Jamie Cullum has sights on USA in Jansen Cup challenge
PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 May 2017
Iliffe Media Ltd
Cambridge footgolf player to take on Ryder Cup-style test with Team UK
From the Kershaw League to Palm Springs, California, it has been quite a year in the footgolf life of Jamie Cullum.
It was in the spring of 2016 that the 25-year-old first tasted competition in the growing sport, and 14 months later he is heading to America with Team UK to take part in the inaugural Jansen Cup – footgolf’s version of the Ryder Cup.
The surroundings will be very different to the football pitches of Cambridgeshire, for so long the home of Cullum during his playing days with Cambridge University Press.
But it was tentative beginnings at a social event with CUP that led to Cullum catching the footgolf bug.
“One of the lads who is part of the team played it competitively,” said Cullm. “At the end of March last year, he said ‘we’ve got a competition in a couple of weeks, £25 entry, why don’t you come along and see how you get on?’.
“I played and finished 16th, and then just got the bug from there. I played about 25 or 26 tournaments last year and my last one was the European Tour Grand Final in Marrakech in December, where I was eighth.”
The lure of trying to qualify for the Jansen Cup team had been strong as Cullum sought the ranking points for end of season selection.
And that meant having to juggle playing footgolf with playing for CUP on a Saturday, but that has changed this season.
“You play tournaments in Scotland, up in Newcastle or Wales and you’d like to go down on a Saturday morning or afternoon, have a practice round on the course and then stay over and play the competition on a Sunday,” he said.
“I gave up practice rounds of footgolf to continue playing football on a Saturday but then this season, I didn’t play football at all anymore and just focused on the footgolf.
“I don’t miss it at all. I’ve never been one for enjoying all the running, so obviously footgolf suits me because you don’t do any running at all, it’s a bit more of a leisurely sport in terms of physical exertion.
“Obviously, spending my time playing footgolf and winning some money is better than shelling out £15 a week to normally get booked every week playing football!”
So what exactly is footgolf and what is the attraction?
As would probably be expected from the name, it is a hybrid sport played on traditional golf courses and follows the exact same rules, format and principle as golf, but you use your feet to kick a size five football into a 21-inch diameter hole.
“The introduction to the sport is very easy – all you need is a football and a pair of astros and you can play,” said Cullum.
“Obviously, the more competitive you want to be and the more professional the tournaments, they have a dress code.
“Everyone has to wear a polo shirt, tailored shorts, full-length socks, either Argyles or you can wear football socks if they are part of a national kit or a team kit.
“But you wouldn’t be able to wear Chelsea shorts or Chelsea socks; they wouldn’t allow that.
“It’s very easy to play. It’s a bit like golf – what separates the top players is the approach play and the putting.
“When you play football, you’re not really worried about the weight of pass because you’re just passing to someone’s feet.
“Whereas you’re trying to putt it into a hole which is 20 yards away but you’re trying to play it with dead weight so if you do miss, it stops right next to the hole for a tap in.
“There is almost a hidden world to it. Because it’s not on TV and it’s not in the mainstream media people wouldn’t realise that there is this whole competitive side to it, and they are trying to make it more and more professional every year.”
That has led to the introduction of a World Tour this year, which is in the sights of Cullum and he seems to be heading in the right direction.
He ended his first campaign ranked ninth in the UK, 22nd in Europe, and won the 9 of Herts Open and the Midlands Open.
Those performances made him first reserve for the Jansen Cup team, and when one of the players had to drop out, Cullum was selected for the trip to California from May 22 to 24.
He will be joined in the States by fellow Cambridge FootGolf Centre members Andy Peck, who is in the over-45s team, and Charlotte Gara, who is in the women’s team.
And Cullum believes that Team UK have a good chance of success.
“We’ve got an extremely strong team in the UK,” he said. “I would say we are the best country for strength in depth.
“It’s harder to win a small tournament in the UK just because of how strong the players are, than what it is to maybe win a big tournament in another country, or a big European tournament.
“It would be easier to win a big tournament in, say, France than it would be to win a small tournament in the UK just because the small tournament in the UK is going to have 50 or 60 UK players, and you’ve got 20 strong players that all on their day could win the tournament.
“Whereas in France, you’ve probably got about maybe five or six people that could win a tournament so I’m pretty confident that we will go to America and win.”