PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


Q&A with Steve Young

By Matt Ginella Illustrations by Joe Ciardello
December 08, 2009

"My strength is my short game. If I could drive the ball, then I could be a pretty good player."

Steve Young, 48, was the first left-handed quarterback to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In a recent Q&A, Young talks about getting Jerry Rice a gig on "Dancing With The Stars," his relationship with Joe Montana and dreaming his way around Pebble Beach.

What's your first memory of golf?

My first memory of golf was sixth grade. Someone said I could earn five bucks for looping at Innis Arden Golf Club

in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. That was my first exposure, looping on Saturday mornings.

Phil Mickelson is a righty who plays lefty. You're a lefty who plays righty, right?

Yes, but unfortunately I don't have a great story about my dad and a mirror image. I simply didn't have enough money to buy lefty clubs and righty clubs were in the garage. I've run into a lot of lefties who have the same story. Johnny Miller keeps telling me that playing as a righty is a benefit to me, but I've yet to see why.

I saw a video clip where you credit Johnny Miller as your swing coach.

He's a great guy. He helps me do some charity stuff. He's always giving me tips.

What's your handicap?

Four kids under the age of eight.

We'll call that a four point eight.

Yes... more like an 8.4 doubled. I don't know. I really have a tough time getting out as much as I used to. Historically I've been between and 8 to 10.

When was your last round?

My last round was in June with Johnny Miller at one of my charity golf tournaments. It has been a tough summer for golf. I did get my 8-year old, my oldest, to a golf camp this year. As soon as I can get him to tell Mom he wants to play golf, then I'm golden again.

Are you a member at a club?

I'm a member at Stanford.

What's your low score?

My low score, in tournament play, was when I shot 74 in a qualifier for the State Am.

You were ridiculously accurate on the field; what's your strength on the course?

My strength is my short game. If I could drive the ball, then I could be a pretty good player. From 50-yards in, if I have a strength, that's what it would be.

Jack or Arnie?

Because I know Jack better, I'd say Jack.

How do you know Jack?

Johnny Miller puts on a father/son charity tournament every year and they do a celebrity shootout. Jack has played in it. Through the years I've gotten to know Jack. It's cool.

Has Jack helped you with your game?

No. Not a lot of tips from Jack. He has seen me play golf. I think Jack's smart enough to leave my instruction to Johnny.

Tiger or Phil?

Oh man. Tiger. I mean, my gosh. It's unbelievable what he does. There's something to me that not a lot of people appreciate, the athlete's ability to go through it rather than go around it. It might not be fun, it might not be easy, but he's going through it. Tiger's relentless that way. He's fun to watch.

What's your ideal foursome, dead or alive?

I have to say Johnny because he's put up with me for so long. Actually, I had my ideal foursome at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am one year: It was Charles Schultz, the Peanuts creator, and my good friend Mike Reid, and Johnny. So I've actually played with my ideal foursome.

Do you play a lot with Jerry Rice?

I do. In fact I saw him today. Jerry's a self-taught golfer and he's very good. We've played in a lot of charity tournaments together.

__When Jerry appeared on "Dancing With The Stars," did you Tivo that show or did you choose to ignore it? __

I made sure to watch because I got him involved in that. They called me and I said, "There're better dancers than me. Trust me. Call Jerry Rice -- he's the man."

There's the famous clip, after you won the Super Bowl, of you pretending to lift the monkey off your back. They say Sergio is the best player not to have won a major. Do you foresee Sergio breaking through and getting it done?

I would hope so, because there's something very cathartic about it. And once you do it -- life gets significantly easier. Everyone says the journey is the valuable part of life. I agree with that. It really is about the journey, but it's still a fun thing to accomplish. It really is.

Golf is a game that is used as a vehicle to raise awareness and as a venue to raise money for specific causes. How have you used the game of golf to raise money and why?

There are two main focuses for me. One is my Forever Young Foundation -- we use golf three times a year as our absolute only fundraising tool -- we raise a significant amount of money in three very important golf tournaments. Golf is central to our ability to raise money. And then the Children's Miracle Network, I've been with them for 25 years, and they've always used golf. Jerry and I were teammates recently in the Ace Shootout. I've been doing that for the Children's Miracle Network for many years. Between those two organizations, golf is a fundamental way to raise funds. I'm not sure how we could raise all this money without golf. Golf is one of those games that I want my kids to know and learn so that they can play it all of their lives.

Let me ask you a few travel questions. If you have a 6:00 flight, what time do you get to the airport?

I get there at 5:26.

You still do the two-minute drill catching airplanes?

As long as I can get that boarding pass 30-minutes before, I'm usually pretty good.

Are you a light packer?

Very light. In fact my wife gets mad at me because I tend to not have the things I need.

As a quarterback and usually in control, a guy with Type-A tendencies, how have you handled the lack of control being on a plane and the general process of traveling?

It's brutal. For someone like me it's a good lesson in not having control. You put your life in other people's hands, the pilots and the guys on the ground -- I think it's actually a good experience for everybody to recognize that you're not in control. And so flying does a little service for you. It's still difficult for me to turn off my cell phone. I battle that.

You're the guy the flight attendants have to keep reminding to turn off your phone?

Unfortunately, I'm embarrassed to say, yes.

Do you have any interest in being a pilot?

I love to fly. I used to go in a single engine all over the west with a good friend of mine. He taught me how to fly. I don't have a license, but I know how to fly.

When is the last time you flew private?

Not to long ago, as a function of business. We had a business meeting in Oregon, the owner had a plane, and he flew us back to San Francisco. Anytime you can fly that way, it's a real luxury.

Do you have a favorite airline?

More than anything, here on the west coast, Southwest is a very convenient airline. Especially with four kids under 8.

Are you a window or an aisle guy?

I'm whatever my wife says. If I had my choice, I'd take the window every time, but that's out of my domain these days.

Home teams in football have a huge advantage, especially when a cross-country flight is concerned. How did you and how do you handle jet lag?

The 49ers were innovators back in the day. Bill Walsh was a genius in many ways. We'd fly big planes, we tried to stay on the West Coast time, and we'd drink a lot of water, no caffeine and no alcohol. Early on the 49ers understood how to do these cross-country flights. You look back at the road record of the 49ers in the 80's and early 90's, it's incredible. I think we set an NFL record with 10 or 12 or 14 road wins in a row. I have to give Bill Walsh credit for being ahead of the game. Now all that stuff is obvious, but back then it was innovative and he was really strict about it. I think that really helped us overcome jet lag.

How do you kill time on a long flight? Are you a reader, sleeper or do you watch movies?

These days, I'm a sleeper. It's a great time to read a book. They've now introduced Wi-Fi on these cross-country flights and the last thing I need -- to sit on a plane and do e-mail for six hours.

Have you ever had any scary flights? Any close calls?

Over all the years of flying, I've never had that scary moment, which I'm grateful for. In fact, I just recently had my first diverted plane. You'll like this -- it was a flight to Phoenix and we were diverted to Tucson because of a windstorm.

You're an expert traveler. Have you ever had to invoke rule 240?

No. I don't know 240. What's rule 240?

Any flight delay, not caused by weather, the airline you're flying has to get you on the next available flight, even if it means you end up flying a different airline. Have you ever heard of this?

No. But I like it. You know, in all the years of traveling, in 25 years, I've rarely had cancelled flights. I'm sure it will all go south after this interview. I'm knocking wood as we speak.

One movie on a long flight?

Lately it has been TV shows. But I'd probably say a classic movie like "Braveheart."

If you had a three-foot putt for your life, would you putt it, or would you call Jack or Tiger?

It's my life. I've got to putt it. I've got to do it.

Similar to Tiger and Phil -- the perception is that you and Joe Montana have a frosty relationship. Is that true? And would you guys ever call each other to play golf?

I've played more golf with Joe Montana and Steve Bono than I've played with anyone else. We've played a ton of golf. I always tell people; my relationship with Joe was as good as it could be.

That's probably what Jack would say about Arnie and Tiger would say about Phil.

That's a good way of putting it. It was as good as it could've been. And that's a compliment to everybody. It's a tough and brutal thing. Especially in my experience, there was only one guy who could be on the field. But golf was a place where we could relate... I would absolutely call Joe to play golf. For old teammates of mine, and all athletes, golf is a great connector.

__If I offered you an all expenses paid trip to Pebble Beach

, which would you choose? __

I get to see Pebble a lot. I haven't played Bandon Dunes or Pinehurst, but I'd say Pebble because I can't imagine anything being better than Pebble Beach. Honestly, I fall asleep, almost every night, dreaming my way around Pebble Beach. When I need to go to sleep, I start playing the course. That's how I relax. Golf is important to me. I love the game. I've played that first hole at Pebble Beach 10,000 times, but I'm usually asleep by the third hole.