- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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MEDINAH, Ill. -- When it comes to being America’s guest on a golf course, Mike Ditka probably only rivals Michael Jordan. So when he talks up Medinah Country Club, the host of the 2012 Ryder Cup, you tend to believe him.
“First of all, I don’t think there’s a better pure test of golf than Medinah,” Ditka said. “I know what Olympic did to them [in the U.S. Open], but you don’t have to trick this course up. You don’t have to do anything to it. All you have to do is put the tees back and put the pins in the greens far back. If they can break par here, God bless them.”
Ditka said he was asked to make an honorary appearance at the Ryder Cup this September, but he’s a little embarrassed about the state of his golf game, which is best described now as “fast.”
“They asked me to do an honorary thing and hit the balls with the captains,” he said. “I don’t know if I decided to do it, to be honest with you. I might hit the ball so far they’d never find it.”
But Ditka was happy to be at Medinah for the inaugural “Rivalry Cup” golf matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers on Monday afternoon. No one’s arms had to be twisted for this event, which the Bears won, 10-2.
“They just said Medinah,” said long snapper Patrick Mannelly. “I didn’t even know what it was for and I said yes,”
Mannelly, who is recovering from ACL surgery, said he could play football right now, but is working on his mental confidence. Golf has helped.
"I tell my wife it’s rehab," he said. "I’ve been golfing for the past two months and each time I golf, I get stronger and stronger."
Ditka teed off first with his partner James “Big Cat” Williams against Packers president Mark Murphy and Packers coach (and former Bears center) Jerry Fontenot. Asked if his golf game has picked up in retirement, Williams was honest.
“‘Picked up,’ not sure if that’s the right word to use,” he said. “I have a good handicap -- that’s what I bring to the team.”
What’s his handicap?
“I don’t know,” he said.
In true Ditka style, he kicked off the tournament with a lit cigar in his mouth. “Oooh, come back,” he said after his drive. “I played the wind, but it didn’t come back.”
While Ditka and WIlliams received two and five strokes, respectively, from Murphy, Bears punter Adam Podlesh was expected to carry the Bears through the tournament, which consisted of nine holes of partners four-ball and then solo matches. Podlesh is a “hovering around a scratch” golfer with a University of Maryland Nike golf bag with his name on it.
“He’s the best,” Mannelly said. “He’s a stick.”
According to a Ryder Cup tweet, Podlesh shot even-par on the back nine in 40 mph winds on Medinah Course 3. Podlesh defeated Craig Hentrich in battle of scratch punters.
With Robbie Gould joining Mannelly, Podlesh and special teams coach Dave Toub, the Bears could’ve held a special teams mini-camp at Medinah.
“We do a lot during practice,” Gould said with a smile. “I think we dream about our golf swing. We talk about the golf swing. I’m trying to get Coach [Lovie] Smith to put in a putting green at Bourbannais this year.”
So how’s that going?
“Not so good,” Gould said. “But I think we can negotiate that in the new CBA.”
The Packers brought their special teams guys as well.
“I think a lot of the swings kind of coincide with the mentality of a golfer and the mentality of a kicker/punter,” Podlesh said. “We’re not out there looking to cream somebody like a linebacker is. Our mentality is a little more parallel to a PGA Tour golfer.”
Mike Ditka led the Bears into the "Rivalry Cup" golf tourney against the Packers.