Alan Hansen relishing Ryder Cup role at Gleneagles

IT WAS the morning after yet another win for his old team seemed to edge them ever closer to the English Premier League title, but the ruling was strict – Alan Hansen would not, definitely not, talk football. “Diabolical!” might have been the very Hansenesque reaction to a ban on Liverpool-related questions, but we shouldn’t forget his great passion and first love – golf.

Alan Hansen at Edinburgh Castle yesterday to launch Tartan Tuesday and the Ryder Cup practice programme. Picture:SNS
Alan Hansen at Edinburgh Castle yesterday to launch Tartan Tuesday and the Ryder Cup practice programme. Picture:SNS

To be fair to him, this wasn’t diva-like behaviour on his part, rather the desire of the Ryder Cup hierarchy to get him into a pair of the competition’s zazzy breeks in the official tartan for promotional duties. The role of ambassador is one he is delighted to be fulfilling, and in Edinburgh yesterday he admitted: “The Ryder Cup can’t come quick enough.”

This year, of course, it’s at Gleneagles, which almost qualifies as the 26-times-capped Scotland defender’s home course and he quickly got nostalgic for his teenage years when it was as a professional golfer, not a footballer, that he wanted to make his name. “My pals and I used to play at ‘the Glen’ on Sunday mornings and we’d organise our own competitions. At 16 I was decent. One Sunday I shot a 72 on the King’s course and a couple of weeks later a 70 on the Queen’s. I was a 2-handicapper then, a kid, and fearless.”

In fact the home course was Schawpark in Sauchie where Hansen was born. “My earliest golfing memory was there and I would have been five. My brother John played all the time and I used to follow him up. He’s five years older and he used to punch me, telling me to go away. I only had the one club – a 2-wood, a brassie, with an ancient head and a grip I can still feel. So I’d go to the practice ground and try to hit a ball. I did that every day, morning ’til night.

“Where we lived, the house in Tower View had a field out the back. Beyond that the course was to the right of this path and Sauchie Juniors’ ground was on the left. At 15 and then at 17, I gave up football to concentrate on golf.” So his life could have been oh so different, depriving Partick Thistle, Liverpool and the national team of all those silky, seemingly-effortless performances, and Match of the Day’s armchair fans of his blunt views on bad defending.

Hansen described Gleneagles as “magical”, only increasing in its lustre with every visit. “I was at the Glen a few times last year – nothing to do with the Ryder – and if like me you’ve been lucky enough to play some special courses in the world you can forget how great it is. You walk through the gates and if the sun is shining – amazing.”

His Ryder memories go right back to childhood and the event really came alive for him in 1969. “That was when [Jack] Nicklaus, who as my hero, gave [Tony] Jacklin that putt – one of the great moments in all sport – for the first-ever tie.” The putt was a three-footer, with the Golden Bear quipping: “I don’t think you would have missed that, Tony, but I didn’t want to give you the chance.”

Hansen admitted to finding the regular American defeats of the UK-only team “monotonous” until the European reinforcements arrived. “We went really close in ’83 when Seve [Ballesteros] hit that wonderful shot out of a bunker that people still talk about and of course ’85 was the big one, our very first win. The Belfry’s closing holes are so great visually for TV and that enhanced the drama and excitement. And to have a Scot, Sam Torrance, hole the winning putt – fantastic.”

Apart from some coaching at Gleneagles from Ian Marchbanks as a member of Clackmannan County Boys, Hansen is “entirely self-taught”, with all that that has meant for his style. “I swing so badly, really horrible. All the pros say I’m unteachable. It would be useless to try and have the kinks removed, and unkind. I’ve been doing it this way for 54 years.”

Nevertheless, he plays off 3.6, manages at least two games a week at the Hillside course near his home in Southport and remains an ultra-fierce competitor. His dream fourball would be “Seve, Jack and Kenny,” he says, referring to his good friend and fellow Liverpool great Dalglish. “And Kenny would be arguing about strokes on the first tee: ‘Naw, I’m no’ havin’ that.’

“When we play our football mates it’s kill-or-be-killed. Sometimes it’ll be full handicap, sometimes three-quarters, depending what we think is best for us. Kenny is 63 and I’m 59 but there’s no let-up. He plays off 7 but he’s a bandit. I think we’re even more competitive than we used to be. It’s worse now – embarrassing.”

Hansen still gets back to Sauchie where the obsession began. “The first you tee off high, go low and high again and the backdrop is the Ochils – beautiful. There’s an amateur event every May and about ten of us from the old days get together. Everyone tells exactly the same stories as the year before.” Recently he also returned to North Berwick, scene of his tilts at the Scottish Boys’ Championship. “I’ll never forget ’72, teeing off at 7:40 in the morning, no waterproofs, ridiculously cold. I’ve been in 30 degrees below since but that day was colder. I took my wife round, showed her the wall at the 12th. She couldn’t believe there could be a wall in front of a green and neither could the Americans playing the hole. One of them was so intimidated he could only move his ball two inches.”

So if Hansen were to have his time again would he choose golf over football? “I don’t think so. I realised I wasn’t going to make money at golf, that I was better at football, so I switched.” Football being how he made his name, just the one question sneaked in at the end doesn’t seem a crime – can Liverpool win the league? “Hopefully, and if Europe win the Ryder Cup, what a great double that would be.”