Author John Richardson broke par in a year - now he's looking to break Hollywood. Padraig Coyle spoke with the self confessed 'hack' about the journey and the rewards
When suggestions are made that he has become something of a golfing guru, Bangor based writer John Richardson’s reaction is to roar with laughter. 'I’m not a guru!' he demands, adding, 'I’m not so sure how well we do gurus in Northern Ireland.'
In spite of his denials, others would beg to differ, given the huge success of Richardson’s book Dream On: One Hack Golfer’s Challenge to Break Par in a Year, published in by Blackstaff Press in 2009. The fact that this book spent seven weeks at the top of Amazon’s best selling sports books list is an indication of its popularity.
Richardson’s achievement in playing a round of golf under par within a year has given hope to many, including sports journalists like myself. Hackers who have shared his battle against the demons of bunkers, bogeys and fairway zig zagging now stride out with renewed vigour.
'I had played a little bit of golf as a teenager and was inspired by seeing Seve Ballesteros play in an Irish Open in the 1980s,' recalls Richardson of his early attraction to the sport. 'I had this dream that I could have been a contender.'
Well into adulthood, Richardson returned to that dream, in spite of advice from Dungannon professional Darren Clarke that it would take at least three years to break par.
'And Sam Torrance’s words to me were ‘Dream On’ – hence the title of the book.' reflects Richardson, who began working with professional trainer Debbie Hannah at the Blackwood golf course and played an initial controlled round of 102 shots.
'I thought I would just have to put a bit of Tiger Woods or VJ Singh discipline into this. I thought I had some ability to hit a golf ball and tweak a few things. But Debbie took it back to the very basic stance, grip, posture and take away.'
And that was it for two weeks as Richardson practiced his swing and hit thousands of golf balls. His next round was worse as he recorded a total of 104 shots. 'It took about five months to shoot a 78, but then towards the end it became a real nightmare and there were times in the last couple of weeks when I thought that it wasn’t going to happen.'
Richardson became obsessed with what he describes as the 'zen of practice' and eventually, on the 362nd day of the challenge, he broke par by one stroke at Blackwood. 'There was probably as much relief as joy,' he recalls. 'I had certain rules. The golf course needed to be more that 6000 yards and more than a par 70 for it to be credible.
'The fact that I managed to achieve it was incredibly important to me. I know that it has been of huge benefit to some people outside the golf arena, in saying to people "why don’t I give that a go again" or "it’s not too late for me to try this thing", and that's good.'
Since publication, Dream On has sold more than 12,000 copies to date, an incredible benchmark for a Northern Irish publication. The book was also longlisted for the Irish Sports Book of the Year and featured as the Independent Golf Book for 2009. Richardson's literary agents, the Bangor-based Feldstein Agency, have also helped sell the rights in the US, and recently signed an option on the film version of Richardson's inspiring story.
But what about those golfers who were less than supportive in the weeks and months that Richardson spent trying to achieve his goal?
'Most were great but the language from some keyboard warriors [online critics] was colourful to say the least,' he says. 'I would love to say I had the strength of character not to be smug, but I don’t. It’s nice to be able to say I told you so.'
Dream On is available now from our online store.