ST ANDREWS, October 3, 2016 – Can you compare walking down the 18th fairway on the Old Course in St Andrews with playing football at one of the great venues of the world like Wembley, Nou Camp or the Maracana?
‘Yes’ is the unequivocal answer from Michael Ballack, the Bayern Munich and Chelsea football legend, who played 98 times for the German national team, scoring 48 goals.
Ballack, who is back at St Andrews to defend the Alfred Dunhill Links Team Championship he won last year, says: “Football is a team sport, while golf is much more individualist, even when you are playing as a team of two. But, despite the differences, playing in a big stadium or at such a legendary golf course, and feeling their respective history, is very similar.”
That is one of the reasons why victory last year was such a special moment for Ballack, who was partnered by German professional Florian Fritsch.
Ballack says: “It was unique and very emotional to win at a sport that is not football. I love playing golf and it was extremely satisfying. I had many special memories, but the one that stands out was on the last day, when I teed off at St Andrews in the last group. It was a great moment.”
Can he win again, and become the first amateur to win back-to-back Team Championships? “It’s hard to repeat such a unique win so there’s no expectations in terms of defending a title, but I look forward to playing and strategizing as a team. I will not be making any special preparations, but I have obviously been playing a bit more golf as we get closer to the Championship, especially as I am not used to having spectators watching me play golf.”
Ballack played in the 2002 World Cup final and led his team to the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup and the final of Euro 2008. He was appointed captain in 2004 by manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
He regards it as a considerable honour to be able to play as an amateur alongside the world-class field of professionals in the Alfred Dunhill Links and also to play in a prestigious tournament over such celebrated golf courses.
“The Old Course, Carnoustie, Kingsbarns, do I have a favourite? All three are legendary and they are stunning. But if I really have to pick one, I would say that I really love playing at St Andrews because it’s somewhat similar to gambling, given the bunkers’ layouts. You need to evaluate your risk-reward as to whether you want to run a more risky strategy or a safe game.
“On the other hand, I find Kingsbarns to be the most beautiful course on the sea, with an amazing layout. The most difficult course to my eyes is Carnoustie, particularly when the weather is rough like it was two years ago, especially for an amateur.”
Despite an immensely successful career which lasted 18 years at the highest level, Ballack says he does not miss football. “When you love a sport, and there’s a great game, your memories come back to you and you miss these unique moments. But I don’t miss playing in general, I have been extremely busy since I retired.
“I had many great moments in football. My first German championship win when I was playing at Kaiserslautern was very special. In fact, winning the Bundesliga coming from a second division team is unique in history and was an invaluable feeling.”
Does he stay in touch with football and follow the fortunes of his former clubs? “I will always have a connection to my teams. When you play for and you are so close to football teams, it starts to feel like family and you always want to follow the results and games.
“I think Chelsea’s Conte has a good professional background; he did a great job for the Italian national team and following last season’s poor results at Chelsea, it’s a good start and opportunity for him and the team.
“As for Ancelotti, I believe that he is a great signing for Bayern Munich. He has the experience to handle big teams and big players. I personally had the pleasure to work with him at Chelsea when we won the double and I really think he suits Bayern Munich perfectly and will be a good successor to Pep Guardiola who also did a terrific job.”