What is it about golf that beckons so many athletes, that challenges a Michael Jordan or a John Elway or the man who caught the fever with no less impact than the way he used to catch a football, Jerry Rice?
These guys have conquered their game at hand, won championships, won accolades, but they are not satisfied. They try golf, and they become obsessed with a pastime which never can be conquered, one the late George Archer, the Masters winner from San Francisco, said is like catching lightning in a bottle.
Jordan got himself down to a 3-handicap and talked about joining the Champions Tour, the seniors, but all the dunks and dribbles don’t help on those three-foot putts.
Neither do all those touchdown receptions.
As Rice, both playing in and hosting the Nationwide Tour Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae in the hills above Hayward, understands.
“For some reason, I wanted to try to hit that stationary ball and couldn’t hit it,” said Rice about his introduction maybe 20 years back when he was with the 49ers.
This summer, Jerry deservedly will be introduced as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“That’s why I got consumed by it,” he said of his golf. “I got addicted to the game. I would get up in the morning at 4 a.m., get to the driving range around 6 a.m., then get to the 49ers facility around 8:30 a.m., practice all day, then got back in the evening to hit more golf balls.”
Having turned pro, he was given an exemption into the Fresh Express, where he will be facing names such as Jason Gore, the 2005 U.S. Open hero; Jeff Brehaut of Mountain View, who led last year’s Open the first day; and former PGA Tour winners Len Mattiace, Paul Stankowski and Steve Pate.
On Tuesday, Family Day, Rice faced Peter Johnckes, who bills himself as the “Trick Shot Master.” Jerry held at shoulder height a small wooden cylinder into which was inserted a tee, upon which was a golf ball.
Johnckes, blindfolded, swung away. He couldn’t see anything. Rice probably saw his life flashing before his eyes.
No sweat. Johnckes made perfect contact with a driver. Well, maybe there was some sweat, but Jerry acted cool.
Rice showed up at Stanford Golf Course maybe 15 years ago to hit a few balls, and an undergrad named Tiger Woods asked him if he wanted a game. Jerry declined, explaining he wasn’t very good and didn’t want to embarrass himself.
“Next time,” Rice told Golf Digest magazine, “I’ll say yes.”
He said Tuesday in a conference call that he just hopes to make the cut.
“These guys are really good golfers,” Rice said. Not that anyone doubted it. Some 70 percent of the players on the PGA Tour had their start with the Nationwide, including recent major winners, Zach Johnson (2007 Masters) and Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open).
“To line up against these guys,” confirmed Rice, “I’m honored ... I can hold my own.”
Rice said he was so inspired by Phil Mickelson’s Masters win he immediately went to the range to practice.
You might call that green with jacket envy.