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Expectations weigh on celebrity golfer Carson Palmer to carry group

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The life of a professional football player can be stressful.

Picture this: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer shows up to a beautifully manicured golf course -- one of the hundreds in the Phoenix area -- dressed in his finest golf attire, mentally prepared for a fun, laid-back round of golf at one of his teammate’s charity tournaments. Then it happens.

Palmer’s group of civilian golfers, who paid good money to golf with a professional football player, turns to him on the tee box and utters the words Palmer dreads hearing.

“They’re all saying, ‘We never play golf and we expect you to carry this thing for us,’” Palmer said. “We’re all kind of looking at these guys like, ‘I was thinking that. That’s what I came here for.’”

Talk about expectations.

“It’s pretty stressful when you play as the celerity in the group and they expect you to kind of carry the group and you can’t quite carry them. So, that part of it is very stressful," Palmer said.

Such is life as a pro football player on the offseason charity golf tournament circuit.

This offseason, in addition to the Cardinals’ own tournament, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, cornerback Patrick Peterson, defensive tackle Calais Campbell and coach Bruce Arians hosted their own events. That’s four free rounds of golf for the invited players. That’s also four times when expectations might be higher than those on the football field.

“It’s lot more stressful out here because this is not our profession,” Palmer said.

Palmer returned to the links this offseason after a 17-month hiatus caused by his ACL injury suffered during the 2014 season. But even now that he’s healthy, it’s tough for him to find a four-hour window to play 18 holes, especially with four kids, including a newborn, at home. When Palmer can fit in an hour of golf, it’s usually spent at the driving range or on the putting green.

“Because that’s what really matters,” he joked.

The charity golf tournament circuit -- CGTC -- features a wide range of golf talent, from punter Drew Butler, who’s widely considered the best golfer on the team, and kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who’s No. 1B, to outside linebacker Alex Okafor.

Okafor just picked up golf in the last couple of months and has quickly learned it’s as heartbreaking of a sport as it is fun. Like Palmer, Okafor hits the driving range during his free time. The difference is that Palmer is trying to regain his stroke and refine his game. Okafor is just learning.

The hardest part for a beginner golfer? “Just hitting the ball,” said Okafor.

“Ball and stick sports were never my forte, so just keeping my eye on that ball and getting some lift on it is, like, the toughest thing ever,” Okafor said.

But there he was at Campbell’s event, held at the Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Arizona, the same course that hosts the Cardinals’ annual event, looking the part of a golfer trying to get in as many holes before his stress level went through the roof.

As Palmer pointed out, though, it’s a different type of stress for someone at Okafor’s level.

“I’ve seen his golf game and it’s so bad,” Palmer said in his dry sense of humor. “It’s so nasty and it has so much work and such a long way to go that he’s probably not as stressed out here because he's just hacking at it.”

Campbell, the host of one event on the CGTC, admitted he’s one of the “worst on the team.” But he still took his sticks and hit the course -- and has at other CGTC events. Like most professional athletes, however, Campbell has a competitiveness inside and a desire to improve so that during next year’s CGTC he can be more like Palmer than Okafor.

“I want to take proper lessons to get really good,” Campbell said. “Give me a couple years and I’ll be a little better.”