Football personalities at American Century Championship take game from gridiron to the golf course
The American Century Championship has always had a strong relationship with football, dating back to the inaugural tournament in 1990 won by then Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien. The 27th edition scheduled for July 19-24 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course is no exception.
“As soon as the season gets over, I start getting so excited knowing that before I go to training camp I get to go play in this golf tournament,” said Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who will make his 10th ACC appearance this year. “I’ve been going to Lake Tahoe for a long time and it’s probably my favorite place to go on the planet.”
More than 30 with ties to the gridiron will play in this year’s ACC, from Hall of Famers to current pros to professional and college coaches. On a media conference call Thursday, July 7, Palmer, Detroit Lions receiver Golden Tate, 10-year NFL veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards shared their outlook and predictions in advance of teeing off at the celebrity golf tournament.
“My main goal is not to hit anyone with the golf ball left or right,” Tate put it simply with his ACC debut on the horizon.
Hawk has become known for his hitting at Lake Tahoe — but it has nothing to do with drives or approach shots. The free agent linebacker most recently with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2015 has produced indelible moments on the eve of the last two tournaments, using fan Ben Heaps as a tackling dummy at the seventh hole.
In 2014 Hawk got a running start before leveling Heaps with a blindside hit. Last summer, the Super Bowl XLV champion upped the ante — as Heaps went out for a pass pattern, Hawk decked him in the seventh tee box.
“I’m sure he’ll be there,” Hawk said. “From year one to year two, it looked like he put on about 30 pounds of muscle so he could take the shots.”
Hawk, a 300-1 favorite to win the tournament, insisted he has something new in store for fans on Thursday of tournament week, but wouldn’t give any more information. The spectacle that has become an annual ACC tradition might take a different turn this time around.
“I think we’re going to have a little surprise for everybody this year,” Hawks said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
In his first appearance, Tate is listed at 50-1 odds to win the title. The Lions wideout has 4,246 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns over his five-year career, and enters the season as Detroit’s top option after the retirement of Calvin Johnson.
“I’ve never seen myself as a No. 2 [receiver] — even if I play with [Hall of Famers] Jerry Rice or Cris Carter on the same team, that’s not my mentality,” Tate said. “My leadership role has changed the most. Guys are looking at me more for the details of the offense and different little tips.”
The former two-sport athlete at Notre Dame has never visited Lake Tahoe, and is one a handful of active NFL players in the 2016 field. Tate said he has always wanted to play in the ACC, but waited until he felt his game was up to par.
“I want to just try to be competitive,” said Tate, who won Super Bowl XLVIII while with the Seattle Seahawks. “It’s going to be a great experience, and it’s an honor to play in the American Century Championship — I’m looking forward to being out there with a bunch of great golfers.”
Palmer sat out last year’s ACC while recovering from knee surgery, after playing in the tournament for seven straight summers from 2007-14. The Cardinals’ signal caller is returning to Edgewood Tahoe this year and has his sights set on a top-10 finish.
“I basically shut it down — for 18 months, I didn’t swing a golf club,” said Palmer, who owns a place in Tahoe. “It was frustrating coming back after a long layoff, but without the rehab and the offseason surgery I’ve spent a lot of time playing. I’m really excited for this year.”
Palmer, the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner and 12-year NFL veteran that helped lead the Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game last year, has faced a number of pressure situations on the gridiron. But he said a stadium full of fans brings less tension than a gallery watching him hit a tee shot.
“I think about 47 things before I take the club back and hit the golf ball,” Palmer said. “Up there in Tahoe, there’s people to the left and right — and typically where I drive the ball.”
Edwards has played in the ACC every year since 2006, but hasn’t yielded a result better than 65th place — last summer he finished tied for 82nd. The former head coach of the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs from 2001-08 laughed when told of his 2,000-1 odds to win the tournament, in the neighborhood of Charles Barkley and his notorious one-handed swing.
“The American Century Championship is one of those events where it’s not so much the golf, it’s the camaraderie with all the athletes.” Edwards said. “There are about 15 guys that have a chance to be in the top 10, and the rest of us are just playing. We all have ambitions of playing well, but in the end you know what it’s about.”
During Thursday’s call, Edwards shared his thoughts on Tony Dungy — who he first met in 1977 when the two played in college all-star games together — getting the ring from Canton. Dungy is being inducted into the Hall of Fame with a class that includes Brett Favre, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace and Ken Stabler, and Edwards said his impact extends outside the lines.
“He’s changed a lot of men’s lives by being around him — the way he sees life and the way he lives his life,” Edwards said. “He’s a tribute to football, with what he’s done for a lot of guys personally besides just being their coach. He’s a man’s man and he does it the right way.
“His philosophy was really simple: ‘If I can make these guys better men, they’ll be good football players.’ That is his No. 1 criteria … and that’s his DNA.”
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