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Niall Horan on his new album and love of golf

Niall Horan Niall Horan - Getty Images

It has been a while since I last interviewed a musician.

In fact, it was decades ago, when I had a chance to sit down with Alice Cooper after playing 18 holes with him. So, when the boss asked if I could sit down with Niall Horan, I admitted that I was a little bit rusty. And a whole lot nervous.

For those who still have Cooper at the top of their playlists, Horan is formerly of the boy band One Direction, which had multi-platinum record sales. He’s now out on his own and racking up the same sort of sales numbers. He’s also a judge on the hit program The Voice, where his star continues to soar. Safe to say, he’s a megastar in today’s world.

Horan has the success and star power that would allow him to look down at a golf writer and wonder why he had to talk to me. Instead, he walked into the tiny boardroom somewhere in the maze that is the MuchMusic building with a wide smile. He was calm and relaxed while oozing charisma, and treated everyone in the room as if they were his best buds.

Once he learned we were going to talk golf, he was anxious to jump in. But first, we needed to do a little bit of music talk, to justify me being there.

Horan was in Toronto to promote his new album, The Show, which will be released June 9. It’s his first new work in three years and, despite his mad popularity, there are some nerves about the reception it will get. Waiting several months between the completion of the work and when it’s available to the masses only adds to the anxiety.

“I wait nervously before the release,” he said. “Especially since we have been away for a few years and not released anything. I'm a bit touchy this time. I hope it goes well. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I hope people like it as much as I do.”

The album continues Horan’s journey from boy-band pop songs to maturity. The lyrics of many of the songs reveal a depth and sense that he is ready to open up.

“I think probably when I was younger, I was probably a bit more closed off,” he admitted. “And then the older I've gotten, the less I’ve cared. You know what I mean by that in terms of not being afraid about what people think or say or whatever? I think it makes for better music as well. The more you can give to the game, I guess, and I think I've gotten better as I've grown up.”

The producers have strategically released two singles in the lead up to the full album. The first, Heaven, is about experiencing life on your own terms. Rather than following a set game plan of when to get married, when to buy a house, when to have kids, it’s important to see and do what makes you comfortable and enjoy the world in the present, on your own timetable.

Mindset, the second song, describes a feeling of anxiety and a loss of control, that can overwhelm people, even when they know it will pass. It’s something Horan has dealt with during his career.

Both songs have received strong critical and fan reaction giving the 29-year-old hope for the full album.

“I know for a fact there's a fan base out there of some sort,” he said, “but you still have to get the music right. You don't want to be releasing stuff that people are like, ‘’Oh, what's he doing here? So, I think it's definitely eased some of that nerves with how things have been received.”

When I listened to the songs there was one lyric that stood out. It’s the first line of the chorus in Heaven.

“God only knows where this could go.”

I told Horan that while I know this wasn’t a golf reference, it is something that goes through my mind when I’m standing over a ball. He laughed loudly and our conversation switched to golf.

“I think my love for golf probably just came from being Irish,” he stated. “I mean, just growing up in the island, it's like it's one of the first things you do. It's like playing hockey here. You know, it's similar type of thing. It's a much it's very accessible sport in Ireland.”

Bob Weeks Niall Horan


As his musical career took off, golf took on another role. It allowed him to escape from the hordes of fans and paparazzi who followed him every step he took. In doing so, he joined a long list of musicians who have used golf as a diversion. Everyone from the aforementioned Cooper to Justin Bieber has swung a club to pass time on the long tours that are part of their lives.

“When I first started my career, I couldn't really get out of the hotel and it was very hectic outside,” Horan said. “So, it was a way of like really getting away from the hotel, get away from the day job and get behind the gates of a golf course and just enjoy it for what it was.”

From those humble beginnings, he’s made golf a part of his planning process when setting up a tour. Where he plays his music is directly tied to where he can play his golf.

“This is not even a joke,” he said. “I'm looking at my dates and locations for my upcoming tour and I'm actually planning around golf courses where I can play. I don't want to be stuck somewhere where I can play golf.”

A few weeks back, his worlds collided as he played a set at Augusta National for the competitors in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

Horan sometimes tees it up with his good pal Rory McIlroy when they both happen to be in the same town. One of those games took place at The National Golf Club of Canada in Woodbridge, Ont.

Horan recalled that on the 18th hole, with a gaggle of members looking on from the clubhouse balcony, McIlroy said to Horan: “Watch this,” and he proceeded to hit his wedge shot three feet past the pin and spin it back into the hole. The members, naturally, went crazy.

Horan admitted that he’s never managed to get into McIlroy’s pocket. An eight handicapper, he said he’d need a lot of shots.

“Even then, I’d still need to catch him on a really bad day,” he laughed. “Basically, I’d need him to be playing with hockey sticks, not golf clubs, for me to beat him. “

Horan’s love of golf extends beyond playing. A few years ago he founded Modest Golf, a company that manages golfers and creates events. This is no small operation; among its clients are Tyrrell Hatton, Guido Migliozzi, and Leona Maguire. It’s also created the ISPS Handa World Invitational, a tournament sanctioned by the DP World Tour, the LPGA Tour, and the Ladies European Tour. The format has men and women playing on the same course at the same time for equal purses.

Horan is also an ambassador for the R&A, singing the praises of golf to all who will listen – and with 40 million Twitter followers and another 32 million on Instagram he has a lot who will hear his voice. The main thrust of his message is aimed at encouraging young women to take up the game. That’s a demographic in need of growth.

When I ask him to preach golf to a Canadian audience, he happily obliges.

“Just pick up golf clubs wherever you can get them,” he said. “Get out there and play. Play with friends play with whoever makes you feel comfortable. Get out there and hit some balls because then suddenly it's addictive. I hit my first ball in the ‘90s and never stopped. So go and play. It's the best game in the world.”

With that, Horan shook my hand, stood up and said, ‘We’ll play next time I’m in town,” before walking off to perform in front of a small audience.