Last Friday I was a little late for singing (virtual, so at least I didn’t crash in panting and puffing, all hot and bothered).  At least nobody said, “Late, as usual” with a musical emphasis because they’d probably forgotten that even when I’m on time, I’m always late, not quite sure exactly what a beat is, incapable of coming in when I should, mostly guessing what those squiggles on the page really mean.  You can wing it on Zoom, on mute – keeping your mouth open, for instance, when you run out of breath long before the end of the note.  Everybody knows you’re kidding but they can’t prove it.  Even so, we’re all looking forward to getting together again and being found out for our fraudulent behaviour.

Helen, our lovely teacher, said, mock crossly (she can be tough but she’s hopeless at being fierce), “What time do you call this?”

I unmuted myself:  “Sorry, I’ve just been on a Zoom call with Niall Horan.”

Now, this was true but since I’d been one of dozens, there was no way Niall had noticed that I’d put in an appearance, not least because I didn’t have occasion to say anything.  As it happened that didn’t matter because my semi-boastful exaggeration fell pancake flat.  “Who’s Niall Horan,” said Helen.  “Is he a golfer?”

“He’s with a boy band,” sez I, thinking, should that be ‘was’?  What age do you stop being part of a boy band and, worse, ‘Blimey, which one is it?  Come on, you must know someone beyond The Monkees’.  A little desperate, I blurted out, “He’s got 41 million Twitter followers.”

Fortunately, that seemed to impress everybody (though it’s not easy to tell on Zoom) and, even better, out of the ether, a confident voice said, “One Direction.”  Phew, saved by a clued-up granny.

Dr Haruhisa Handa (left) with Niall Horan last year (before the pandemic and social distancing) [Getty Images]

Now, Niall is a very keen golfer, beyond fanatical really, so much so that he doesn’t just play, he’s trying to change the game, to expand its reach, promoting it madly in every direction (to hell with One, though you can’t knock its influence) through his company Modest! Golf.  He’s already working with the R and A and the latest venture has elevated the ISPS HANDA World Invitational tournament to a new level, a tri-sanctioned event with the European Tour, the LET and the LPGA at Galgorm Castle (and Massereene) in Northern Ireland.  There will be 144 women (half from the LET, half from the LPGA) and 144 men playing for a $2.35 million prize fund, split evenly.  In other words, the women and the men will be competing for two equal purses.  It’s a first for Europe but the format  has worked well at the ISPS HANDA Vic Open in Australia.

Dr Haruhisa Handa, ISPS HANDA founder and chairman, believes in using sport to “unite communities and break down barriers” and said:  “To see the tournament grow to a European Tour and LPGA sanctioned event is a testament to the importance of providing equal playing opportunities for men and women….”  He is also a passionate supporter of blind and disabled golf and has found a soulmate in Horan, who said:  “The message behind the tournament perfectly aligns with Modest! Golf’s ethos of providing opportunities for all and ensuring golf is a game for everyone….”

The dates are July 28th – August 1st, so with a bit of luck there’ll be plenty of spectators and welcome cries of “Quiet please” and “Stand still”  from caddies and players back in action in front of fans on site rather than restricted to neighbouring fields.  Last year, when Galgorm stepped in at the last minute to host the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, some of the stars of the show were not swinging clubs.

Diehard golf fans getting their fix during pandemic restrictions [Getty Images]

At least Niall is not having to sneak around trying to hide his golf addiction for fear of being scorned by his fans.  In Alice Cooper’s younger days he kept quiet about his love of golf because it wasn’t in keeping with his stage persona as the villainous wild man of rock.  The other week, on Radio 2 of all stations, he revealed that a day or two after his 73rd birthday, he shot 69!!  Let’s hope his fans understand.

Niall’s Twitter followers, mostly young females, will all have heard of golf by now – and as the man himself says, if only a tiny fraction of them become golfers, that’s an awful lot of golfers – but not all golfers have heard of Niall himself.

Later in the day I mentioned my meeting to a friend, a golfer with teenage grandchildren, and my friend said, “Who’s Niall Horan?”

“One Direction,” I said, newly clued up.

“What?  Who?”

I explained about Modest! and added the clincher, “Tyrrell Hatton is one of their men.”

“Who’s Tyrrell Hatton?”

Gulp.  “He’s the world No 5.”  (Probably changed now but correct at the time.)

“Oh.  I thought they made crisps.”

Wasn’t there a judge in the late 1960s, early 1970s who asked, “And just who are The Beatles?”…..

Brendan Lawlor in inspirational action [Modest! Golf]

Brendan Lawlor, another of Modest! Golf’s men, will be 24 on the 13th of March and he’s in the middle of walking 10 kilometres a day for 10 days, finishing on the 13th, to raise money for Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin Hospital, the country’s largest paediatric hospital.  Brendan, who is now one of the world’s leading disability golfers, was born with Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, a bone growth disorder that causes shorter limbs and says:  “If it wasn’t for the amazing staff at Crumlin Hospital, I wouldn’t be here at all….It’s a charity particularly close to my heart….

“I’m aware that it’s a tough time financially for a lot of people and although we’re trying to raise funds, even if people just take part in it, that’s all I really want.  People are at home, many are struggling mentally, a lot of young people don’t have much to do.  I just want to give people a reason to get out and get active….”

So, we still have time to get started.  Let’s get walking.

Finally, I came across this old card and thought it would come in handy – and then a friend sent me a piece quoting Rob Maxfield, chief executive of the PGA, on inclusivity (more kids, ethnic groups and, gasp, women) and mentioning that dread phrase “dress code”……Is that serendipity?