THE SILVER-AND-BLACK Rolls Royce curled out of Thursday-evening traffic and into the valet lot at Mastro's Ocean Club Fish House. Behind the wheel was a man who lives for cracking quarterbacks in the autumn and crushing tee shots in the spring. The door opened, and out stepped Jared Allen of the Kansas City Chiefs, who had spent the day six minutes away at the FBR Open. He walked into the busy seafood restaurant and squeezed into his seat at a table that included Von Hutchins of the Houston Texans, Nick Leckey of the St. Louis Rams and David Berganio Jr. of the PGA Tour. ¬∂ In a week in which it was hard to tell where the golf ended and the football began, the athletes had gathered to talk shop, break bread and bust chops.
This is an article from the Feb. 11, 2008 issue
"How tall are you?" the 5'11" Berganio asked.
"Six-six," said Allen, a 270-pound defensive end who plays to a nine handicap, prefers flip-flops to FootJoys, and commemorates his sacks by making a slash in his mullet haircut. He had 15 1/2 alterations to his 'do this season—eight on the left side of his scalp, 7 1/2 on the right. "My whole goal in life," added Allen, "was to grow up and get my butt kicked by Steven Seagal."
Everywhere you looked in Scottsdale, Ariz., football players had traded in shoulder pads for sand wedges, reveling in a week during which the NFL's biggest event shared the stage with the Tour's rowdiest. Separated by 30 miles and a looping freeway, Super Bowl XLII, won 17--14 by the New York Giants over the New England Patriots, and FBR Open LXX, won on the first playoff hole by J.B. Holmes over Phil Mickelson, seemed to grow larger in each other's presence as athletes from one sport made time for the pros in the other.
Emmitt Smith, the former Cowboys running back and ESPN commentator, sneaked away from pregame preparations to play 18 holes with Brandt Snedeker during the FBR pro-am. Tony Dorsett, a Cowboys Hall of Famer, hosted a celebrity golf tournament in nearby Glendale.
Then there was Ron Jaworski and a handful of other retired footballers who participated in a closest-to-the-pin contest at TPC Scottsdale's infamous 16th hole after the opening round of the FBR, only to lose out to a high draw off the club of a lowly sportswriter.
If the Super Bowl claimed top billing, the FBR Open at least enjoyed the spillover of sports fans looking for something to do before kickoff. The tournament set daily attendance records for the first three rounds, topped by a boisterous 170,802—the largest one-day crowd in the history of golf—on a gloriously warm and crystal-clear Saturday. "We always felt that maybe they fudged the [attendance] numbers," said Tour veteran Kevin Sutherland. "I don't think they fudged anything on this one."
As usual, the par-3 16th, ringed by bleachers and skyboxes to look like a stadium, was the place to be. More than 15,000 fans can fit on the 162-yard hole, and on Saturday every seat was filled, with the line to get into the boxes as long as a par-4. Inside, spectators joined in on the Tour's annual hazing ritual. Brilliant shots were cheered while loose ones were ridiculed, especially by the dozen fans wearing Randy Moss jerseys (vintage Vikings, not Patriots). When Anthony Kim popped out of the tunnel under the bleachers and approached the tee box, the crowd broke into a chant of "Adrian Peterson! Adrian Peterson!"—an acknowledgement that Kim and the Minnesota Vikings running back both attended Oklahoma. When it was Mike Weir's turn at the tee, several fans broke into O Canada, although they seemed to get lost after "our home and native land."
On Saturday, Presidents Cup hero Woody Austin pulled his tee shot long and left, and heard the kind of jeers usually aimed at the road team. "Go get your goggles!" one fan shouted, and the laughter followed Austin all the way to his bogey.
And when the crowd wasn't firing darts at the players, they tossed barbs at one another. The Randy Moss group targeted some fans sitting behind a Met Life sign by yelling, "Hey, Met Life! Chug! Chug! Chug!" When a silver-haired man took a small sip of his beer instead of a big gulp, the Mosses booed him too.
For the most part, the pros played along, laughing, waving and throwing balls into the stands. On Friday, Tom Lehman, a Scottsdale resident, hit his tee shot to within inches of the hole, and when the crowd exploded, he punched his fist into the air and channeled his former Ryder Cup self (1999, not 2006). "I don't know if I'd want a steady diet of this every week," Joe Durant said, "but it is fun."
I LIKE John Daly," Allen was telling Berganio and the boys at dinner. "Who else do you see making a 12 on a hole, then walking off the course and saying, 'Shoot, I need a beer'?"
That got Leckey, a 6'3", 300-pound center, to thinking. "Can you play hung over?" he asked Berganio.
The 39-year-old Berganio said that he had, but only once, when he was in college at Arizona. (Earlier he had told the table that archrival Arizona State "is a four-year junior college.") Berganio and a teammate, who was also his roommate, stayed out so late that they each got less than an hour of sleep before teeing off. "I shot a 65," Berganio said. "My roommate beat me by three shots."
The football players laughed and asked Berganio about his life as a pro, his favorite course (Augusta National) and his workout routine (spinning classes nine times a week). Berganio talked about playing the 2008 season on a major medical extension because of back problems that have limited him for almost five years. He recalled winning the U.S. Publinks in 1991 and '93. He told the story of being born to a 15-year-old mother, growing up on welfare in the San Fernando Valley and learning to play golf through the generosity of a priest.
Leckey said he couldn't wait until he retired from football so he could improve on his 17 handicap and "blow up to 400 pounds and eat M&M's every day."
"The green ones. They're lower in calories," said Hutchins, a 5'10", 180-pound defensive back whose number floats between 12 and 14.
No one was counting calories at the Ocean Club, where the players fattened up on sautéed shrimp, lobster mashed potatoes and butter cake. Leckey said it was all part of his postseason routine: Every day for two weeks, he decompresses with some wine and a cigar. Then it's back to the gym.
With that, Berganio got up from the table, left the restaurant and returned with a Ziploc bag full of unmarked cigars. He grabbed a fistful and handed them out like party favors. "They've been sitting in my car since Monday," he said. "I like 'em dry."
Leckey held one up to his ear and slowly spun it between his fingers, listening for the crackle. "Feels like velvet," he said.
It was 11 p.m. now, the food was gone and the check had come. Leckey said he knew 100 football players who wished they were pro golfers. "What does a golfer wish for?" Leckey wanted to know.
"I wish I was a golfer," Berganio said. "I'm living a dream."
The players stood up, hugged and punched in cell numbers, extending their athletic network. Allen said he had an invitation to the 944 party at the Fashion Square Mall, and Hutchins decided to go with him. Leckey passed. Berganio also declined: He had to rest up for the second round of the FBR Open. (He shot rounds of 72 and 73 and missed the cut.)
A few minutes later Allen was back in his Rolls, heading downtown. Once inside the giant party tent, Allen spotted his Chiefs teammate, tight end Tony Gonzalez. And there was Adrian Peterson, at the FBR Open in spirit, but at the 944 party in the flesh.
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Long Story Short ...
A couple of bombs off the 18th tee allowed J.B. Holmes to overhaul the hometown favorite, Phil Mickelson
PAUL AZINGER began FBR Open week by promising to set up Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, site of the Sept. 19--21 Ryder Cup, with the long hitter in mind (MY SHOT, page G14). Conventional wisdom held that the U.S. captain was referring to Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, but maybe Azinger had J.B. Holmes in mind.
After blowing a four-shot lead midway through the final round, Holmes twice shrank the 438-yard 18th hole at TPC Scottsdale with titanic drives on the way to a playoff victory over Mickelson. On the 72nd hole Holmes hit a 350-yard blast into the left rough and made birdie from 13 feet to tie Mickelson. On the first playoff hole Holmes walloped a 359-yarder into the middle of the fairway (BIG PLAY, page G12) to set up his winning birdie from eight feet. The victory was Holmes's second at the FBR (he also won in 2006) as well as the second of his three-year Tour career.
When asked who had the upper hand in sudden death, Holmes, 25, didn't flinch. "When a guy is hitting three-wood and I'm hitting driver, and I'm 80 yards past him," he said, "how can you not feel you have the advantage?"
If Holmes doesn't make the Ryder Cup team on points, Azinger could do worse than make him one of his four captain's picks. Holmes grew up in Campbellsville, Ky., and logged several rounds at Valhalla while playing college golf at Kentucky. "It's probably one of my favorite courses," says Holmes. Before he dreams of Valhalla in autumn, though, Holmes can now look forward to Augusta in spring. A big tee ball doesn't hurt there, either.