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Murdo MacLeod: 'I just used to have a hit until I got a football out'

There are many times on a golf course when you peer forlornly through anguished eyes at a small, dimpled ball bounding alarmingly towards a grisly swathe of uncharted territory and ask:

Murdo MacLeod hits an iron shot at the John Hartson Foundation Celebrity Golf Day as Frank McAvennie looks on. Picture: SNS
Murdo MacLeod hits an iron shot at the John Hartson Foundation Celebrity Golf Day as Frank McAvennie looks on. Picture: SNS

"what the hell am I doing?"

A hook here, a slice there, a skittery duff goodness-knows-where? It's all part of the rich tapestry of this bewildering pursuit. Amid the thrashing, swiping and grunting that can lead to some quite devastating outcomes, there are fleeting moments of sanity: those reassuring instances when the mind remains focused, the swing is smooth, the head stays down and the ball soars majestically after a "thwack" that finally rouses the dulled senses. It may take until the 18th fairway in a round of seemingly unrelenting misery to achieve such a sensation but, as Murdo MacLeod says in a sentiment that all club golfers will testify to: "there's never a day when every shot is bad; there's always a good shot somewhere, there's something to cling to, and that one shot brings you back."

As he clambers up his 50s, MacLeod's passion and enthusiasm for this Royal & Ancient game continues to grow ever more fervent.

"My first recollections are as a wee boy, maybe seven or eight years old, and I would have a wooden club and go out into the park in front of the house and hit some balls," recalled the former Celtic and Scotland midfield powerhouse.

"That was just for 10 minutes though until I got a football out. I went to Celtic and we'd have four or five charity golf days to play in. That's all I'd do, though. It wasn't until I was in my 30s that I really got the bug and over the last 10 years it's accelerated. I just love the game."

Like many sportsmen, the ingrained competitive instinct remains and a few hours on the fairways and greens can certainly help fill a void. "You can't play football forever and, yes, you maybe do miss the competition," he suggests. "On the course I'm fairly steady. I usually hit a driver up the middle, the short game is ok.

"On my day, I'm tidy . . . and I'm happy with that. I don't thrash it around, I don't lose many balls, I keep the ball in play and I keep fighting, I don't give up. If I have a chance of half from 100 yards I'll still fancy it. It's the battling spirit. That never changes. Whatever sport you were in, you never lose that sense of competition."

With his game in full swing, MacLeod's increasingly frequent golfing outings were brought shuddering to a halt in early 2010 when he underwent heart surgery. "I was basically cut down the middle and from January to April I wasn't allowed to play," said the 55-year-old. "They said I might not play golf again but there were genuine concerns that I might not have been here at all. Once I was back on my feet and better, my aim was to play my first game of golf. It was a very weird day. We started on the back nine at Killermont. It was strange going out and hitting a ball.

"I don't know how to describe the feeling. It was a big day for me; a strange day but a very special one."

A handy nine-handicapper at the Carrick, the Loch Lomondside course near his Helensburgh home, MacLeod tries to shoehorn in as much golf as he can. A regular face at charity days, he will stride out in his own backyard next month when the John Hartson Foundation stages its own fundraising hit about on the bonnie banks. It's not a bad old life.

"I've been lucky to play around the world but standing on the first tee of some of Scotland's Open venues is a big thrill," he said. "For me, Turnberry is awesome.

"It's maybe not as good as walking out at Parkhead mind you. I was better at football than I am at golf . . . but I'm still trying to get better."

That's what keeps people coming back, after all.

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