Kelly Slater, who has dominated pro surfing over the past two decades and has been referred to as the Tiger Woods of his sport, might be considering pro golf as a second career.
It’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. Slater, who will turn 40 in February, is a two-handicap golfer who won a remarkable 11 world surfing titles with a blend of sheer talent, physical and mental toughness, and fierce determination. He has been recognized by many as one of this era’s top athletes.
Most realistically, for Slater, would be the PGA Champions Tour, for golfers 50 and older, though as a non-established player he might have to wait until he’s 55 to qualify.
He’d have 10-15 years, then, to hone his game if he retires from competitive surfing after the season-ending contest, the Billabong Pipe Masters, which is underway at the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore.
The surfer, who is famously coy about future plans, was quoted in a Reuters story this week as saying, “I like golf, I love it, I work hard on it and actually I’d like to become…”
The conversation between Slater and author Will Swanton but that’s more than he usually offers about his surfing career at the end of each season.
But Slater is as passionate about golf as he is about surfing, and the Floridian has tested his game against PGA Tour golfers. He has played twice in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and twice he beat his Tour partner, Pat Perez.
Slater has strolled fairways with John Daly, Darren Clarke, Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson, which certainly served to whet his appetite.
“I do think about it,” Slater conceded. “Funnily enough, I just did an interview with the Golf Channel: they’re doing a special for Christmas and the three golfers they followed were me, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. Point is, I’m pretty entrenched in the golf community now, even if it isn’t at the competitive level yet.”
Of reaching that level he said, “There are these vague dreams in my head about it. The trouble would be the amount of time it would take to be good and confident enough.”
That’s being realistic. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of two-handicappers with unrealistic dreams of playing professionally. Slater recalled the first time he played with a pro:
“First hole, I was so nervous I sliced it so far right it was crazy. Second shot, I hit it way left into deep rough. It was a par-four. Third shot, I hacked it up to about 50 feet from the pin. I holed the 50-footer for par.”
That’s Slater. In surfing, competitors must get past several heats to make the final. Slater often dominates, but he also posses an uncanny knack for pulling out an unbelievably high score to edge his competitor on the final wave, as time expires.
That’s the equivalent of sinking a 50-foot putt to save par. It’s more about mental strength and desire than luck.
Does Slater have what it takes to play golf professionally? Maybe not, but those who know him would not bet against him.
– Top image credit: Reproduced by Permission of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Second image is courtesy of ASP/ Kirstin Scholtz. Third image is courtesy of Quiksilver