HAVING become the latest in a fairly long line of former footballers to swap studs for spikes in a bid to carve out a new career, former AC Milan and Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko sets out today with a golfing goal on the European Challenge Tour.
The 36-year-old, who hung up his boots after Euro 2012, is in the field for the Kharkov Superior Cup in his native Ukraine, where the field also includes another sporting legend in former tennis world No1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
While Kafelnikov is not a newcomer to professional golf, this will be Shevchenko’s first taste of Challenge Tour action after the amateur, who plays off two, accepted an invitation from the host club’s president to test himself in a field that includes former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson and three-time European Tour winner Nick Dougherty.
And, though he has played in plenty of pro-ams in the past, including an appearance alongside Rory McIlroy at this year’s Irish Open at Carton House, Shevchenko acknowledges this test will be as tough as any he faced on a football pitch.
“This is the first big event for me and of course it is the first major professional tournament here in Ukraine, so it’s a huge event for golf in this country,” said Shevchenko, who interrupted his preparation briefly to travel to Kiev on Tuesday night to watch Ukraine fight out a goalless draw with England in a World Cup qualifier.
“The course is quite difficult. I’m happy with my game at the moment and I’m really happy to be here. I know the president of the club, he is my good friend and his daughter has been caddying for me. He invited me to come and I just had to.
“I know this course for many years, since it first opened, and I love it here. It’s nice that the Challenge Tour have decided to come here to this course. It’s great for us.”
To the disappointment of some of the Scots in the field, no doubt – Arsenal fan Jamie McLeary, for instance – Shevchenko has been paired with Frenchman Victor Riu and American Brinson Paolini in the opening two rounds.
“I have played with many good players in pro-ams, but it’s very different out here,” he added. “I’m looking forward to it and hope I play well, but it’s my first event so I just want to have a good time and enjoy the week.”
Kafelnikov, incidentally, has had little to shout about so far in his new career. This season alone he has failed to make the cut in seven events split between the Challenge Tour and European Tour and has failed to score better than 76.
• Won 94 ATP Tour titles and now coaches Andy Murray had a spell in the pro ranks, winning a Celebrity Tour event.
• The former West Ham and Liverpool defender joined the paid ranks at the end of his football career but had to give up due to a knee injury and is now restricted to the odd recreational game.
• The Mexican, who won on the Champions Tour in Montreal last weekend, turned to golf after a promising boxing career – he was a standout lightweight with a 12-1 record – was ended by a burst appendix.
• The man who was once Scottish football’s most expensive signing and bagged medals with Rangers, Dundee United, Dundee and Raith Rovers joined his son Ian Jnr in the professional ranks and has played in mini-Tour events.
• Forced to quit football due to injury, the former Wigan and Fulham midfielder entered the qualifying school for the third-tier PGA EuroPro Tour earlier this year and made it through to the final stage.