Craig Kieswetter is living his dream as a pro golfer three years after horror eye injury forced him to quit cricket


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WHEN England won their only global cricket trophy, the World T20 of 2010, Craig Kieswetter was man of the match.

So there’s little wonder that, when he embarked on his second career in pro sport, he  felt like he was “taking the p***” and really ought to knuckle down and find a proper job instead.

Craig Kieswetter feels his new career in golf is on course – after injury curtailed his county and international cricket career

For most men, having your face rearranged by a 90mph bouncer —   as Kieswetter did when batting for Somerset against Northants in 2014 —  would never be seen as a chance for a new sporting adventure.

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But after retiring at 27, having conceded  permanent problems with his eyesight would never allow him to play internationally again, the former wicketkeeper-batsman is now three tournaments into his  life as a pro golfer.

Just by winning a card on the third-tier MENA Tour in Asia and North Africa,  Kieswetter, 29, says he has fulfilled his initial golfing ambition —  after a journey which started with a trip to see legendary coach David Leadbetter.

Over  breakfast near his home in the capital, the South African-born Londoner said: “As a  cricketer, I was a good amateur golfer, playing off  two or three.

“But it was never my idea to go pro. After retiring from cricket I went back to see family in Cape Town and was feeling a bit lost, not knowing what to do.

“For 26 years all I’d wanted to do was be a pro cricketer. My old man said, ‘You love golf, go to the States, travel around Florida and have fun’.

Craig Kieswetter has only been a pro golfer for three years after quitting his high-hitting cricket career

Craig Kieswetter has only been a pro golfer for three years after quitting cricket

“There, I had a few lessons with Leadbetter,  who was pretty much the first proper golf coach with Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Justin Rose and so many top players.

“He’s Zimbabwean-English and loves cricket so we had a lot of  common ground and hit it off. He asked, ‘Are you looking to progress in golf?’ and I said, ‘Not really’.

“But he said, ‘There is so much potential to turn you into a professional golfer’. I said, ‘That’s cool’ but thought, ‘This guy’s clearly trying to blow smoke up my a**e’.

“But my mum, dad and brother said, ‘If he’s saying that, then give it a go’.

“I was just thinking, ‘Look, I’ve had one career in professional sport, two would be taking the p***. I have got to start living a normal life and earn an honest income’.”

Craig Kieswetter had to returen from top-level cricket when his vision was damaged with this injury

Ex-Somerset star Craig Kieswetter had to retire from top-level cricket when his vision was damaged with this injury

But after performing well in  amateur tournaments, then making top-ten finishes as an amateur in professional  events, Kieswetter went through qualifying school to earn his MENA Tour card.

Since then, he  has made the cut twice in three tournaments ahead of  competing  in Thailand next month.

Kieswetter, whose home club is Wisley in Surrey, said: “Getting on the European Tour is a long way away. It’s taken me 18 months to get a tour card but who knows? I’d love to do that.

“I am living my second dream and I want to make the most of it.

“I’m a little behind most players in golfing experience but  leagues ahead in dealing with the pressure of professional sport. I had to make a birdie on the 18th to make a cut in Morocco and did it. It helped  I am aware of how my body reacts to the pressure.

Craig Kieswetter was a major star behind the wicket and with bat for England in limited-overs cricket

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Craig Kieswetter shone behind the wicket and with bat in limited-overs cricket

“Now I must learn to play tournament golf consistently —  it’s like playing a Test match, gradually building an innings to score a century.”

Kieswetter started playing golf as a kid, combining it with cricket, athletics and hockey —   all of which he played to State level in South Africa.

He kept up the golf during his cricketing days, regularly having a whack with Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood and bowling coach David Saker on England tours.

And when he enjoyed his finest hour in the Caribbean under Collingwood’s captaincy at the World T20, that  tour consisted largely of “practice, then beach, then golf, then rum”.

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But when he quit cricket after what had seemed a reasonably successful comeback from that David Willey bouncer, Kieswetter admits to a  certain bitterness which has, however,  faded with time.

He is open and engaging when we talk, while admitting that he didn’t always show the same traits when dealing with the media as a cricketer.

He said: “I was bitter with the  hierarchy and the system.

“I felt I was pigeon-holed as a one-day player and also as a ‘South  African’ and that got on my nerves.

“I wasn’t like most of the other South African-born guys, I’d spent pretty much half of my childhood in the UK but I was thrown into the same category as the other guys.

Craig Kieswetter is a respected pro and has already achieved the first phase of his golfing dream

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Craig Kieswetter is a respected pro and achieved the first phase of his dream

“Then for two or three years, I felt I was banging down the door of the Test team and wasn’t getting a chance. I was bitter but I grew up and got over it and now look back on my cricket career with pride.”

After suffering his horrific injury —  which required plastic surgery and left him with restricted vision in his right eye —  Kieswetter  could, though, still have continued playing County  Championship cricket.

But he said: “I signed for the Warriors, the Port Elizabeth T20 franchise and realised my sight wasn’t right.

“In the day I was fine as long as the sight screens were OK but as soon as it got to dusk, I couldn’t see the ball in the glare of the lights.

“That inevitably brought more doubt into my mind. I realised my one-day career was done.

“I could have carried on,  had a county career, averaged 40 and been vice-captain of Somerset but that wasn’t what drove me. I said something about ‘mediocre cricketers’ that got taken out of context at the time. I didn’t mean it in a disrespectful way.

“I simply didn’t want to just be a county cricketer and I knew deep down my vision wasn’t good enough to get back in the England team.

“I was still young so it was quite tough. I’d achieved a lot but I’d have loved to have played Test cricket, played in an Ashes.

“Yet I was fortunate to win a World Cup, be man of the match, I had a great ride. And the injury could have been a lot worse.

“We know what happened to Phil Hughes (the Australia batsman who died after being struck by a short-pitched ball) and Mark Boucher (the South African keeper who retired after a serious eye injury).  I was able to pull the plug and walk away.” Kieswetter recently attended a  Lord’s dinner for every former England player, thrown by his old golfing partner Strauss, who is now national director of cricket.

And he admits he occasionally misses the camaraderie of team sport.

He said: “The hardest part of individual sport is between tournaments.

“After you’ve been used to p***ing around with your mates and playing cards on the bus for so many years, you spend a lot of time on your own.

“But I am preparing every bit as professionally as I did in cricket.

“If I don’t make it any further it will be because I just wasn’t good enough —  and I can sleep with that.

“I just couldn’t cope with the idea I could have done something more . . . ”

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