England turn to golf and a Ryder Cup hero as pressure mounts at Euro 2024


If England win Euro 2024, perhaps a little praise should be reserved for Ian Poulter.

The professional golfer, a proud Englishman and huge Arsenal supporter, linked up with the team a few days ago for some light-hearted downtime that further cemented the bond between this evolving group of players.

Golf and the England team was always going to be a topic that would feature at some stage this summer given their Blankenhain base — called Weimarer Land — is a resort with two 18-hole courses and enough room around the edges for Bukayo Saka to take centre stage.

On an activity day in the England camp — filmed and posted by their official YouTube channel — Saka was the surprise star as he nailed a shot in the one-on-one contest after some helpful tips from the 48-year-old Ryder Cup hero Poulter.

Wearing his Majesticks GC-branded T-shirt, the LIV Golf player — who is no stranger to teeing off with footballers — offered words of wisdom about the fundamentals of the golf swing as the England team was split in two (one group wearing white and the other in red) for a competitive showdown on the range.

Witnessing the togetherness of the group was heartwarming, especially as displays of golfing talent were few and far between.

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Poulter in the stands before England’s quarter-final against Switzerland (Richard Sellers/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images)

“You should just kick it,” Kyle Walker, a handy golfer, quipped to novice Trent Alexander-Arnold as the Liverpool player lined up in a mismatch alongside Eberechi Eze, who had predicted that both himself and Crystal Palace team-mate Marc Guehi would be “fighting relegation today” on the golf leaderboard.

The competitive Alexander-Arnold playfully beat himself up as he mishit shots on the range, but not quite in the same way as the 2024 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who admitted recently that part of his training routine involves hitting shots out of both the heel and toe of the club face to understand why ball-striking occasionally goes wrong.

Tom Heaton, the 38-year-old taken along with England this summer as extra support for the goalkeeping department, appeared to struggle the most, followed by Ivan Toney, who unlike in his masterful penalty-kicking routine clearly focused too much on the ball. A cack-handed approach didn’t work either.

For all the hacking that was on show, technically, there were some positives. Adam Wharton swings it smoothly, Kieran Tripper is much improved from four years ago when he “couldn’t hit a ball” according to Jordan Pickford, and Alexander-Arnold looked reasonable at setup as he executed the basics with an average posture and a decent takeaway before it went downhill from there on the follow-through, much to Jude Bellingham’s delight.

Jarrod Bowen tried to keep spirits high when Joe Gomez questioned why he couldn’t find much rhythm. “Everybody’s journey starts somewhere,” the West Ham United winger laughed.

Like in the penalty shootout win over Switzerland on Saturday, the level of encouragement for each other was clear to see. Kobbie Mainoo was cheered on as he got into the groove and Harry Kane, a three-handicapper, kickstarted the support for Saka in his moment in the spotlight. That the winger stumbled to the ground after falling over a set of clubs afterwards only enhanced his image as an uplifting presence in the group.

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At the last European Championship in 2021, it was Saka on an inflatable unicorn that drew laughter, and now here he is having a similar effect on the golf course.

“I’m impressed,” said Poulter of the group. “Some of the boys are feeling super nervous, but they did amazing.”

Like in the games room, in the hotel, or in front of the dartboard, these moments are all about team-building for England in their quest for success. Keeping the players occupied during quiet days is always one of the most difficult tasks of tournament football, alongside actually progressing.

“Back in the 1980s, you had four ways to spend your time off; you could go to the pub, the bookies, back home or play golf,” Alan Shearer told The Athletic when discussing changes to off-field hobbies generally amongst footballers.

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“Luckily I chose the golf, but maybe it’s not quite as prominent as it was previously because of the number of games players have now, or the other options they can turn to like computer games and FIFA.”

Recognised as an easy-going, low-resistance pastime, golf has slowly fallen off the radar because of the reduced interest among players. Since the old guard of Wayne Rooney, James Milner, Joe Hart, Jamie Vardy and, this summer, Harry Maguire have been replaced by younger players from a ‘PlayStation generation’, talk about the sport has decreased.

Yet in recent years, golf has become more inclusive and backed by celebrities such as Justin Bieber, DJ Khaled and stars from other sports, such as Steph Curry.

Goalkeeper Pickford also played in a pro-am before The Open last year at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, and is part of a core group who remain interested.

Pickford, Kane, Walker, Declan Rice and Aaron Ramsdale, a 15-handicapper who looked particularly excited to be playing in England colours, are the pick of the bunch.

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Rice teeing off (Eddie Keogh – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Gomez, Guehi, Conor Gallagher and Lewis Dunk were all clearly interested in learning more, even if their skill set didn’t match up to some of the others. Poulter stuck around to play additional holes with the team after the group-wide contest and looked to be heavily invested in their progress.

Every day is important as the balancing act of rest, recovery and light entertainment is tested, particularly for the nations that go deep into tournaments. Under Gareth Southgate, such adventures have become more regular, but the real swinging starts now as preparation intensifies for the semi-final with the Netherlands.

(Top photo: Eddie Keogh – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)





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