He may hold the title of being the second fastest Australian sprinter of all time, but Matt Shirvington admits his minigolf skills aren’t quite up to par.
“I can run in a straight line but I don’t know how well I can putt in a straight line,” the former Olympian admits.
“I think it is a patience thing, I do struggle with golf and the fact that you have to take things slowly…I tend to be faster paced than that.”
Competing in the 2000 Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games in 1998 and 2006, Shirvington’s track work has cemented him as one of our great sportsmen, but it was the chance to take on a less high-pressured sporting role that attracted him to his latest project.
Alongside American comedian Rob Riggle (of Saturday Night Live and The Hangover fame), the 42-year-old commentates the putt-putt competition series Holey Moley.
While he has a decade of sports presenting behind him — including joining 7NEWS sports desk last year — giving a play-by-play of minigolf offered a whole new challenge.
“It is a pretty niche sport when it comes to commentary,” he explains.
“It is a quiet sport, you often have to be hushed and the tension builds and then people erupt.
“Then you throw in the obstacles of Holey Moley and we are losing it, laughing at the desk, and then have to wind it back.”
Who can blame him?
He not only must explain how contestants are going against giant inflatable rubber duckies, life-sized windmills and port-a-loo doors swinging at them but when hole names such as Uranus, Fowl Play, Slip ‘n Putt and Putter Ducky are thrown in any chance of being able to take the competition seriously goes out the window.
“I finished on the first day of filming and my cheeks were so sore from laughing and I remember thinking ‘we’ve got two weeks of this and I don’t know how I am going to get through it’,” he admits.
Before he had the chance to step foot on set, he had to undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine in Brisbane — which was made more difficult once he entered his room and realised he was being tested even further.
“There was a beer garden right below my window so I would see people right outside having a great time and I had to get through that mental struggle of not being able to walk out the front door,” he laughs.
But, two weeks later, the clock struck 12.01 and as the doors flung open, a quick escape was made.
“The first place we went to was the casino actually. It was the only thing open but we needed to get out of our rooms.”
Developed by the Australian production company Eureka and spun into two hugely successful seasons in the United States, episodes of the last season of Holey Moley averaged a massive 4.5 million viewers.
Now, with nearly 50 Aussie contestants lined up to take their shot at glory, the competition begins with eight players competing in a series of head-to-head match-ups.
The winner of each episode gets to take home the “prestigious” plaid jacket and golden putter, in addition to securing a spot in the grand finale.
Although there are several current and former professional golfers ready to tee up for their chance to take out the title, no amount of experience or training can prepare the group for the obstacles standing in their way of the $100,000 prize.
Watching at home, it’s likely audiences will be on the edge of their seats eager to have a go themselves.
While the team (Shirvington, Riggle and host Sonia Kruger) did get to stand in front of the imposing obstacles, they avoided risking being knocked off their feet or catapulted into water.
“We got our hands dirty and had a couple of putts but that was really it,” he says.
While Greg “Great White Shark” Norman was initially lined up to fly to Australia from his Florida home to be resident golf pro, border closures and his own brush with COVID forced him to film his segments over there.
However, Shirvington didn’t let the distance downplay his dream of working with the golf legend.
“As someone who has been a sports fan forever, the man who is Greg Norman and the legend he carries, his ability to play and win majors and No. 1 status, it was such a privilege,” he says.
While he cracks jokes behind the desk as Shirvington tries to maintain composure and provide a run-down of the play, the most surprising revelation is that funnyman Riggle is a talented golfer himself.
“Riggle played a celebrity golfing match a few weeks back and sunk an 80-foot putt for $100,000, so he has legitimate skills,” he reveals.
“It was also quite helpful for me too since I haven’t called a lot of golf and he knew these little nuances within the game.”
While golf can get a bad rap for being less than captivating to tune in to, the sport has been given an extreme makeover.
Shirvington is hopeful the at-times craz show will draw in audiences of all ages.
“There is nothing boring about the golf you will see on Holey Moley,” he says. “It is very fast-paced and nailbiting and exciting.”
Holey Moley starts today at 7.30pm on Seven/GWN7.