British and Irish golf fans are renowned the world over for their knowledge of the game. It’s a pleasing way to be thought of, but it’s a view that is held with good reason. Because, while many other major sports can boast fans who can reel off facts and stats about their passion, few have a genuine appreciation of just how good the top performers in their sport are. Golf fans understand how skilled the pros are and realise that while they may play on the same courses and with the same equipment as them, their level of skill is such that they actually play a very different game to the rest of us.

The same can’t always be said for fans of other sports. In fact it always used to amuse me when I went to watch football matches how often fellow fans would unload a mouthful of vitriol towards the pitch that usually went along the lines of: “Smith that was rubbish. I could do better than that.” The irony of course was that most of the time the person uttering the comment was a stereotypical beer-bellied fan holding a pie, which he could barely even control.

In all my watching of elite golf, I’ve never once heard a fellow golf fan, even under their breath, describe a pro as ‘rubbish’ even when they might have hit the sort of embarrassing shot that us mere mortals are more than capable of pulling off (more than once a round).

You only have to cast your mind back 14 months to Celtic Manor when Hunter Mahan duffed his chip from the fringe of the 17th green to effectively hand Graeme McDowell the point that sealed the Ryder Cup for Europe. I’d be very surprised if even one real golf fan was thinking they could have done better in that situation. We understand the difficulty of the game and can only imagine the additional pressure a Ryder Cup puts on you.

We know that the pros are not only blessed with natural talent, but they spend a significant amount of their lives beating balls on the practice ground or working out in the gym. The flip side of knowing how talented tour pros are can make it difficult for the ordinary golfer to relate to them. The players who we seem to be able to connect with are the ones who, amidst all their talent, are ‘characters’ who have managed to retain a touch of the ordinary bloke about them.

In this issue we are delighted to be featuring exclusive interviews with three of golf’s biggest characters. Current Open champion Darren Clarke, the maverick John Daly and a popular figure from yesteryear, Brian Barnes. I’m sure that many of you, like me, are smiling at the thought of making up a fantasy fourball with those three!

The three interviews give a fascinating insight into each of their characters. I’m confident by the time you finish reading the features you’ll all feel that much closer to these incredibly talented golfers.