It was entirely apt that South African professional golfer Justin Harding should have Vinnie Jones, one of the former hard men of British football, as his amateur partner in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which ends at St Andrews today.
Neither drink alcohol. The 54-year-old Jones, one of the hard-living and hard-playing characters of British football and a member of Wimbledon Football Club’s so-called Crazy Gang, says he gave up alcohol late in his life and began to put his energy into improving his golf game.
“I got friendly with an American golf professional and I just decided to give up the drink and take up golf seriously. There are a lot of former drinkers who play golf,” he said.
For 33-year-old Justin Harding, the decision to abstain from alcohol was more performance-related.
After a few years on the Sunshine Tour during which he had moderate success, Harding decided his activities off the golf course were hampering the progress of his career.
“I changed a few of my social activities. I dialled those down. I gave up the social drinking, which has been huge. I also gave up the one or two beers during a tournament,” Harding said.
The result was a career that skyrocketed as he suddenly won a European Tour event, two Asian Tour events, broke into the top 50 on the official world golf ranking, and started playing in the Majors.
The dramatic turnaround and rise in his career were talking points among those in his circle – from his family to leading professionals like Ernie Els.
Harding said: “I had a sense of underperforming. So I identified areas of my life that were potentially holding me back.
“I came to the realisation that I have too much fun and need to dial that down. I’m now choosing when I can have fun and I’m not making it so spontaneous. That’s been huge, and the results have shown it,” he said.
While playing with Harding in Scotland, Jones said he applauded that decision by the South African.
“There’s nothing good about drinking, unfortunately, as you learn. But I think the wiser you are, the earlier you give it up.”
The former footballer has also been highly impressed with his playing partner’s game as they’ve played the three links courses – the Old Course, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie – in this prestigious European Tour pro-am tournament.
“Justin is a great lad. I’ve really enjoyed playing with him. He hits his irons so well and it looks effortless,” Jones said.