Play at the 2021 Masters is still a day away, but Patrick Mahomes is by the 16th green at Augusta, studying a delicate downhill chip. He crouches near the hole, sizing up contours, cupping his hands around his face to block the morning glare.
“I’m thinking to scoot a bump-and-run way out to the left, bank it off the hill and hope it goes down toward the hole,” he says.
No, we’re not at the Masters; not even the world’s best quarterback gets access to tee times at the National this week. This is Augusta Country Club, the Course Next Door, where Mahomes is being photographed for the cover of this magazine. It’s not even his chip; I’ve airmailed the green. The hole is meaningless. It’s a backdrop for photos and conversation. But he’s fully invested anyway, eager to coach me through an up-and-down.
Before we go further, a reminder: In the last three years, Mahomes has won an MVP, a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP. He’s signed a ten-year contract extension worth half a billion dollars. He’s gotten engaged to his college sweetheart, Brittany Matthews, and become the proud father of a newborn daughter, Sterling Skye. If Patrick Mahomes doesn’t have it all, he’s certainly in the acquisition process. And he’s 25 years old.
My chip skips over the bank and catches the slope, trundling left-to-right toward the flag, settling a respectable six feet from the hole. Mahomes lets out a yelp of approval, raising his hands as if I’ve just come down with a 40-yard touchdown grab. For a moment, I feel like I have.
Quarterbacks have played golf more or less since the invention of quarterbacks. John Brodie, the 1970 NFL MVP, had a second career on golf’s senior tour, where he won an event and racked up $735,000 in prize money. Tony Romo has played Tour events and attempted Q-School. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have spent significant chunks of the off-season on the course, fine-tuning their games and feeding their competitive appetites. But it would be tough for any of the above to match Mahomes for sheer enthusiasm.
“Golf has become a huge part of everything,” he says. “When I plan trips, when I set up my off-season, I have to figure out places to play when I’m there. I’ve got this love for golf because I have to get better, and I compete, but it’s also somewhere I can relax and have an awesome time.”
Like so many golfing sons, Mahomes got into the game as a way to spend time with his father. Pat Mahomes Sr. pitched in the big leagues from 1992 to 2003 and never missed a chance to score a spring training tee time. Sometimes Patrick would get to tag along.
“He was always betting on me,” Mahomes remembers. “He would have his buddies out there, they’d hit their drives, he’d take me to the front tees and I would hit it just as far as they did. I made him a couple bucks that way.”
As he got older, the younger Mahomes focused his energies on baseball, football and basketball. He was so good on the mound that he got drafted by the Detroit Tigers, but he went to Texas Tech in 2014 to play quarterback instead. The decision paid off; Mahomes put up video-game numbers for the Red Raiders for two and a half seasons before turning pro in 2017, joining the Chiefs and revolutionizing the quarterback position.
He rediscovered golf too.
That timing was no coincidence. Mahomes making it in the NFL meant fulfilling a dream. But it meant plenty else too: expectations. Responsibility. Endless, inescapable attention. The good kind as well as the exhausting kind. After the pandemonium of winning the Super Bowl in 2020, it was a breath of fresh air to return to the course in the summer. After the heartbreak of losing the Super Bowl in 2021, it was a welcome respite.
“I just love to be able to go relax and be away from everything on the course,” he says.
Golf didn’t come to Mahomes as easily as football or baseball. Maybe that’s what has kept him coming back. Still, he’s gotten quite good. He pummels the ball and has mostly tamed his baseball slice into a power fade. (“Except when it suddenly goes straight,” he says, shaking his head.) He has worked his way down to a 7.7 index, including a career-best 76 that he admits included double bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes.
“I get more nervous on the golf course,” he says, “than on the football field.”
At Augusta Country Club, there’s some concern from one of Mahomes’ handlers as we walk to the next hole: Travis Kelce is missing from their rental house. Mahomes laughs.
“What do you mean ‘missing’? Isn’t he just in his bed?”
A few minutes later, we get confirmation that Kelce has been found, in fact, in his bed. He’d slept through his alarm, a possible side effect of jet lag or an extended happy hour. The quarterback and the tight end are a mythical tandem on the gridiron but may be even better on a beer-pong table.
Discovered and awake, Kelce arrives at the course a few minutes later, no worse for wear and eager for their 11 a.m. tee time. “We call him a human rhino,” Mahomes says of Kelce. “He could take three tranquilizer darts and that dude won’t go down for long.”
Plenty of celebrities show up to the Masters to see and be seen, staying long enough for a photo op, a cold Azalea and a glimpse of Tiger and Phil. But Mahomes has planned his Masters Week like you’d plan yours, if you could. Wednesday, he has recruited his buddies for this game at Augusta CC. Thursday, they post up beside the No. 6 green at Augusta National, a savvy perch from which to watch the action. They’re there all day, hamming it up with fellow patrons, zipping through drinks and living every fan’s Masters dream. Friday, they’re back for another full day, admiring the game’s best and hoping to learn something through osmosis.
They revel in Augusta National’s springtime perfection. There’s a reason particularly famous people — Tiger Woods, to name one — love this tournament. No phones are allowed, which means no photos, which means that even a quarterback with 35 million Instagram followers isn’t required to spend his day performing. Instead, he can do his favorite thing of all: be himself.
Most of the pros who populate GOLF’s pages have neither the time nor the desire for buddies’ trips. When they’re not playing golf for practice or money, they’re not playing golf, period. But Mahomes has summers free, and he can’t get enough. Since April, he has played Augusta National (just weeks after the tournament), Scottsdale National (and Silverleaf) with teammates and blitzed Cabo with a group of friends, all of them awestruck by the scenery at Diamante and El Dorado.
Ask Mahomes for his all-time golf highlight and he’ll tell you about a two-day stretch last summer when he played Pebble Beach and Cypress Point with Jim Nantz. “He had just done a documentary of every single hole, so he was like, ‘If you want anything, I’ll give you the history.’ ” Mahomes ate it up.
He has a network of playing pals now, a mix of friends from home, Chiefs teammates and golfers from around the league, like quarterbacks Matt Moore and Chad Henne, who nerd out over a shared love of the game. Still, his favorite receiving target doubles as his favorite playing partner: “I don’t think you can beat Travis, man.”
He has been to Bandon Dunes twice; his only regret that those trips came before the official opening of the resort’s fifth course, the Sheep Ranch. “I’ve heard good things,” he says knowingly.
Walking Bandon’s four courses in two days specifically convinced him that golfers are, in fact, athletes. “A few days later I saw Brooks Koepka at the ESPYs,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Damn, I’m sore, man.’ ” The comment made Koepka’s day.
When he’s not checking off bucket-list destinations, Mahomes calls three courses home: Loch Lloyd and Wolf Creek in Kansas City and Vaquero Golf Club near his home just northwest of Dallas. During the off-season, Mahomes starts his workouts between 6 and 7 a.m. He’s done with throwing exercises by 11. “I realized I needed something,” he says. “Now, whatever time my buddies get off work, between 2 and 4, we can get an afternoon round in.”
To hear him tell it, Mahomes needs golf. It’s the outlet that allows him to decompress and compete just for competition’s sake, away from the scrutiny of the football season.
But golf needs Mahomes too. One of the coolest athletes on the planet is organically obsessed with spending as much time on the course as possible. That sends the right kind of message for the sport.
Mahomes is keenly aware that golf has not always been a welcoming place for non-white players, and while he frames everything in a positive light he’s eager to be part of subtle changes that make golf cool on his own terms. “I have a little swag, a little style to me,” he says. His Adidas hoodie and joggers speak to that, as do the one-of-one, Masters-yellow Mahomes 1s on his feet. His on-course looks are formfitting. Athletic. Bright. Edgy. If he wears a collared shirt, he buttons it all the way to the top. “The more we can get golf to loosen the rules a little bit and [embrace] comfortable, cool athletic gear, the more people are going to be out to play more often,” he says.
Who’s to argue with that? An Augusta CC employee, it turns out, who, moments later, reminds Mahomes to tuck in his shirt on the way to the first tee. At some clubs, things are still done a certain way.
A dozen Wednesdays later, Mahomes and Kelce are out for another round, this time at the crack of dawn. And in Nevada. It’s Wednesday of the American Century Championship, golf’s foremost celebrity event, and the pair are at Edgewood Tahoe with three friends for some tournament prep.
Each third of the round reveals a different side of Mahomes, public figure. They play their first five or six holes in fan-free bliss, like any five friends playing golf on vacation. Mahomes is happiest when working on his game, and he wants a proper tune-up in advance of the event. After holing a two-footer on No. 1, he pounds his chest, suggesting a beating heart.
“Those putts are tough all week, man.”
He plays swiftly, taking one aggressive practice swing followed quickly by the real thing. The greens are fast. The ball flies far at elevation. He does all the things that normal golf buddies do; he helps look for his friends’ tee shots, encourages Kelce to get a beer after a double bogey and balances making fun of his playing partners with building them back up.
“Just a peaceful getaway,” Kelce says. “You throw your phone in your bag, not worry about a thing and hit it as hard as you can.”
The round’s midsection showcases the obligations of celebrity. A man wearing a “15” jersey shows up, hunting for autographs and photos. Two kids in Chiefs gear, dressed as Mahomes and Kelce, arrive with their parents. The group’s tagalong gallery grows from five to 10 to 50. Mahomes plays well, balancing three front-nine birdies with three double bogeys, but there are more distractions now too. Selfie requests. Interview requests. Spectators swarming their tee-to-green walks. There’s plenty of support. But everybody seems to want something.
By the final stretch of holes, the crowd has swelled into a party. Mahomes is an entertainer now. At No. 14, he encourages the horde to jeer Kelce’s approach shot. At No. 16 he takes the lead in the long-drive competition, sending one 347 yards on the fly. At No. 17, a raucous par 3, someone throws a football in his direction and he sends it right back, adding a playful “Boo!” when his wideout drops the ball. Then he finds the green with his tee shot. Mahomes might like golf because it’s an escape from all of this. But he likes all of this sometimes too.
The QB finishes the weekend competition in the middle of the pack. That’s okay for now, although serious contention at the American Century is on his long-term bucket list, a list that is growing. He wants to play links golf in Scotland and Sandbelt golf Down Under. He wants a backyard par 3 that rivals Jim Nantz’s replica of Pebble Beach’s 7th (see p. 42). He’s fielded invites to Sand Hills and Prairie Dunes, two of the Great Plains’ finest.
But day to day, his golf dreams are simple.
“Making putts,” he says. “Driving is cool, but you make a nice putt, 15 or 20 feet? There’s no better feeling in the entire world.” Mahomes has an answer for everything, with one exception: If he wins the Masters, what would he serve for his Champions Dinner?
It’s okay not to know just yet, I point out. It’ll probably be 20 years before he’ll be in the mix at Augusta.
“At 45? I’ll still be playing football,” he shoots back. “How ’bout 50?”