“Golf is a wonderful game.” The Ricky Maloney interview

Ricky Maloney is one of the millions of people around the world who were infected with the golf bug not long ago. He made a new effort to properly learn the game in 2013 and is now on a mission to live golf to the fullest, next to a stressful London City job and family commitments.

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Golficiency’s Alexander Rose sat down with Ricky for an interview to discuss re-engaging with golf, feelings on and off the course and how to integrate this beautiful but time consuming sport into a full family calendar.

Golficiency: Ricky, thanks for taking the time for this interview. Could you briefly describe what or who brought you to the game and what made you interested in the first place?
Ricky Maloney: I think the first time I ever played was as a teenager with my great Uncle Tom, he was a very keen golfer and I had the privilege of watching him play several times. He was in his seventies then but could still play a decent game. A cousin of mine played quite a bit too, he was very good and I was his bag man for a while, he played competitively and had designs to be a pro but suddenly, without warning,  he stopped playing.

For how long have you been playing now?
Prior to 2013 I had probably picked up a set of clubs around 10 times in my life, to say my ability was abysmal is an understatement but that did not stop me enjoying the game. For Christmas 2013 my wife bought me a second hand set of clubs and booked me 5 lessons with the local pro. I played a few rounds after those lessons with mixed results ranging from terrible to not very good. In January of this year we moved to Essex from Kent and during the summer we joined Benton Hall Golf and Country Club.

How would you describe your progress which you made so far? Comparing to other beginners that you might know, do you believe you are able to handle things better or worse than others?
I have played Benton Hall around 5 times now and my lowest total was 111, that sounds very high I know but during those 5 rounds I hit several shots which convinced me that somewhere inside is a half decent golfer waiting to get out. I’ve been very fortunate to have met Shane Diles, the head pro at Benton Hall, he teaches my two sons, Evan, 12 and Beauden, 6. Just watching them has helped me no end, my grip has changed and I am now more focussed on the follow through than I was before.

I was impressed when you told me how professional your attitude was to learn the game. You read Ben Hogan’s book on golf fundamentals multiple times for instance. What do you believe are the biggest challenges for a beginner, swing-wise?
My sons have been playing for a year and I have to say their ability excites me, they have both been selected for the junior team at Benton Hall which pleases me no end. The reason I mention this is because their first coach, Ken Light of Burnham Golf Club, instilled in them 5 basic principles for set up, his reasoning being that consistent ball striking comes from a consistent swing that comes from a consistent set up. This theory sits well with that of Ben Hogan, a great friend recommended the book to me and I wanted to be sure that I caught every detail so I read it four or five times before heading to the range and I can honestly say the difference was startling. No book or tuition can complete the picture though, I’d say I’ve probably swung the club 2000 times over the last 12 months but it’s only within the last couple of months that I have realised I was so focused on the takeaway and the swing into impact that I paid no attention to the follow through, no wonder my shots were so inconsistent, I had no control post impact.

What is your sore point in your game, something in the swing or tricky lies around the course?
I am a persistent topper of the ball and Shane informed me recently that this was because my grip is too tight so my club face, although square at impact, is way too high up the ball. Shane filmed my swing and I’m pleased to say he suggested I wasn’t a million miles away from what I should be doing. Unfortunately since that revelation I’ve been travelling with work and not picked up a club again.

Taking this from a pure swing perspective to a more general level, what do you think are the trickiest hurdles for beginners to tackle in order to start with this beautiful sport?
I’d say confidence, I think everybody on a golf course has to earn the right to be there and for me I always worry that my standard is not sufficient enough to be on the same course as a scratch golfer. In a four ball for example, if I am having a nightmare, which was common, I worry what the other guys are thinking so on my next shot I try harder, which produces an even worse shot and the situation goes from bad to worse. Golf isn’t cheap and I am conscious of spoiling a round.

Speaking of costs, what annoys you more, the club membership fees or the not-so-cheap equipment?
I’m lucky as my membership is a family affair so we can all play golf, use the gym, swimming pool facilities etc, there’s something for all of us so I don’t begrudge the fees as we definitely get our monies worth. As for equipment though, given my propensity for losing balls, I would like them to be cheaper.

What clubs do you play and why? And do you plan to adjust here or there in you bag anytime soon?
Mizuno MP54 irons, a Dunlop putter, I don’t have a driver but I tee off with a 3 wood which is an old Callaway. My wife bought them for me, second hand. For 2015 though I am going to spoil myself and buy the entire Ping G30 set, and I’ll take whatever putter Shane says I should. I’d like a Scotty Cameron or a Ping Anser.

How often do you manage to get to play? And how does a Ricky Maloney golf day usually look like? Is it more the long game that you practise or do you spend a considerable amount of time chipping and putting?
In the summer I tried to get out early on a Sunday morning so that I was back by 10am, this way my round didn’t impact the family too much. Since the boys have been training with Shane on a Saturday I tend to go round the 9 hole par 3 course after their lesson with them, this helps with my short game. My chipping and putting is very good for a generally poor player, I put a lot of time into putting.

What was your biggest personal golf moment so far?
There are two, my first ever birdie on the 350 yard par four 7th at Benton Hall, my first and last on the 18 hole course but there will be plenty more to come. The other was a golf weekend with 7 friends, our wives had plotted and treated us all to a Father’s Day gift. I played 36 holes with the same ball, I don’t know how but I played out of my skin and after that weekend I really thought I had cracked it. The next time I played, with my very first tee shot I lost that bloody ball. I should have framed it.

When you could ask for one golf related wish, what would it be?
I want to win a competition at Benton Hall, that’s a long way off but I’ll keep working at it.

The Ricky in two years, how good will he be and why?
Well I’m a realist so I’m not going to say I’ll be a scratch golfer, I’m aiming for an 18 handicap within 12 months. And 12 within 24 months. I think I can do it.

You said your kids started playing as well. How important is that for you?
It’s fantastic, watching them strike the ball so cleanly and accurately is a wonderful thing. The point of getting them into the game was so that we could have a shared interest as they grow, that and the etiquette and respect that golf teaches, that’s very good for children to learn. It just so happens that they are good, really very good. They don’t know yet but for Christmas I’ve bought them a set of Ping Moxies each. They currently use a junior Dunlop set. When testing the Pings we had them on a TrackMan and it was funny to see the pro’s face as my 6 year old consistently drove 80-100 yards straight down the middle. The older boy has driven as far as 175 yards, that’s not much less than me! I’m excited for them, golf is a wonderful game and to be able to play it well must be a wonderful thing.

We all know golf is time consuming, what advice could you give to beginners to get over job, family and other commitments and to schedule in some golf on top?
I’m lucky as I have sons, that enables me to sell the concept of ‘boys time’ to my wife, she likes that as she gets to take our 5 year old daughter on girlie shopping trips whilst the boys are at the range and on the course. That said, my daughter has her own 9 iron too, it’s a tiny thing but she has a tidy swing!

Thanks Ricky, this was a very insightful conversation. I keep my fingers crossed for your and your boys’ golf swings!

And I look forward to playing a round with you some time soon.

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