Nerd isn't a term normally associated with pop sensation Niall Horan, except perhaps when it comes to golf. One of the music industry's biggest stars—the first artist to debut at No. 1 on Billboard's Social 50 Chart with his single "This Town" late last year—the 23-year-old Irishman is crazy about the game. "Now that we've taken a break as a band," he says of his mates with One Direction, "I'm an absolute golf geek."
Though Horan's first love is music, his passion for all sports, especially golf, runs deep. "It was around the time of Tiger's domination, and I loved staying up late to watch," he said. "The Masters is the one I remember most, especially that Tiger chip-in in 2005."
It was around that time Horan joined the local golf club in his hometown, Mullingar, with a few friends. He was hooked from the beginning. So much so that when later touring he would often sneak away for a round with bandmate Harry Styles.
"My schedule has allowed me to get across to the Masters and Ryder Cup and enjoy some of the best golf events in the world firsthand," Horan says. "I've also been able to play a lot more and get my handicap down to single figures."
“I appreciate how lucky I am to be in this position.”
It helps when you can lean on pals like Rory McIlroy for lessons. The four-time major winner grew up a couple of hours away in Northern Ireland, and the two have become good friends through the game, with Horan having caddied for McIlroy in the Masters' annual Par-3 Contest in 2015.
Horan is just as serious about giving back, too. Last year, he teamed up with Justin Rose and his wife, Kate, for a charity event and sent a signed guitar to Jason Day for auction at another function.
Extending his generosity to those in need has been important to Horan throughout his career and he has been involved in a number of other charitable endeavors as well, which is why he's being honored by Golf Digest with an Arnie Award.
"I appreciate how lucky I am to be in this position," said Horan, who helped raise nearly a million pounds for Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens and the Kate and Justin Rose Foundation designed to fight childhood hunger in the United States. "From the very start of the band, we've all made an effort to give back as much as we could." Next on the radar: the Masters Tournament Foundation, which invests in development programs for golf.
He's not stopping there, either. Horan has also launched Modest! Golf Management, a boutique representation agency focused on the game's rising young talent.
"I wanted to get into supporting the next generation of golfers, and obviously I feel myself and my management company, who have a long history of looking after clients and all their needs from schedule planning to corporate deals, are very well placed to do this," he says.
"We brought in Mark McDonnell and Ian Watts, who between them have 30 years' experience in the golf industry, to assist us."
Already, they've signed two-time South African amateur champion Thriston Lawrence and Italian standout Guido Migliozzi, and hope to add about 10 more players to their stable.
"It's a fun way to get more connected to golf," Horan says. "I feel like my time growing up in the spotlight, with all the contracts we signed as a band and the media stuff we dealt with, I can help these young guys."
“I wanted to get into supporting the next generation of golfers.”