BACK TO REALITY

June 15, 1997

Every golfer knows the dream: 18 holes every day for the rest of
your life. I pretty much lived that dream for the four years I
was out of coaching. My norm was 36 holes a day and a few hours
of practice. Fifty-four holes wasn't out of the question. I'm a
member of eight country clubs, including Loch Lomond in Scotland
and English Turn in New Orleans, site of the PGA Tour's
Freeport-McDermott Classic, not to mention my home, which is off
the 3rd hole. I've been to Augusta, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews.

Sounds great, huh? Well, one of the main reasons I took the
coaching job with the New Orleans Saints in February was that
this so-called fantasy life wasn't all it's cracked up to be. My
problem with nothing but golf is this: God gives people certain
talents for certain things, and he only gave me so much skill as
a golfer. There was a limit to how good I could get. Football is
my job. It's what I do best, and I get paid better than most
guys on the Tour for doing it.

Amateurs don't understand what it takes to be a great golfer. I
hear so many fiftysomething average Joes brag that they're going
to try the Senior tour. Give me a break. It's just not in the
cards for these idiots. The Senior players--guys like Jim
Colbert and Charlie Sifford--have played golf their entire
lives, and every year there's a bunch of guys just like them
turning 50. You think there's room for normal folks like you and
me?

During my layoff from coaching, my goal was simply to get better
at golf. I did, lowering my handicap to one, yet I knew I could
never be good enough. That's why it was a blessing that the
Saints called. (As it happened, they tracked me down while I was
playing in the pro-am at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm
Springs.) I won't say I got bored with the game while I played
it nonstop for all those years, but I did go a little
stir-crazy. Hard as it is to believe, I often got violently
angry, smashing clubs and all the rest.

Now that I play golf in my spare time rather than all the time,
I've learned to relax when I'm out on the course. I still love
the game. Some NFL coaches won't play golf, but I'm not going to
be a phony and say there isn't time for both. In fact, I'm in
Scotland now for a monthlong golfing vacation. But I can handle
the truth: People like you and me can look like Tiger Woods on
one shot and a spastic on the next. Just stick to your day job.
I'm perfectly happy to be an amateur golfer and a professional
football coach.

New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka has a seven handicap.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL HABER/AP Football is what Ditka does best. [Mike Ditka playing golf]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)