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Meet Rob Hogan, the Irishman who is faster than Bernard Lagat

The Wicklow native claimed won the speed golf World Championships last weekend.

Rob Hogan with his World Championship.
Rob Hogan with his World Championship.
Image: Siobhán Kavanagh

“IT FEELS GREAT” is the reply from Rob Hogan when I ask him how it feels to be regarded as the best in the world. The Wicklow native — who now lives in Galway — was last week crowned Speed Golf world champion at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon.

But what exactly is speed golf?

“Well, put simply, speed golf is a combination of the time it takes to go around the course and your round score,” says Hogan, “so the example I’d give is that a round of 100 in one hour and 40 minutes is a speed golf score of 200.”

Hogan though, shoots much better scores than 200. Indeed, his combined score for both rounds at the World Championships last weekend was 236.55, nearly six minutes clear of the rest of the field. On Saturday the PGA Tour pro shot a 77 in 39:31 and followed it up with a 79 in 41:24 on Sunday to claim the crown.

“There are advantages to being really fast, but there are even more to playing good golf and picking really good golf shots,” he says. “A really good golfer can get out and train to become a quicker runner but it’s much more difficult for a quick runner to become a better golfer.”

This turned out to be the case for Bernard Lagat during the World Championships. The former 5000m world champion was one of the competitors at the event, alongside former 1500m Olympic silver medallist Nick Willis from New Zealand.

imageLagat and Willis racing against each other.
Image: Henny Ray Abrams/AP/Press Association Images

“Lagat is a beginner golfer and while he was unbelievable to watch when he was running, his golf just isn’t there yet. Willis is a different matter. I think he’s a seven handicapper so he’s a good golfer and an unbelievable runner so he was a dark horse before the tournament and after the first round he was lying sixth.”

Sadly for Willis, he finished down the field in 13th, a second round 97 putting paid to his chances of glory.

Taking up speed golf

The sport of speed golf is said to have started in 1979 when the American middle distance runner Steve Scott — who once posted a 3:47 mile — shot a 95 in just 29 minutes, 30 seconds using only a three-iron.

Towards the start of the new millennium, Tim Scott, Christopher Smith and Jim Kosciolek founded the company Speed Golf International to promote faster and better golf. It was SGI that caught Hogan’s attention:

“I’d read about the founder of Speed Golf International — who organise tournaments — and it was something that immediately appealed to me and so around that time (2008/09) I held a couple of exhibitions in front of people to raise a few bob for charity.

“My background is golf, but I played a load of soccer and tennis as a youngster and kept going with a bit of running here and there so it was a good fit.”

However, at the 2012 World Championships, Hogan realised he didn’t have the fitness required to take on the world’s best.

“Last year, I realised I needed to improve my running so I started training with Craughwell Athletic club in Galway. I hadn’t been in the condition I needed to be to do the times I ran so, on the greens, I wasn’t able to operate properly with where my heart rate was.

“I was more confident in my golf this year but a big part of winning was that I was much fitter so I was able to run the times I wanted and keep my concentration.”

An added bonus for Hogan has been that his regular golf game — what he refers to as “slow golf” — has improved along with his speed golf.

“I found that, even though I don’t play tournament golf any more, just with my dad and friends, it has improved my slow golf game. I guess I came to the realisation that spending 30 seconds over the ball was as good as 90 seconds as it doesn’t allow any doubts to creep in.”

As the profile of speed golf continues to rise, the scores being shot by the world’s best players continue to fall and Hogan is in no doubt he’ll have his work cut out defend his title in 2014.

“The standard is improving and speed golfers are getting better so I’m just looking forward to training harder and seeing where that takes me.”

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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