Andriy Shevchenko has returned to pro sports.
But not in football — and not to the standard of success he has been used to.
The former European player of the year is competing in his first professional golf tournament as part of the Kharkov Superior Cup in his native Ukraine, but struggled to a 12-over-par 84 in Thursday’s opening round.
“It’s a completely different game when you are under pressure, but I really enjoyed it still and so happy to be at this tournament, even if my scoring didn’t go so good. It’s a great experience for me,” Shevchenko told the European Tour website.
His playing partner, Frenchman Victor Riu, was the first-round leader in the second-tier Challenge Tour event after a sharply contrasting course-record 64.
“I am not a big fan of football so I didn’t really know much about Andriy but it was great to play with him. There were a lot of people watching,” the 28-year-old said.
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“He was great. Every time I holed a putt he shook my hand or gave me a high five. He was really pushing me on to play better and cheering me when I made birdies so that was a really big help for me.
“I did put it up on Facebook that I was playing with him and it got a lot of responses, so I knew it was a big deal!
Shevchenko, who enjoyed most of his success with Italian club AC Milan, retired from football a year ago after Ukraine co-hosted the European Championships and has since dabbled in politics.
He entered this tournament as one of several amateurs in the 130-strong field, having initially taken up golf to help ease the pressure of playing elite football.
“I come on to a golf course and turn off my phone and just walk the course and hit some balls. It’s one of the reasons why I started to play,” he said Wednesday.
“I just found this great game where you have to be focused and balanced and that’s why I like it. I like that mental balance.”
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Shevchenko did manage one birdie, but he carded a double bogey and dropped shots at 11 other holes at the Superior Golf and Spa Resort course, which is part of a luxury seven-star facility.
“To play with Victor and see him shoot a course record and play fantastic golf, I learned so much about the game from the two guys,” he said.
Shevchenko isn’t the only athlete to try his hand at pro golf following a successful career in another sport.
Former tennis No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov became Russia’s national champion in 2011 — he is also in the field this weekend in Ukraine — and eight-time grand slam tennis winner Ivan Lendl contested the Czech Open back in 1996.
After Lendl struck an 11-over-par 82 in the first round, he was quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune that it was “five times worse than playing in a Wimbledon final.”
Although similarly unlikely to make the halfway cut, and therefore miss out on the weekend action, Shevchenko is nonetheless proud to be participating in his country’s first major golf tournament.
“It’s the first event for me and also in Ukraine so it’s big for golf here,” he said. “I love golf and I’m so happy that golf is starting to pick up in Ukraine and the people are starting to invest money long term.”
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