Jerry Rice is best known as an NFL Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever strap on shoulder pads. Post-football, he went all-in on golf and even played a few Nationwide Tour events – which didn’t turn out well (two MCs, one W/D). Rice remains a passionate golfer; he carries a 1-handicap and will play in the American Century Championship on July 14-16 at Edgewood Tahoe GC in Nevada.
So, how’d you get hooked on golf?
Rice: In 1986, I was working out with my trainer one day, and we were getting ready to do some track work and route-running. He brought out a couple clubs and a couple balls, and after the workout, being the athlete that I am, I’m saying to myself, “Okay, I’ll hit this golf ball.” I had never picked up a club or anything, had no interest in it. I couldn’t hit it. I couldn’t believe a stationary ball, right in front of me — you can’t hit the ball where you want it to go?
So, I became obsessed. I would go early in the mornings, work on my golf game at the driving range, then go over to the facility, practice football all day, then come back to the driving range, hit more balls and work on my short game and putting. I thought it was just the greatest game ever.
You were playing a lot of golf around your day job with the Niners. Did you hide your golf habit from the team?
Rice: No, I think it was out there, because all my teammates knew how much I loved the game. And plus on Mondays or Tuesdays, our day off, we would get out and play.
What is it about golf that appeals to you?
Rice: I have played on the big stage, played in so many Super Bowls, have done all those things. It’s a whole different type of atmosphere, and the reason why I say that is because we build off aggression all the time. As a football player, it’s all about aggression. And in golf, aggression doesn’t help.
The World Long Drive contestants might disagree, but otherwise I’d say you have a point.
Rice: If you get angry, total downhill. You can use that in football, but you can’t use that in golf. It’s an amazing game, and I like all the challenges that come along with it — the highs, the lows. It’s always that one shot that keeps you coming back.
How does the pressure of playing in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl, like Super Bowl 23, where your 49ers won it on a final-minute drive, compare to the pressure of, say, shooting a career-low score?
Rice: It’s very similar. During that final drive, I knew very well that I ran through all the drills and done all the preparation throughout my career. I knew I could do that. It has to be the same thing in golf, repetition-wise, after doing that over and over again. Being under those pressure situations, being able to execute, being able to really breathe and lock in on what you want to accomplish. So, they compare in a certain way, but like I said, aggression is great for football, but it’s not good for golf.
A few years back, you played three events on the Nationwide Tour, now the Web.com. That didn’t go so well, but now you’re 54 years old and eligible for the Champions tour. What do you say?
Rice: No, way; out of my league! [Laughs] You know, I think we all dream about that, and I would love to get on that stage and play with the seniors. But those guys are still good golfers. I mean, they can really go low. I love watching them. The Nationwide Tour was a great experience for me because I wanted to get inside the ropes and feel what those guys went through. And after I played in a couple tournaments, I wanted to get outside of ropes [Laughs]. It’s amazing to see them work their way around the course. The decision-making — they don’t pull a club until they’re ready to hit the ball. As amateurs, we walk up to the ball and we just grab a club and hit the ball. But they get on the same page, then execute to a certain portion of the green. We’re just happy to get it on the green. It was definitely a whole different level.
Any advice for Steph Curry as he prepares to follow your path and play a Web.com event?
Rice: I would tell him just be Steph Curry and have fun. I’m elated and pulling for him.
Is golf now a competitive outlet for you, or is it just fun?
Rice: It’s competitive to me. I don’t want hear people say, “You should just enjoy the game.” As a competitor that has competed on the big stage in professional football for so many years, I want to go out and play good golf. Maybe I’m putting additional pressure on myself, but it challenges me to get better, to keep pushing. And that was the same thing in football. I didn’t feel like I had gotten to a point where I couldn’t get better anymore, so I kept working on my craft. It’s the same thing with golf. I love the game, but yeah, if I’m going to spend five hours, I want to play good golf.
Who’s the best stick among NFL players?
Rice: If I had to pinpoint someone, I’d say Trent Dilfer. Or the big guy, [Mark Rypien], the quarterback for the Redskins. But you have to look at the other guys, too. I had an opportunity to play with Justin Timberlake. Man, the way he hits the ball. Steph Curry, the same thing. I’m hoping to hook back up with those guys this year at Lake Tahoe because we feed off each other, and these guys are so much fun.
Ever have any heated matches with fellow NFL pros?
Rice: When I played with the Raiders, it was Tim Brown. We couldn’t even ride in the same cart because we’re so competitive. [Laughs] I wanted to beat him, he wanted to beat me. So, we had to get separate carts.
What’s your favorite memory from playing in this pro-am?
Rice: When I played with Justin Timberlake, we were drinking throughout the round. [Laughs]
What was the drink of choice?
Rice: I think he had some type of vodka he was promoting. We were doing shots. And that was something I never did, because normally I’m focused and thinking about my golf. But he had me so relaxed and having such a great time, that I decided to indulge a little bit.
Who won the match?
Rice: Timberlake won it.
You walked right into his trap.
Rice: I think he did! [Laughs] I think he did it on purpose, because when it comes to drinking I’m a lightweight. He got me off my game, but I’m not going to fall for it this year. I’m out for blood!