Former NHL defenseman Ryan Whitney on chopping it around Oakmont, losing cash on golf, and the most underwhelming hockey player golfers
We first connected with Ryan Whitney, former NHL defenseman, when he told the story of crossing paths at Medalist GC with a trash-talking Tiger Woods on his popular Spittin' Chiclets' podcast . But Whitney had a lot more to say about golf—and hockey— when he joined us on this week's Golf Digest Podcast. Since his retirement from the NHL in 2014, he's devolved into a self-described golf nut, working his way down to a low single digit handicap after taking up the game seriously a mere decade ago. The full interview (the Whitney portion begins at the 28:30 mark) can be heard on the podcast, but below are some excerpts from our conversation with one of hockey's most colorful characters.
How serious of a golfer have you become?
I started really playing when I was 25. I played maybe once a year growing up but didn't like it. But then a bunch of guys I was playing with were playing. That was about 10 years ago, and like any golfer knows, the bug is real. The golf bug was biting me and it's still biting me. I'm probably like a 4 or 3 (index). I love it. I work on it a lot, but it frustrates the hell out of me.
It's weird, unlike in hockey when you can sort of channel your nervous energy somewhere, you can't do that in golf.
It's crazy. In hockey for a lot of guys you could just go out and punch someone in the head. In golf you can't just go punch your playing partner in the head. I mean, I've come close. But I don't want to get arrested on the golf course. But in hockey if your hands aren't there and you don't have it, you can just make up for it by playing good defense or picking up one part of your game. But in golf at least for me, it all has to be there.
You made a bunch of stops in your NHL career — Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Anahaeim. Where was golf the biggest part of the culture?
It was Anaheim, and that was the year I started really playing. In Pittsburgh, it was like a once-a-year thing. I remember I got to play Oakmont and I was like an 18 handicap and I was like, THIS IS MISERABLE. I was flipping out. I was like, this is awful, maybe the worst thing I've ever done. Now here I am knocking off these top 100 courses, I'm like, I need to get back there now that I can appreciate golf.
Of the guys you've played with, give me the hockey player who's the best at golf, and then give me a guy who you think should be good, but isn't.
I go on a big golf trip each year with a lot of guys hockey fans would know — Dan Cleary, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Backstrom. Of all those guys, Ray Whitney (no relation) is a stick. He's a legit plus-1 handicap. Mike Modano, one of the greatest American born hockey player, is a legit scratch. As for someone who's bad but who looks like he should be good, I give my boy Keith Yandle some crap. He's one of the best defensemen in the NHL, he's the most athletic kid I've ever met. I call him 'The Natural' like Robert Redford in the movie. He can hit a 4-iron 250 yards on the screws with a baby fade, and then he gets it on the green and it takes him like nine shots to get it in the hole. I look at him and I'm like, 'You should be better than you are.'
You bet a lot on hockey. How much do you bet on golf?
It's impossible, but I love betting golf. I usually bet the daily matchups and it's just so hard. The swings are ridiculous. Any golfer in the world can make a quad. I don't care how good you are. And then there are times when you pick the guy who hits it far against the shorter hitters on a bomber's course and the shorter hitter beats him by three. It's just impossible.