Hitting the fairway: Footgolf aims to take over the United States

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What do you have when you take the complexities of golf and match them up with the physical demands of kicking a soccer ball?

It’s called Footgolf.

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The sport dates back to the late 1920s — when it was still a concept and was known as codeball — but is now finally gaining traction on a global scale as one of the hottest up-and-coming sports, and rivaling both soccer and golf.

AFGL
AFGL

The beauty of Footgolf is that it only takes a soccer ball and a player in order to participate. The objective is straightforward. In as few kicks as possible the player must attempt to get the soccer ball into a cup with a 21-inch diameter.

Just as it is when playing golf, the lengths on most traditional Footgolf courses range from par 3 (the shortest length) to par 5 (the longest).

In the U.S., soccer has made great strides over the years at both the club and international levels, while golf has seen its share of peaks as well during the height of the Tiger Woods-Era, but American Footgolf League (AFGL) founder Roberto Balestrini believes that it is footgolf that has the potential to captivate the country moving forward.

Pro Soccer Talk recently caught up with Balestrini following the release of the Federation for International Footgolf (FIFG) international calendar which features a full-year schedule for the 2017 World Tour, similar to that of the PGA Tour.

“Soccer players retire early in life due to injuries or just because it is difficult for many of them to perform at the highest level when they’re in their late 20’s, early 30’s,” Balestrini told PST. “The AFGL has created a structure where former soccer players can get back into the spotlight playing FootGolf. In a few more years, we will see many of them taking up this sport on the professional level to continue to use their athletic skill in a new way.”

Expectations for Footgolf in the U.S. are very high despite the AFGL’s brief existence. The organization was founded in 2011 but has quickly grown to house over 500 courses throughout the U.S. in 49 states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For the time being, North Dakota is the lone state that doesn’t feature a Footgolf course.

While the AFGL’s steady growth is encouraging for Balestrini and those of the Footgolf community, the league president has his sights set on bigger goals in the future.

“The golf industry has welcomed AFGL because we’re introducing a new demographic to the industry,” Balestrini said. “Participation in golf is declining in an average of 1.3 percent per year for the past decade while soccer is increasing by over eight percent. Now golf is doing better and perhaps FootGolf have something to do with it, even in a very small percentage. We’re working on our relationship with the soccer industry now because we had to start on the golf side to initiate relationships with the golf courses to create the necessary structure for the FootGolf to be played around the country.

“There’s a lot of potential for us to work with both sides in order to get where we want to be in the future. We just have to keep working hard and over the next five years I believe we’ll be in the position we want to be at.”

In an effort to help gain more interest from traditional soccer players and supporters, the AFGL recently announced a partnership with the American Outlaws (the U.S. Men’s National Team’s biggest supporter group). The deal includes an American Outlaws-only Footgolf tournament which will be held in March in San Jose, California.

In 2016, the AFGL reported nearly 1,300 members participated in the U.S. Footgolf National Championship., however, that number is expected to double or possibly triple for the coming 12 months.

Images of the American Foot Golf, final day, at the Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, Ca., on Sunday, November 6, 2016. Photo by Rodrigo Pena
Images of the American Foot Golf, final day, at the Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, Ca., on Sunday, November 6, 2016. (Photo by Rodrigo Pena)

The current format for the AFGL is very similar to that of golf, with tournaments typically played on weekends over the course of one to sometimes three rounds, depending on the difficulty of the competition.

The country is divided into four regions — the Northeast, Midwest, South and West — with regional tournaments sporadically played throughout the calendar year in the lead up to the National Championship at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, California.

While the prize money doesn’t rival that of golf or other major sports in the U.S., several of the sport’s elite expect Footgolf to become just as profitable over the next few years.

Jordan Godfrey, one of the faces of the AFGL, believes its only a matter of time until the sport really hits its strides because of the different avenues that attract players.

“I don’t think we know how far down the line that is but with the right connections between the players and the leadership of the sport I know that we can get it there,” Godfrey told PST. “There’s huge potential that you can take from both sides, with the PGA and MLS and all of European soccer as well.

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AFGL

“You can use formats that soccer players understand as well as formats that fans of golf understand and combine the two in order to capture two large audiences. I think spectators could really enjoy watching the sport too and obviously we’d love to be living the life of the PGA Tour guys.”

Godfrey is one of many footgolfers to join the AFGL after having had a background in soccer earlier in life.

Julian Nash, a former MLS forward for the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, has also made the leap to Footgolf and seen early success during his time on the course. On the international scene, Roberto Fabian Ayala has also completed a similar route to Footgolf after having previous played for top European clubs like AC Milan and Valencia while also representing the Argentina national team.

In 2016, Sharif Khatib finished the year as the number one-ranked player on the AFGL Tour. It was his previously experience around the beautiful game that made him seek a competitive alternative once his playing days were over.

Like many others that have tried out Footgolf, Khatib became enamored with the sport immediately and has surrounded himself with it ever since.

“I grew up playing soccer my whole life and played Division I soccer in college at Loyola Marymount University,” Khatib told PST. “After I got out of college I wasn’t really playing competitive soccer anymore so I was looking for another sport to give me that adrenaline rush and something to compete in. My buddy told me about Footgolf and I was kind of intrigued by it when I first heard about it because of my soccer background and I figured it was a sport I could do well in.

“I went and played and ever since day one I’ve been in love with the sport. I felt like I had the skills to compete at the highest level so I’ve just been pursuing it over the years and been hoping to continue to get better each time I go out on the course.”

Sports are one of many channels that connect people throughout the world, and Footgolf is no different. With 35 official Footgolf federations spread across the globe, the opportunity for travel and to build relationships with players is what makes the sport’s future so attractive.

Angel Reyes — the 2016 U.S. National Championship winner — says that while his experiences domestically with Footgolf have been amazing that the sport’s opportunities to take him abroad have been not only eye-opening but a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It’s definitely a great experience with playing club back in the day,” Reyes said. “Now I play with my Footgolf club [Canyon City] and we have five or six guys that usually travel together and carpool for tournaments. Sharing hotels as well.

“It’s not just the brotherhood of the club either because you get to meet other people from Europe, South America, Asia, Oceania, Africa and many other places. You keep in touch with all these people from everywhere around the world and experience these places that I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to go to. I’m very thankful for that”

FIFA approves Simunovic switch from Croatia to Bosnia

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has approved a change of nationality for Croatia-born defender Jozo Simunovic to represent Bosnia-Herzegovina in its push to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Man City? ]

FIFA says it informed the Bosnian federation on Tuesday that its players’ status panel granted the request to change eligibility.

The 22-year-old Simunovic has Bosnian family roots but represented neighboring Croatia at youth level.

Simunovic could switch teams under FIFA rules because he never played a competitive game for Croatia’s senior team.

The Celtic player can now be selected next month in Bosnia’s squad for World Cup qualifying games away to Cyprus and Gibraltar.

Bosnia is third in its group, one point behind Greece in the runners-up spot, which can earn a playoff place.

Premier League in USA: Checking in on Manchester clubs, Spurs

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Three Premier League giants are continuing their tours in the United States of American with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all competing in the International Champions Cup.

[ MORE: Latest PL preseason news ]

Man United and Spurs have both played twice in the ICC, while Man City play their second game Stateside on Wednesday against two-time reigning champions Real Madrid.

Tottenham and Man City will face each other in Nashville on Saturday to finish up their preseason tours of the USA.

Below is a look at the latest action for Spurs, City and United.


Manchester City vs. Real Madrid – Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena

After losing to Manchester United in their opening preseason game in Houston, Texas last week, Pep Guardiola‘s men will step up their preparations against the might of Real Madrid. With Danilo and Benjamin Mendy now on board (the latter is recovering from a small injury so will not feature), plus Kyle Walker and Ederson with Bernardo Silva on a break after appearing at the Confederations Cup this summer, Pep is likely to have two new full backs and a new goalkeeper on show in this one.

[ MORE: Kylian Mbappe to Man City?

Youngster Phil Foden dazzled against Manchester United at NRG Stadium last week and should be given plenty of chances to impress in preseason. Real Madrid are without Cristiano Ronaldo for these games but Zindeine Zidane’s men still have plenty of firepower, even though their big names failed to dazzle in the penalty kick defeat to Man United over the weekend in Santa Clara, Calif. Spanish clubs do start preseason later than PL teams due to the La Liga schedule.

Guardiola coming up against Real Madrid is always a tasty affair and City will then complete their U.S. tour by facing Tottenham Hotspur in Nashville on Saturday. Real face arch-rivals Barcelona in Miami on Sunday before then facing the MLS All-Stars in Chicago on Aug. 2.


Manchester United vs. Barcelona – Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. ET at FedEx Field, Washington D.C.

In their four games Stateside this summer United have a 100 percent record and Jose Mourinho has hailed the trip as “magnificent” for preparations and a game against Barcelona the “perfect” way to end things.

After beating Man City 2-0 and then Real Madrid on PKs after a 1-1 draw, Mourinho will face a familiar foe in Barcelona and United will meet them in a repeat of the 2009 and 2011 UEFA Champions League finals.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams “dangerous” transfer deals

Mourinho will continue to rotate his team as new signings Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof have both impressed so far and the Red Devils have switched between 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations. Juan Mata and Ander Herrera will not feature after picking up knocks, while Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo remain out long-term.

Barca beat Juventus 2-1 at MetLife Stadium on Saturday with Neymar scoring twice in the first half and the Brazilian’s future is the main question for the Spanish giants as Paris Saint-Germain reportedly line up a world-record bid to sign him. Expect a packed house at FedEx Field just outside Washington as United aim to end their preseason tour of the U.S. in style.


Tottenham 2-3 AS Roma – at Red Bull Arena, New Jersey on Tuesday

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men battled back from 2-0 down to tie it up late, but then Roma scored in stoppage time to win the International Champions Cup clash.

All of the big guns started for Spurs but it was Roma who took the lead with Diego Perotti scoring from the penalty spot after a harsh handball call on Spurs’ U.S. national team youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers. Tempers flared up throughout this game as Harry Kane thought he should have had a penalty kick and then lunged into a tackle, while on the sidelines Mauricio Pochettino was close to losing his cool. Maybe that was down to some uncharacteristic lackluster defending from his side…

Roma went 2-0 up in the 70th minute when Cengiz Under finished calmly but Spurs rallied late on as substitute Vincent Janssen hit the post but fellow sub Harry Winks tapped home the rebound, then Janssen equalized in stoppage time as it looked like Tottenham would grab a draw. However, Marco Tumminello struck in the 92nd minute (despite looking to haul Kevin Wimmer to the ground in the process) to grab the win for Roma in front of a raucous RBA crowd with plenty of Tottenham fans turning out to see their team in action.

Take a look at the video highlights below from the wild friendly, while next up for Spurs is their final International Champions Cup game in Nashville against Manchester City on Saturday. Roma play Juventus on Sunday to finish up their U.S. tour.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanches to Man United; Lemar, Fabinho off

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Just 24 hours after Jose Mourinho confirmed he wanted to sign a central midfielder and a winger the names of potential signings are already starting to fly in.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams “dangerous” transfers

Renato Sanches of Bayern Munich is the latest midfielder to be linked with a move to Manchester United, according to the Independent.

The Portuguese teenager almost arrived at Old Trafford last summer but instead joined Bayern Munich before impressing in Portugal’s triumph at EURO 2016.

Despite being one of the hottest young properties in Europe Sanches found minutes hard to come by under Carlo Ancelotti and it is believed he is available for $56.1 million.

Sanches agent happens to be Jorge Mendes, the agent of Mourinho, and with the youngster clearly brimming with talent, can he become the latest Portuguese import to flourish under the Special One?

AC Milan are also said to be interested in the two-way midfielder but with United said to be chasing Nemanja Matic and Radja Nainggolan, they may be after a center mid more suited to the defensive side of the game.


It looks like Monaco are saying “enough is enough” when it comes to selling their star players from last season.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday vice president Vadim Vasilyev revealed they are in talks with Kylian Mbappe over a new contract, while Thomas Lemar and Fabinho will not follow the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko out of the exit door at the Stade Louis II.

“Fabinho and [Thomas] Lemar are essential players, they will stay with us,” Vasilyev said. “We have kept all of the key players we intended to keep.”

Vasilyev admitted that they have “important offers” for Mbappe but are hopeful he will remain a Monaco player for at least the upcoming season.

As for Fabinho and Lemar, the former was linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, while the latter was said to be on his way to Arsenal in a $60 million deal.

Fabinho can operate at right back or in central midfield and Mourinho has already said he wants to strengthen in that area of the pitch. Lemar is comfortable out wide, primarily on the left, and would add an extra cutting edge to Arsenal’s attack, especially if Alexis Sanchez was to leave this summer.

Can Monaco really stand in the way of these players as they look around and see three stars from last season bagging big money moves to Manchester City and Chelsea?

Barcelona “confident” of signing Philippe Coutinho

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Barcelona are said to be “increasingly confident” of adding Philippe Coutinho despite Liverpool’s insistence he is not for sale.

[ MORE: Coutinho agrees deal with Barca? 

Coutinho, 25, has become the main man at Anfield over the past season and although Jurgen Klopp has reaffirmed the Brazilian playmaker is not going anywhere, Sky Sports in the UK is reporting that Barca still believe a deal can be done.

The Spanish giants are said to be readying a bid of $116 million for Coutinho to test Liverpool’s resolve after an earlier bid was reportedly turned down, while reports in Spain suggest that Coutinho has already agreed personal terms with Barca over a move.

Barcelona’s push for Coutinho could suggest that Neymar’s potential world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain is edging closer, but where could Coutinho fit in at the Nou Camp?

He would be perfect as a playmaker in Ernesto Valverde’s team and with Andres Iniesta no spring chicken, Barca need to look at filling his considerable shoes long-term. Coutinho excelled last season in the PL, scoring 13 goals and adding seven assists as he battled back from a mid-season injury to help the Reds return to the UEFA Champions League.

Coutinho can either star in a central playmaking role or could be a direct replacement for Neymar if he was to leave for PSG this summer.

Just imagine Coutinho threading through passes to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez with the trio jinxing around defenders. Ahem, stop drooling.

Yet Liverpool’s stance remains clear: he is going nowhere. Klopp spoke about his future last week and confirmed he had a word with Coutinho during preseason but wouldn’t reveal the details of the chat.

Coutinho only sign a new new five-year contract in January but such have been the quality of his performances in setting the tempo of their play and delivering exceptional set pieces, plus scoring stunning long-range goals, the biggest teams on the planet are often linked with the former Inter Milan and Espanyol star.

Turning down Barcelona would be tough for any player and if the Catalan club do offer over $100 million for Coutinho then Liverpool will perhaps have to pay serious attention. When they sold Luis Suarez to Barca in 2014 there were extenuating circumstances around the deal, but Coutinho is about to enter his prime and could be the leader of Liverpool’s trophy push for many years.

If he is sold then it says plenty about their ambition to re-join Europe’s elite and would be a hammer blow for Klopp who has already struggled in the transfer market this summer as top targets Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita have yet to arrive with both valued at over $80 million by their respective clubs.

Coutinho certainly has the talent to be a star for Barcelona but the Brazilian leaving Anfield would be one of the biggest shocks of the summer. That said, does anything really surprise us anymore in this crazy transfer market?