Former Premier League star Peter Odemwingie is hoping to retain his clinical finishing as he transitions from football into a professional golf career, writes Robson McCallister.
The former West Brom and Stoke City striker, who retired two years ago, was a late starter when it came to his new found love but he’s wasting no time in getting up to speed.
And while he admits he hasn’t yet quite mastered finding the greens as easily as he did finding the net during a six-year stint among English football’s elite, he’s enjoying the challenge.
“I still feel nerves on the first tee,” revealed Odemwingie, 39.
“Guys say ‘you’ve played in front of thousands of people every week, why are you nervous of a tee shot?’.
“This is a totally different sport to me, I’m not a master of it.
“Like when I was a young footballer, it’s later on when you become comfortable with it.
“Golf for me is like when I was a young kid, it gives me that buzz.
“I hold nice pots under pressure, won a few events in my club.
“Playing alright and making a few birdies on the pro events, but still making some mistakes, for now.”
Hearing about the sport from his teammates whilst at West Brom, Odemwingie has admitted he wasn’t initially enamoured by golf.
“I saw the boys when we had days off from training,” he said.
“They would come already in golf clothes and would talk about the game with a lot of excitement.
“I thought about it.
“I never played it, I never tried it but I heard about its value.
“One day we were in America, Roy Hodgson had taken us for pre-season during his final season and the putting green and driving range was directly behind our rooms.
“I saw the boys hitting golf and I was that uninterested in golf that I was wearing slippers.
“I just walked down and I remember Simon Cox and a few of the guys hitting golf so I thought ‘let me try and hit a few’.
“I hit a few balls and I didn’t get anything. I didn’t hit them well enough probably, I don’t remember but just nothing happened there for me.”
It would eventually be on holiday in Turkey where Odemwingie would kickstart his journey into the sport.
Odemwingie explains: “I had a lesson with a coach. After that lesson, I was like ‘wow, this game is actually for me’, and I fell in love with it.”
Now a PGA Assistant Professional with a handicap of 3, Odemwingie is aware of what additional steps now need to be taken.
He said: “The next goal is to shoot four-under on five rounds out of fifteen, so that’s the next level.
“I’ll need a coach. I need to record my swings, do the proper fitting for every club, correct lie angles, everything has to be by the book.
“I’m putting all the pieces and puzzles together, and by next summer, I will have something to shout about my game.
“I want to be a playing pro more than a teaching pro, at the moment.”
Golf, like so many other sports, is currently without the attendance of fans since the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rory McIlroy has admitted it’s “easy to lose focus” whilst playing on the PGA tour without fans and Odemwingie can relate from his days as a footballer.
“You have a showman in you,” he said. “You’re there to entertain people with quality golf.
“If you asked in my career: friendly games, pre-season games, it’s easier to upset me there than not.
“If someone’s play is off or is being a bit silly in a friendly game, I would get upset easily.
“Matchday, full stadium, I’m a different person.
“I can be more patient, be more goal-orientated, I was a different person when the fans were at the stadium.
“Anytime there was a lack of fans in the stadium, for me, it was a signal the game was not as important.
“I think I would have struggled in this time as a footballer, and as a golfer.”
From his days as a footballer, Odemwingie is most known for his spell at West Brom where he still holds the record for the most Premier League goals (30) for the club.
Now that the West Midlands club is back in the top flight, Odemwingie is happy for the club but well aware of the challenges that lie ahead.
He said: “It will be a test because Premier League defenders are cleverer, more faster, more stronger.
“There is more at stake for them in staying up, there is a different pressure for them to deal with.
“West Brom is a team that was known as the up-and-down team, but there was a good run from 2010-2018.
“Of course it’s great they reached the Premier League, we want to be in the best league in the country.
“We’re celebrating, obviously.”
The transition into football coaching is also something not ruled out with Odemwingie noting how studying Professional Golf Studies at the University of Birmingham could pave the way into football.
“I learn sports science, nutrition, man-management, the social part, it teaches me a lot, so then I’m more ready for a coaching job in football.
“If I’m doing well as a golf coach, I might stick to it, but I think there’s something in me for football as well.
“I know the game, I know good players, the weaknesses of defence lines, a few runs, a few little tricks to add some goals.
“I’m lucky to have learned from guys like Claude Puel, Roy Hodgson, Roberto Di Matteo, Mark Hughes who was a striker, I’ve been blessed to have been able to learn from top coaches.”
If the former Nigerian international footballer does stick to golf coaching, there is also an additional incentive for Odemwingie.
“My aim is to become a coach and open a golf academy in Nigeria.
“It’s an Olympic event now, I want to see if I can be part of any Nigerian golfer in the future that will be at the Olympic Games.
“I will be his coach, his caddy, or anything.
“It can be a pathway for people from a poorer environment, that’s part of the plan.”
As of right now, the plan is still to progress as a pro with Odemwingie recently breaking new ground on the golf course: “I played a few days ago on links, which is something new for me.
“I played alright, part of the plan over the next few years is to participate in as many pro events as I can, especially on links, something I’m not used to.
“Just gaining experience, learning to play with the wind, I felt comfortable.
“That’s what I’m looking for, to feel comfortable to tee off on the first tee and every tee shot”.
As golf starts to reopen its tours, it will help provide Odemwingie with more minutes on the green over the coming months.
Where are you sunshine ☀️? ⛳️ Cant wait for the golfing season to start in the UK. Even the amateur swing looked decent two years ago. #hedriveshowhewants coach @jakhamblettgolf will fix the short game 😀. Not the putting though 🤣. @richard_ohanlon can have that side 🤓⛳️ pic.twitter.com/sURLcIKOin— Peter Odemwingie (@OdemwingieP) February 24, 2020
“There will be a few more in the Jamega Tour, I played one event on the Clutch Tour, there is TP Tour. Those lay the foundations for upcoming golfers.
“The TP Tour has more mature golfers playing in it so that’s good, so I don’t look like an old boy playing on it.”
Retaining the desire he had when playing football, Odemwingie will now be hoping to be known for his shots on the green, as well as those on the football pitch.