by Jeff Skinner
No one that plays golf is immune to the fantasy of playing with the pros. We all have imagined what it would be like to walk alongside our heroes of the links. Some guys fork over big bucks to play in the pro-am tournaments to get a chance to play with the big boys. Other golfers take it to another level. Jerry Rice is one of those golfers.
Rice is without a doubt the best NFL receiver of all time, some say the best NFL player of all time but that’s another debate. Today Rice will put his athletic skill to another test when he tees it up in The Nationwide Tour’s Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae in California.
Rice has been a golf fanatic since his days as a Forty Niner and has played in many celebrity tournaments. He most recently was on the inaugural episode of Donald Trump’s Golf Channel Show where he lost in match play to Lawrence Taylor. Yes, he lost to the original LT, while LT was puffing on that damn cigar of his.
It will be very difficult for Rice to play well alongside these guys. Many celebrity golfers, and that’s what Rice is, work hard and get themselves a good game. According to Rice he has been practicing long and hard but he may be in for a rude awakening. This is a different level of golf. Most of these Nationwide players are extremely good golfers that have been playing most of their life. Plenty of these players are just a few bogeys away from The PGA Tour.
Former major league baseball pitcher, Rick Rhoden, was the most dominant celebrity golfer of recent years. He played and won many celebrity events and even competed on The Champions Tour from 2004-2008, when it was The Senior Tour. Rhoden was good, really good. He beat every so-called celebrity handily but when he took his game to the professional level he was a brown shoe in a world of tuxedos. In 33 events over five years he had zero wins and only two top tens. It’s a different world with the pros.
The best golfer to crossover from one professional sport to another has to be John Brodie. Brodie was a former NFL MVP for Rice’s Forty Niners in 1970. He was an accomplished tennis player as a youth and an All-American at Stanford. Brodie had game on the gridiron and on the golf course. He made the jump from retired NFL star to professional golf and he made it successfully. On the Senior Tour he garnered twelve top ten finishes and he even won an event, The Security Pacific Golf Classic in 1991. Brodie was one of those special people that was successful at anything he did. Tennis, football, golf or broadcasting he did it all successfully and with class and dignity. Rice would do well to try and follow Brodie’s path.
Rice will give The Nationwide Tout a little buzz this week as he plays on a sponsor’s exemption and isn’t that what they should be used for. Getting a little more media exposure for The Nationwide Tour is a good thing. Rice admits to being very anxious about his play today and he should be. He is adamant that he is trying to get to the level to compete on this tour and he is not just a onetime flash in the pan. It will be a tough road ahead, but we’ll have fun watching him.