it makes their year and it motivates them to get back on their feet and back into it.’
‘They’ve obviously been through some dark times if they’ve been injured, or stuff they’ve seen when they’ve been to war, and I think it’s a genuine way to lift their spirits and get them back on track and focussed. You can’t ever underestimate that effect.’
RSNG You’re a known tech fanatic. How have you worked that into your golfing habits?
MT ‘A few years ago I bought a motorised caddie, which is a lot of fun. It’s one of those things that no-one really needs, but when you’ve shanked one into the rough any sort of assistance you can have counts double!’
‘I actually bought it specifically for the Tom Long competition at Minchinhampton – it’s basically three courses in a day. If you can’t give yourself an excuse for laziness when faced with 54 holes then when can you?!’
RSNG I guess your daughter Mia’s not quite old enough yet for that kind of stuff?
MT ‘No, not quite old enough for high-tech gadgets yet!’
RSNG Or caddying?
MT ‘No, definitely not for caddying yet – but don’t worry, I’ll make her work when she is old enough.’
RSNG Apart from the clubs, and now the motorised caddie, is there something you’d always travel with if you were embarking on a golfing holiday? A particular golfing outfit maybe? Lucky trousers?
MT ‘Anything resembling the St. George’s flag! We’re playing for ourselves but we have to be patriotic about our roots, whatever the course and, come to think of it, whatever the sport!’
WHAT NEXT? OK, it’s not golf but here’s a reminder of what made Mike Tindall one of rugby’s greats.