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The Fringe

Need a fourth? Jerry Rice wants in

December 20, 2023
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STYLE AND GAME “Appearance is everything, and it was the same way when I played football.” Photograph by RC Rivera

Jerry Rice became a legend on the football field, and, oddly enough, that’s also where he took his first golf swings. Rice was in the middle of a workout during his second season as a San Francisco 49er when he noticed that trainer Raymond Farris had a golf club and a few balls with him. Rice had never stepped foot on a golf course, but once his workout was over, he couldn’t resist taking on an unfamiliar challenge.

“It was the weirdest thing ever because I don’t think we had ever talked about golf,” Rice says. “This stationary ball is right in front of me, and I’m supposed to be this supreme athlete, and I couldn’t hit the ball.”

That would change quickly as Rice became “obsessed with trying to get better at golf,” applying the same dedication he had to catching footballs. He soon began a different kind of two-a-days, going to the range before and after team practices and meetings. He started calling Tuesday, the one day NFL players usually get off during the season, “Golf Day,” eventually playing against teammates for a weekly trophy that came with plenty of bragging rights during his time with the Oakland Raiders. He and fellow Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown were so competitive that they couldn’t ride in the same golf cart. “It hurt him to say ‘good shot’ to me,” Rice says with a laugh. Although golf wasn’t always relaxing, Rice enjoyed playing a non-contact, individual sport.

“I feel like this is the greatest game ever,” Rice says, “because it’s one of those games where you can’t blame anyone else. If Joe Montana throws a pass, and it’s not in the right area, I’m gonna blame it on Montana.” Of course, that didn’t happen often as Rice and Montana forged one of the greatest pairings in sports history—matched only by the tandem of Rice and Steve Young.

If records are meant to be broken, good luck doing that as a wide receiver. Among his long list of accomplishments that includes three Super Bowl titles and 10 First-Team All-Pro selections, Rice holds NFL records for career receptions, receiving yards and total touchdowns. Most of these marks aren’t close, even in this pass-happy era of football.

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Loren Elliott

These days, you might catch Rice on Bay Area golf courses, including Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club, his home club in Menlo Park. In fact, there’s a chance you will even be paired with him. “If I don’t have a round of golf with friends, I’ll just join up with people,” says Rice, who has five holes-in-one. “They’re looking at me like, ‘Oh, my God, are you serious? You’re Jerry Rice, and you wanna play golf with us?’ and I’ll say, ‘Yeah, let’s go play golf and have a good time.’ ”

During Golf Digest’s video shoot with Rice this spring, we witnessed something similar. Always a player who prided himself on pleasing the fans, Rice posed for photos and engaged with golfers on the range at Baylands Golf Links, a Palo Alto muny. The scene meshed with his penchant for crashing weddings at courses in the area—and showing off some of the moves that once made him a runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars.”

“It’s all about making memories, right? I feel like I’m in a very fortunate position where I can make someone’s day, and I don’t take that for granted,” says Rice, who came from humble beginnings in Starkville, Miss., where he spent childhood summers helping his dad lay bricks. “Once the music starts, I’ll dance with the bride and with everybody in that circle. I have fun with it.”

We also witnessed Rice’s strong golf game up close. Currently a 1.2 Handicap Index, he shot one under par during three holes with our Hally Leadbetter for an “On The Tee” episode. The 61-year- old did sprints and push-ups between shots, exhibiting athleticism and energy that would impress even Gary Player. “I’m always giving 100 percent. I’m always one speed,” says Rice, who still works out daily and looks like he could help any NFL team. “Even during walkthroughs, I’m running.”

That passion is apparent in everything Rice has done throughout his playing career and now through two decades of retirement. Once a plus-2 Index, Rice competed in the Korn Ferry Tour’s San Francisco event, the Stonebrae Championship, from 2010 to 2012. For the ultra-competitive Rice, those high scores and missed cuts weren’t satisfactory results, though he was pleasantly surprised to learn that he edged a future multiple-time PGA Tour winner, Brendon Todd, by a stroke in his debut. “No, come on. I didn’t beat anybody,” Rice says when told of the feat. “Are you serious? Oh, my God.”

If Rice could have one mulligan, though, it probably wouldn’t come in any tournament but rather when he turned down an offer to play with a Stanford undergrad named Tiger Woods nearly three decades ago. Still a developing golfer at the time, Rice didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of the future superstar. Now he says his dream foursome includes Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who once sought him out in the crowd at Augusta National during the Masters Par 3 Contest. “[Palmer] came over and he said hello to me,” Rice recalls. “I could have died.”

Unfortunately, that group can’t happen in this lifetime, but Rice says he’d still love to play with Woods, who is a big Raiders fan. In the meantime, Rice will continue playing golf two times a week with friends, and, well, anyone he gets paired with.

When Rice isn’t on the course—or crashing weddings—he works as executive chairman of an energy drink company, the aptly-named G.O.A.T. Fuel, which he co-founded with his daughter, Jaqui. In a funny twist, one of the drink’s newest endorsers, current Dolphins star wideout Tyreek Hill, made news last summer when he left Rice off his list of the top five wide receivers of all time. Although Hill was born the year before Rice won his third and final Super Bowl in San Francisco, it was a ridiculous snub of the man many people regard as an NFL GOAT. It clearly doesn’t bother Rice, who will never claim that title himself, even though he’s well aware of where he stands in the league records. “If they break my records, I’ll be the first one to congratulate them,” Rice says. Then he grinned and added, “but they’re always going to be chasing me.”

Besides, Rice is too busy chasing another kind of ball—and different numbers—these days. “Yesterday I was four under through nine, and now you’ve got all these things in your head and mistakes start happening,” Rice says with a sigh. “I ended up fighting back to finish one under, which is good, but then you think about how you were four under, so there’s always more. There’s always more.”

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