The Niall effect is real - the former One Direction singer is making hugely positive strides in our game
How Niall Horan Is Helping To Change The Game Of Golf
Niall Horan continues to be a hugely welcome addition at the top table and his latest enterprise continues to tick all the right boxes
A lot of factors have helped Tyrrell Hatton propel himself up the world rankings but one that you might not hear as much about is signing up with Modest! Golf.
When Hatton joined forces with Niall Horan and Mark McDonnell’s up-and-coming management company in the middle of 2019 he was 41st in the world, he’s now up to number six having recently been as high as fifth.
There’s a lot of talk now in the game about the ‘Niall Effect’ and his latest venture is as impressive as any.
To give it its full title the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by Modest! Golf Management in Northern Ireland is the first time an event of this format has been tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour in the northern hemisphere.
The 288-player field will be split equally between the men and women, likewise the prize pot of $2.35m, with points counting towards both the Ryder and Solheim Cup teams.
Modest! Golf and Galgorm Castle already have quite a bit of history, going back to 2016, the year the management company was founded.
In 2018 they, incredibly, helped to get over 40,000 fans through the gates which is something for a European Tour event let alone a Challenge Tour one.
“I turned up at the range and all you saw was a load of 14 to 16-year-old girls hanging around and waiting for Niall Horan,” explained Stuart Manley who was tied for second that year.
“I played Galgorm back in the day on the EuroPro and the fans have always been incredible but 2018 felt like a main tour event.
“They love their golf and it’s always one of my favourite tournaments of the year, I know the pro and the greenkeepers there and they’re such a friendly lot.”
Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson tied for seventh and would go on to sign up with Modest! later that year.
“There were grandstands and they had huge crowds, there were a lot of people around the greens and on the tee boxes and a lot of young girls and boys who were excited about Niall.”
When Horan began to get involved more with the game the lazy suggestion was that this was a bit of a plaything for the former One Direction star and a chance just to knock about the best courses with the biggest names.
The goal of Modest! couldn’t be further away from that; their fundamentals being to promote inclusivity and really focus on helping the up-and-coming talent.
They currently have 13 players on their books which include Brendan Lawlor, one of the top five disability golfers, and three women.
Another of their crop is Richard Mansell who has come through both the EuroPro and Challenge Tours in the past two seasons.
“I speak to Niall quite a bit and you will just chat about the football, he’s just very normal and that’s where he can relate to so many people and why he is so likeable,” explained the Beau Desert pro.
“Because of his love of golf nothing will go ahead ahead without him knowing about it at Modest!, he’s a massive golf fan and he loves it and he knows everything that is going on.
“He knows the work you need to put in and he just gets it. If you’ve played well you can expect a text off him when you’ve come off the course.
“We might be in different parts of the world but he will always know what is going on.
“I was playing on the EuroPro and I was with a management group that ended up folding during the season.
“I was talking to a few management groups and Mark McDonnell said they could help but they were really honest with what they could do, they weren’t looking to sign me at the time but they could help me with a couple of starts and with prizes for my golf day and that’s how the relationship started.
“I then played well and, in Mark’s words, I gave them no option but to sign me.
“They were starting with younger players and I liked that, they didn’t promise me everything and then not deliver, everything they’ve promised me has happened which doesn’t always happen.”
And like his peers Mansell has had first-hand experience of the Niall Effect, something that the R&A will also be looking to tap into this year.
“I played in the pro-am in 2019 and I was two or three groups ahead of Niall and, maybe it wasn’t on the extreme scale of Tiger at the Tour Championship in 2018 but he had so many people watching him.
“I posted a tweet to say thank you for the invite, and he retweeted it, and in the space of 10 minutes I had thousands of likes, retweets and comments and my phone absolutely blew up.
“He’s such a great front man for the company, doing it the right way by being inclusive and getting more girls involved and helping to show off the ladies’ game, and he’s giving back to the guys as well.”
The World Invitational, in this format, was due to be played in 2020 before 2020 then fell apart and the rumours went to ground.
At the launch Horan spoke brilliantly and, even in this new Zoom world, the numbers of attendees, much like the crowds at Galgorm, were very impressive.
Horan does normal very well, there’s nothing forced and it all comes from a genuine love for the game.
The European Tour’s chief executive Keith Pelley was quick to point out that you’d have to add up a lot of golfers to get to Horan’s 41 million Twitter followers.
For a bit of reference you could add up all of the world’s top 10, and throw in Tiger and Phil, and you’d still be nearly 30 million short.
“We’ve waited for a long time for this to happen, it’s huge and now it’s fully sanctioned. Keith (Pelley) was always a huge believer in Modest! Golf from day one and all the tours have been huge believers in what we can do. If we can get more women into golf we change the sport completely, you can say that about any sport but especially about golf,” explained Horan.
“These girls are as gifted and they generally don’t get the plaudits that they deserve and that’s what we’re trying to showcase, they’re so talented and they deserve all the money and the television time and this is golf trying to fulfil its potential.
“Hopefully over the years this needle will move and it will always be on a level playing field. And if I can get a couple of per cent of my followers into golf it’s a game changer – a couple of per cent of a lot of people is a lot of people.”