ABU DHABI, January 18 – Surf met turf when the world’s top-ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy, swapped tales and compared lifestyles with Volvo Ocean Race skipper Ian Walker of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing nearly 3,000 miles away via satellite link (watch the full exchange here).
McIlroy had just finished his third-round 71 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi GC on Saturday to lie eight shots behind runaway leader Martin Kaymer.He knew he faced a very uphill task to catch his Ryder Cup teammate from Germany and fellow Brit Walker has a similar challenge in third place in Leg 3 of the world’s leading round-the-world sailing race to overhaul pace-setters, Dongfeng Race Team.
Walker and his Emirati-backed crew are currently in joint first overall after two legs of the nine-month, 38,739-nautical mile (nm) race, which is scheduled to finish in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27.He was currently 68nm behind Dongfeng on the third stage between Abu Dhabi and Sanya, China, when he was hooked up via the Inmarsat satellite link on his boat, using onboard Cobham hardware, to speak live to McIlroy from the Bay of Bengal. The Northern Irishman teed off the chat by admitting his hopes of winning in Abu Dhabi in the European Tour event were very slim. “I think Ian and the boys have a much better chance than I do,” he said.
“I’ve met Ian a few times at this tournament – I think golf is a lot easier than these guys are doing right here. I’d much rather have my feet firmly on the ground than being out in the middle of the ocean.“It’s impressive what those guys do and what they go through, out there for weeks on end.”
Asked if he could ever see himself emulating two-time Olympic silver medalist Walker by taking up sailing, he responded: “No, I don’t think so. I have to be honest. I am much better on land than I am on water. I’ll leave that to the experts.”
Walker is a very keen golfer but conceded that his sporting talents lie elsewhere. “I play off about 20 – so it’s pretty shoddy,” he said. “But if you ever want to go sailing, Rory, you know where to find me.”
McIlroy asked Walker how he kept his motivation going during the longest top-class sporting event on the calendar which started in Alicante, Spain on October 4 last year.
“I guess it’s the same as you on the practice ground – the motivation is trying to win,” Walker responded to him.
“Today and the last few days we’ve had boats within sight of us. All the time, you’re trying to gain a few inches, a few metres and a few miles here and there.
“We do four hours on deck, Rory, four hours off, but you come up for every sail change so you get disturbed quite a lot on your off watch. So it’s busy and you just chip away at it.”
And the hardest part of the race? “We’re two weeks in now and we’ve still got about 10 days to go (of Leg 3). The hardest things are not having any fresh water showers, not having any fresh food, those are the things you miss.
“Most of the time we’re just heads down, trying to improve our performance and I guess that just like you – you’re behind, I understand, a few shots back going in to tomorrow – we’re 68 miles behind. But it only takes the other boat to slow down for a few hours and we’re into them.
“So hopefully they’ll find a few bunkers, or whatever the golf analogy is, and we’ll be able to catch them (Dongfeng) in the Strait of Malacca. It’s certainly not over yet.”
The pair, both masters of what they do, then set up one of the world’s longest ever ‘selfie’ pictures together via the wonders of satellite connection some 3,000nm apart.