Yevgeny Kafelnikov is yet to reach the same heights with a golf club that he did with a tennis racket in his hand, but the former World Number One is determined to use his high profile to boost golf’s popularity, both in his homeland and in Kazakhstan.
Kafelnikov is teeing up under a sponsor’s invitation at this week’s Kazakhstan Open, before returning to his native Moscow to compete in next week’s M2M Russian Challenge Cup.
The winner of two Grand Slam titles readily admits that his transition from professional tennis to golf has not been as smooth as he would have wished, but he feels rightly proud of fulfilling an important ambassadorial role in bringing golf to wider public attention.
Kafelnikov missed the cut in his only previous visit the Kazakhstan Open 12 months ago, but his appearance alone brought added exposure to the €400,000 event.
However, the 37 year – who dabbled briefly in the world of professional poker – still retains a keen competitive edge and a professional pride which he believes will serve him well, both this week and next.
He said: “I take my golf very seriously – it’s my life, it’s what I do for a living now. I feel very proud to play here this week and in Russia next week, and I really want to improve my results. Playing with some of the best young players in the world on the Challenge Tour can only help improve my game, so hopefully I’ll be a better player after these next two weeks.
“If I wasn’t an ambitious person, I would never have achieved what I did in tennis. I haven’t realised my potential in golf yet, but I’m relatively young and still fairly new to the professional game, so if I keep working hard I’m sure my results will get better and better. I feel like I should be up near the top of the leaderboard, but I have to be realistic because the standard on the Challenge Tour is very high. My first goal is obviously to make the cut, and then take it from there.
“That is my personal aim, and from a wider view I want to help make golf more popular and more accessible to people in Russia and Kazakhstan, particularly young people. If I can do that, then I will feel that I’ve made a difference.”