Ash Barty to take on Michael Phelps in star-studded golf exhibition event, new career to follow?

Four weeks after retiring from tennis while atop the world rankings, Australian hero lines up against Olympic swimming great in Icons Series matchplay tournament in New Jersey in June.

By Rory Jiwani
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Weeks after stunning the world by retiring from tennis, Ash Barty is switching her focus to golf.

The three-time Grand Slam title winner will play in an Icons Series event at Liberty National in New Jersey on 30 June and 1 July for a Rest of the World team captained by South African major champion Ernie Els.

She will be joined by Manchester City manager and Olympic gold medallist Pep Guardiola, England football captain Harry Kane, and Mexican boxing megastar Canelo Alvarez with the remaining eight players to be revealed in due course.

The first four names in Fred Couples' USA lineup are the most successful Olympic athlete in history, Michael Phelps, former NFL stars Michael Strahan and Ben Roethlisberger, and boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya who, like Guardiola, won Olympic gold at Barcelona 1992.

And Barty has plenty of golfing pedigree behind her, winning an amateur tournament in 2020 while on top of the tennis world rankings. Her father Robert also represented Australia as an amateur golfer.

She told the Sydney Morning Herald she was keen to bring the Icons Series to Australia, adding, "I hope through my participation in the series that we can encourage more women and girls to participate in golf around the world.

"It’s such a unique opportunity to have fun, test yourself and compete against the world’s greatest athletes in a sport that we are all so passionate about. I can’t wait to experience Liberty National and learn from our iconic captain, Ernie Els."

A third sport for Barty?

Barty quit tennis for the first time while still a teenager after the 2014 US Open.

She switched to cricket and impressive performances for Western Suburbs saw her picked for Brisbane Heat in the inaugural Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) featuring some of the best players in the world.

Barty was far from disgraced, scoring 39 off 27 balls in her WBBL debut, but opted to return to tennis early in 2016.

Three Grand Slam titles and the world number one ranking followed before the Queenslander, who turns 26 this month, announced her shock retirement in March.

Last week, she was cheering on her good friend Stephanie Gilmore at Bells Beach where another former surfing world champion, Mick Fanning, made a popular comeback.

Now Barty is turning her attention to golf having previously shown considerable ability.

Tiger Woods was wowed when seeing her take a shot at a media day ahead of the 2019 Presidents Cup in Melbourne, saying, "She's got a great swing, are you kidding me?"

When she pulled out of the defence of her French Open title in 2020 due to the pandemic, Barty - who plays off a handicap of four - won the women's club championship at Brookwater Golf Club near Brisbane.

She and fiance Garry Kissick - a PGA trainee professional himself - are currently building a home next to Brookwater, according to Golf Monthly, and she won another tournament there just a couple of weeks ago.

Barty and Kissick first met in 2016... while playing golf at Brookwater.

Australian great Karrie Webb has played with Barty and says her fellow Queenslander has everything required to reach the highest level, but that the travel demands - which contributed to her retirement from tennis - might prevent her trying to make the LPGA Tour.

The seven-time major winner and Hall of Famer told AAP, "I messaged her when she announced her retirement and said I hope that means we get to play some more golf together.

"I wouldn't put it past her to be Australian Amateur champion one day – I can see her working on her game and being good enough to be one of the best players in Australia, for sure."

And with Brisbane hosting the Olympic Games in 2032, it would not take a huge stretch of the imagination to see Barty making a second Games appearance after winning mixed doubles bronze with John Peers at Tokyo 2020.

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