September 9, 2009

My Game: Jerome Bettis

Jerome Bettis said life in the NFL has prepared him for the practice time needed for golf.

Jerome Bettis said life in the NFL has prepared him for the practice time needed for golf.

Editor's Note: In "My Game," a weekly series, asks noted personalities to expound on their experiences in golf, and what keeps bringing them back. This week, six-time Pro Bowl running back Jerome Bettis, 37, discusses how football players' commitment to practicing has helped expedite his desire to improve at golf.

Football players have a distinct advantage in pursing golf: We already are used to practicing. In football, we practiced five days a week and played one day a week. So it's not that strange for us to want to practice more than we play. Often amateurs want to play rather than practice. But we're comfortable with the concept of practicing a lot. That has really helped me speed up my transition to becoming a better golfer. I like to beat balls, absolutely. When I'm working on something, I love to try to groove it.

I wasn't always this committed to the game. I was introduced to it early in my career, by my barber in Detroit. He suggested I take up the game. He said, "You'll love it. It'll be great for you in terms of competition, but also from a business standpoint. You'll be able to use golf to entertain." I was 21 or 22 and went out and played and did not have a good time. I didn't really care for it, so I put it down.

When I got to Pittsburgh, there was a group of guys who were playing a lot of golf. The quarterback Kordell Stewart was one of them. We got to be pretty close friends. So he took me out, I tried it and started to really enjoy it. But I still didn't catch the bug until about three years ago. When I retired, I became really serious about it and started taking lessons and going hard at it.

What hooked me was my thirst to be a good player. I wanted to see my handicap get better and wanted to play well. I was playing with so many different people, but my game didn't travel well. So I was dead set on making sure my game got good enough to travel and that I could play with anyone. Right now, I'm playing to around a 10 handicap. I'm a member at Hawks Ridge Golf Club outside Atlanta and at the Detroit Golf Club.

Where football didn't help was that you've got to have a fluid swing, soft hands, be flexible. It's difficult. Fortunately I'm retired, so I'm not doing any more weight-lifting. Then you've got aches and pains to deal with, but I don't have anything I can't overcome. Of course, my body is sore; 13 years of playing running back in the NFL, everything is sore. But it's not bad enough that I can't play.

And I play quite often. I have two little kids, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, and the deal with my wife is that I get to play during the week when they're in school. When they're not in school, I'm at home. When I don't have anything else to do, I play at least three times a week, or at least try to put a club in my hands three times a week, either playing or a day of practice.