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Why golf needs people like One Direction star Niall Horan

Ian Walton/Getty Images

When the list of celebrities lining up to hack it round Wentworth's famous West Course in the BMW PGA Championship celebrity pro-am came out, it wasn't any of the sporting royalty that demanded attention.

Brian Lara, Teddy Sheringham, Nigel Mansell, Peter Schmeichel, Kevin Pietersen, Kenny Dalglish, Tim Henman, Mike Tindall, AP McCoy ... No, they've been seen plenty of times in this very event over the years.

The name that stood out? Niall Horan.

Golf fans were introduced to the young Irish singer, one member of X-Factor uber-stars One Direction, at last month's Masters, where he caddied for Rory McIlroy during Augusta's traditional Par-3 contest. (You probably saw him hilariously falling over live on Sky Sports...)

Now a bit closer to home, Horan was promoted from bagman to player, where he joined McIlroy and former Manchester United players Paul Scholes and Phil Neville.

Wandering across the front of Wentworth's magnificent clubhouse as the sun drenched the sumptuous opening hole in breaking daylight, the size of the crowd around the first tee was impressive.

The gathering was made up of a fascinating mix of golf fans in their traditional get-up and squealing teenage girls decked out in Claire's finest Accessories, hoping to catch the eye of their idol - himself barely out of his teens.

Suddenly, Scholes was stood right next to me. One of my favourite footballers of all time. "Nervous?" I asked. "No," he replied, before gesturing towards Horan. "None of the attention will be on me." He wouldn't have it any other way.

The opening tee shot can be intimidating at the best of times. McIlroy found the fairway, Scholes and Neville did not. Horan stood over his ball and, for someone who announced 24 hours earlier that he was "absolutely bricking it", thwacked it confidently down the middle.

A few claps from the golf crowd, a few cheers from the groupies. A lone voice called out. "Good luck Niall!" He glanced back. "Cheers," he said, inciting an ear-piercing scream.

It's golf, but not as we know it.

Horan the golfer was not as bad as some might think. Sure, there were a few shots that got away from him - he almost decapitated me on two occasions - but he has a nice, smooth, relaxed swing and struck the ball well.

But he impressed most with his grasp of golf's etiquette. Respectful of his playing partners, of the course, of McIlroy. For someone who found fame and fortune so suddenly, he was remarkably grounded and a genuinely likeable young man.

Not everyone thought so, however ...

As we waited at the fourth tee for the group in front to move off the tee, I asked one of Horan's fans if they were skipping school to come and watch him play.

"Yes," she replied. "But don't tell anyone!"

For the third hole in a row, Horan dunked his ball in a bunker. But, credit where it's due, he escaped every time as he faced one of the sport's most daunting shots.

As the round went on, the crowds following the group grew and grew.

(I was politely informed by several billion One Direction fans that they are now a fourpiece since someone called Zayn Malik upped and carted.)

Horan and bandmate Harry Styles, himself a huge golf fan, might not set the world alight as players, but the sport's governing bodies could do a lot worse than to ditch their stuffy approach and sign up people like this to be ambassadors for a game that so desperately needs an injection of life.

Stick to football...

With all the attention on their playing partners from the Emerald Isle, former Old Trafford stars Scholes and Neville went about their business largely unnoticed - save from a pair of fans who had brought a bag packed with United shirts from years gone by for autographs.

Scholes was a huge disappointment. For someone so deliciously elegant on the football pitch, he just did not look at home with a golf club in his hand.

And as for Neville ...

You can't have it all, gents.