MICHAEL Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, has joined a world-class field of golf professionals for this week’s prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
American swimmer Phelps made history in the Olympic Aquatic Centre in London this summer when he won four gold and two silver medals to take his career total of medals won to 22, made up of 18 gold, two silver and two bronze.
In 2008 in Beijing, he famously won eight gold medals to beat the long-standing record of seven gold medals at one Olympiad held by Mark Spitz from Munich in 1972. Phelps took up golf after Beijing and is being taught to play by Tiger Woods’ old coach Hank Haney.
Phelps will join South African track star Oscar Pistorius, who runs on carbon fibre blades and this year became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. Pistorius also won two golds and a silver medal in the Paralympic Games.
Pistorius, who plays off 18 handicap, says: “It’s a real treat to play in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. I am a big golf fan and love the game. I have never played St Andrews, Carnoustie or Kingsbarns before, so playing them in a world-class event is a unique opportunity.
“There is so much history at St Andrews, every golfer longs to play there. As a South African it will be lots of fun to be playing in a tournament with other great names of the sport from my country in Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. I can’t wait to get on the first tee. When the invitation came to play, not eve n a holiday was going to stop me.”
Also in the field is Hollywood star Greg Kinnear and rock music legends Huey Lewis and Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres. And in a strong turn-out of sports stars, Phelps and Pistorius will be joined by former Olympic rowing legends Sir Matthew Pinsent and Sir Steve Redgrave, Dutch football legends Johan Cruyff and Ruud Gullit, former England player Jamie Redknapp, Scottish defender Alan Hansen, a strong team of cricketers in Sir Ian Botham, Andrew Strauss, Steve Waugh and Shane Warne and rugby’s Morné du Plessis and Gavin Hastings.
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which celebrates links golf at its finest, is played over three of the world’s best known and respected links courses – the Old Course at St Andrews, the Championship Course at Carnoustie and the highly regarded Kingsbarns Golf Links.
With a prize fund of US$5 million, the championship incorporates two separate competitions - an individual professional tournament for the world’s leading golfers and a team event in which the professionals are paired with some of the most celebrated amateur golfers which creates a unique atmosphere.
Among the pro’s who will be teeing off on Thursday are current Open champion and four-time Major winner Ernie Els, one of ten Major Championship winners in the field.
Scotland’s top golfer Paul Lawrie, winner of The Open in 1999 at Carnoustie, and fresh from playing his part in the Ryder Cup win at Medinah, will lead the home challenge for this year’s championship, along with Colin Montgomerie and Martin Laird.
Northern Ireland’s 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke, a superlative player of links golf courses, will be at St Andrews trying to win his first Alfred Dunhill Links title, while his fellow Northern Irishman, defending champion Michael Hoey, will be hoping to become the first golfer to win back-to-back titles.
Ireland’s three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington will be back to see if he can win a unique third Championship, having taken the title in 2002 and 2006, and Germany’s Martin Kaymer who won in 2010, the same year he won the USPGA Championship, will be looking for a repeat victory.
Els leads a strong South African contingent, including 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and 2011 US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, while other Major winners in the field include Americans Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel, plus New Zealand’s Michael Campbell.
The English challenge will be led by world No 4 Lee Westwood, winner in 2003, plus David Lynn, Paul Casey, Simon Dyson, winner in 2009, and Ross Fisher.
Entrance to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship will be free at all three courses on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A ticket price of £15 (concessionary £10) will be charged for the final day’s play over the Old Course on Sunday, October 2. Entry for under-16s and students is free. Tickets are available through the ticket hotline on 0844 581 4922 or at the entrance gates.