You want to know why some people say pro golfers aren’t really athletes? Because when other athletes need a vacation from the sport they normally play, they play golf. Now, understand, I’m not saying pro golfers aren’t athletes. That’s just the reason why some other people might say it. On the other hand, one might argue that if you don’t have to be a good athlete to be a great golfer, why are so many pro athletes so damn good at golf? And you have to admit, this is a pretty valid point.
Of course, none of this explains why pro athletes love to play golf so much in their free time. All we know is, when the season is over, they hit the links. Pick any of the four major pro sports leagues in North America. Toward the end of a season, if a team is in danger of being eliminated from the playoffs, the announcers on TV will say stuff like, “if they don’t win tonight they’ll be playing golf next week.” It’s true, because they all play golf during their offseason like it’s going out of style.
This got me to thinking, and this thinking led to a theory: an athlete’s prowess on the golf course ought to be inversely related to his success in whatever sport he plays normally.
In other words, if an athlete is always playing late into the playoffs, then he won’t get as much time out on the course, and he won’t be as good a golfer. But if he plays for a team that’s never all that good, he might be a really great golfer.
To test my theory, I made this list of the best currently active athlete golfers. Have a look, and judge my theory for yourself.
(The number in parentheses next to the athlete’s name is his handicap.)
11. Derek Lowe (3)
Well, right off the bat we have a guy who definitely makes my theory look weak—on the surface. Yes, Derek Lowe has played a lot of extra baseball during his career with the Red Sox, Dodgers and Braves. But you have to remember, he’s a starting pitcher. He only plays every five days. In between starts he has to throw bullpen sessions and work out, but I bet he can squeeze in at least one round of golf. That would explain Lowe’s excellent 3 handicap (which means, all things being equal, he has the potential to shoot about 3 over par on a good day).
Oh, and in the photo above, that’s Derek Lowe on the right, pictured playing golf with along with Johnny Damon, David Wright and, for some reason, Donald Trump.
10. Drew Brees (3)
Drew Brees hasn’t been regularly reporting his scores in recent years, but he and others who know his game estimate he’s about a 3 handicap these days. While he does not hurt my theory, he doesn’t really help prove it, either. He has had success in recent years (winning the Superbowl is as successful as it gets), but that 2009-2010 season was the only extended run he’s had in the NFL playoffs. Earlier in his career, he got to play golf from early January straight through to July.
9. Kyle Lohse (2.9)
Starting pitcher Kyle Lohse’s has had plenty of time to whittle his 2.9 handicap. He’s played for winning teams over the years (Minnesota, Philadelphia, and now St. Louis), but somehow has not managed to get a lot of playoff action. In the offseason he lives in Scottsdale, AZ, and most days can be found at Whisper Rock Golf Club.
8. Derek Anderson (2.8)
On a good day, you can expect Derek Anderson to shoot between 2 and 3 strokes over par. How did the NFL quarterback get so good? Well, I bet playing for the Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals helped a lot. Lord knows this guy has never even sniffed the playoffs.
7. Adam Wainwright (2.5)
Adam Wainwright helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 2006 as their fill-in closer. Since then he’s become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, but has only been to the playoffs one other time—and his Cardinals were swept in three games by the Dodgers. Combine this recent history with the fact that Wainwright grew up in a temperate climate (coastal Georgia), and you can understand how he might have gotten to where he is today: a brag-worthy 2.5 handicap.
In the above photo, that’s Wainwright patting his teammate and golf partner, Albert Pujols, on the head. I guess you can do that when you’re a star pitcher. Don’t try it if you’re a rookie.
6. Nick Punto (2.3)
Utility defensive specialist infielder Nick Punto may not be a baseball superstar, but his 2.3 handicap means that, no matter what team he’s playing for, he’ll probably be the best golfer in the clubhouse. Of course, at the moment Punto plays for the Cardinals, making him the 3rd Redbird to appear on this fairly short list. If I were a Cardinals fan, I think I would find this somewhat disconcerting.
5. John-Michael Liles (0.8)
As you can see, there is a huge gap between numbers 6 and 5. We’re clearly moving into elite athlete golfer territory. High-scoring NHL defenseman John-Michael Liles played golf in high school, so he clearly has an advantage over other pro athlete golfers, who often don’t begin honing their skills until their filthy rich and can afford expensive greens fees and instruction from golf pros. Playing for the Colorado Avalanche, Liles played in the NHL playoffs 3 out of his 6 pro seasons. But now that he’s been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, he can pretty much plan on being out on the course every year by mid April.
4. Jamie Langenbrunner (0.8)
NHL vet Jamie Langenbrunner, currently of the St. Louis Blues, is the first athlete golfer on this list to do any real harm to my theory that an athlete’s golf prowess is inversely related to his success in his primary sport. In his 15-year NHL career, Langenbrunner has missed the playoffs only 4 times. I mean, talk about a winner. Yet somehow he’s managed to craft a ridiculously good 0.8 handicap.
3. Nate Roberts (0)
Well, here at #3 we have our first scratch golfer. This means that, all things being equal, you can expect Nate to shoot par on his good days. We also have our first active athlete who is not from one of the major North American sports leagues. You see, Nate is a World Champion freestyle skier and a U.S. Olympian. While this makes him a top athlete for sure, he plays a winter sport. Yes, he probably trains like crazy in the offseason when there isn’t snow, but the summer still gives him plenty of time to work on his golf game.
2. Liván Hernández (0)
Earlier in his career, Liván Hernández had some memorable playoff moments (most notably with Florida when they won the Series in 1997), but he has only played in the post-season 4 out his 16 big league seasons. Since it’s pretty unlikely he developed his 0 handicap as a child growing up in Cuba, we’ll have to assume that all that extra time off throughout his pitching career is the main factor behind his exceptional golf game. (In case you’re not a baseball fan, Liván is the guy on the left in the above photo.)
1. Tony Romo (plus-3.3)
Cowboys QB is the only active pro athlete with a plus handicap. That means, on a good day, he can be expected to shoot between 3 and 4 shots under par. So Tony is an excellent golfer as well as an excellent NFL quarterback. Of course, his Cowboys have never done particularly well while he’s been their starting quarterback, so more often than not he’s been able to hit the links a months or so earlier than guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. But whatever the explanation, there is no denying Tony Romo is the best active pro athlete golfer.