Great Britain hockey star Simon Mantell took a day off from his busy training schedule for the London 2012 Olympics this week to play a round with two team-mates over the iconic West Course at Wentworth Club, venue of the BMW PGA Championship next month.
Mantell, who plays off a handicap of nine, played alongside fellow GB hockey players Ashley Jackson and Rob Moore, both five handicappers, and was full of praise for the course.
“It looks fantastic,” he said. “The weather was good and that made it look incredible too. The fairways are in great nick, the greens are in preparation stages but generally the course looks fantastic.
“I played the West last year for the BMW PGA Championship Pro-am so it was quite different this time. I am used to playing in front of crowds as a hockey player but playing a sport that you’re not used to playing in front of crowds, it was a real different challenge.
“I loved it in the Pro-Am though and it was great to have a go on a normal quiet day this week with two other team-mates who are both extremely good golfers.
“It was funny, the last time I played with all the stands up so it was very different, especially coming down the 18th when you have the big BMW tent on the left hand side. Things are starting to be built and the BMW stand is going up so it’s exciting to see that it’s all starting to happen and it should be a great tournament this year.”
While Mantell got to watch some of the action at last year’s BMW PGA Championship, where Luke Donald took the World Number One spot for the first time in his career by beating Lee Westwood on the first play-off hole in a fascinating duel, but this year he will have more important things on his mind with the London Olympics getting ever nearer.
“I played in the Pro-Am on the Wednesday and then came back for the Sunday so I got the exciting finish last year,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’ve got a tournament over in Malaysia – the selection for that will be in the next couple of weeks and I hope to be in that. It’s one of the last tournaments before the Olympics so it’s a big one for us and hopefully it will go well.
“When it turned 2012 everyone starts thinking about how close the Olympics really is,” he continued. “The days are counting down pretty quickly now. Selection is going to be over the next month or so and the squad will be cut down from 27 to 16. Of course people are thinking about that now as well as trying to get your final preparations done for the team so it’s exciting, nerve-wrecking, everything that sport should be I suppose.”
One sport which will make its debut in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro 2016 is, of course, golf and as an avid fan of the game, Mantell is excited about the prospect of seeing the likes of Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods competing for a coveted gold medal.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how golf will pan out in the Olympics,” said the 27 year old. “It should be good fun. I hope that all of the top players play in it and make it a big event, it’s really exciting.
“I think it will be a different challenge for golfers and something I’m sure they will relish. Some of the top tennis players in the world are playing in the Olympics and it’s a different challenge because you’re playing for a team, it’s a bit more like a Ryder Cup scenario for the golfers where it’s about the team rather than as an individual.
“For hockey players it’s great to just be part of that big team; in Beijing we had 310 athletes and when other people are successful in different sports it boosts everyone and it will be great for golf to experience that too.“It would be good for the game if it did become a kind of fifth major but time will tell and if the big players are there, it should do exactly that.”