Ash Barty has agreed to play in a huge global golf tournament which will be televised live in Australia and feature some of the biggest names in world sport.
The news comes after she wowed onlookers in a secret golf practice session during last year’s US Open and won a women’s tournament held in Queensland in April.
Captained by two golfing superstars, some of the world’s most iconic athletes will battle it out in the new Icons Series — a nine-hole team match-play tournament at the prestigious Liberty National Golf Club, New Jersey from June 30-July 1.
They’ll all face Team USA, which will be skippered by former world No.1 and US Masters winner Fred Couples and features Olympic swimming record holder Michael Phelps, boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya and former NFL stars Michael Strahan and Ben Roethlisberger.
Speaking exclusively to Sportsmail, Els said: ‘They’re (fans) going to see some familiar faces in an unfamiliar role, so that’ll be interesting!
“But these guys are used to performing under pressure so I have faith they’ll rise to the challenge and we’ll see some good golf out there.
“The matches will be competitive, but played in the right spirit. It’s going to be fun to be a part of and definitely fun to watch.”
The teams will feature 14 athletes each with the full line-ups set to be released in the coming weeks.
The reigning Australian Open champion is a talented golfer who has impressed some of the sport’s biggest names.
Former world No.5 Ian Poulter was blown away by Barty’s swing when she took to the driving range with him at last year’s US Open.
Ian said, “Just hit a few balls and we’ll see how you go,’’ Icons series chief executive Thomas Brookes told the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘She hit this ball, I don’t know how far. And he turned around and said, “You’re having me on. Let’s just take it a bit deeper. Can you do me a high fade?” And she did a high fade.
Then he said, “Can you do me a low draw?” And she did a low draw.
‘He said, “Oh my goodness, you are something else.”’
And golf legend Tiger Woods said, ‘She’s got a great swing, are you kidding me?’ when Barty hit a wedge shot in front of him at an exhibition event along Melbourne’s Yarra River in 2020.
The Queenslander took out the ladies competition at the Brookwater Golf and Country Club on Brisbane’s south-western outskirts in April, after winning the course’s women’s club championship in 2020.
Barty shocked the sporting world by retiring from tennis aged just 25 last month, six months after claiming the 2021 Wimbledon title.
She grabbed the world No.1 spot on June 24, 2019, and never relinquished it with high finishes in Grand Slams for the next two and a half years.
Barty fought back tears as she made the bombshell announcement, saying she was physically and emotionally “spent”.
“It’s the first time I’ve said it out loud, so it’s hard to say but I’m so happy and I’m so ready,’ she explained in the video.
“I know I’ve done this before but in a very different feeling and I’m so grateful of what tennis has given me, all of my dreams plus more but I know the time is right now for me to step away and to put the rackets down.”
Barty earned US$23.8 million (AU$37.75 million) in prize money and millions more in sponsorships, making her the 14th best-paid female player in history.
She made US$3 million from endorsements last year and was the eighth-highest paid female athlete in 2021, pocketing US$6.9 million, according to Forbes.
Her total career earnings are estimated to be around the US$53 million-mark (AU$70 million).
Barty said she was considering retirement for a while and had a ‘gut feeling’ achieving her childhood dream of winning Wimbledon last year.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I’ve had a lot of incredible moments in my career that have been pivotal moments,’ she said.
“I’ve had a lot of incredible moments in my career that have been pivotal moments. And Wimbledon last year changed a lot for me as a person and for me as an athlete when you work so hard, your whole life for one goal, and I’ve been able to share that with so many incredible people.
“But to be able to win Wimbledon, which was my dream — the one, true dream I wanted in tennis — that really changed my perspective. I just had that gut feeling after Wimbledon and had spoken to my team quite a lot about it.
“There was just a little part of me that wasn’t quite satisfied, wasn’t quite fulfilled. And then came the challenge of the Australian Open.
“That for me just feels like the perfect way to celebrate what an amazing journey my tennis career has been.
“As a person, this is what I want. I want to chase after some other dreams that I’ve always wanted to do, and always had that really healthy balance, but I’m really, really excited.” — MailOnline.