- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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In more than 30 years of coaching, Steve Spurrier has never lost a round of golf to one of his players. New challengers are apt to dismiss the claim, but Spurrier is happy to provide witness accounts of each of his triumphs. It's a record he takes seriously.
More than a few strong golfers have made their way through his rosters at Duke in the 1980s, Florida in the '90s or South Carolina the past few years, and Spurrier is always willing to give them a game. But they only get one crack at the king.
The last to take his shot was kicker Ryan Succop, who played at South Carolina from 2005-08. Succop was good, and Spurrier knew it. The kickers are always the ones to worry about. So the coach made sure to set the odds in his favor, scheduling their match just as spring practice drew to a close. Spurrier had been out on the course enough to shake off the rust during the previous month, but the players rarely have enough time.
"You have to pick your spots when you play someone who's a lot better than you," Spurrier said.
Succop had two triple-bogeys on the day and finished with a 79. Spurrier edged him out with a 77. On nine out of 10 days, Spurrier admits, Succop would've won. But that's hardly the point.
"All of them say, 'Coach, when are we going to play again?' and I say, 'No, no, you had your chance,' " Spurrier said.
Of course, opportunities to hit the tees at all are getting harder to come by for coaches. The recruiting calendar has grown more cumbersome, the demands of the job more strenuous, and the number of coaches regularly playing golf has diminished as a result. Even Spurrier, the elder statesmen of the coaching ranks on both the football field and the golf course, doesn't get out quite as much as he used to. By the end of July, his clubs are already gathering dust.
But as the demands of the job increase, the importance of finding an escape is even more crucial, Spurrier said. So he has kept golf a priority during those few months every year when NCAA rules prevent him from working with his players.
"Almost all coaches feel like they've got to be the hardest-working coaches in the country," Spurrier said. "I've never worried about that."
What Spurrier does worry about is the competition on the golf course.
"He's meticulous," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who was once an assistant under Spurrier at Florida. "You putt them all in, and you play by the rules."
If he's down big after the first nine, Spurrier's apt to want to call it a day, said former coach and avid golfer Rick Neuheisel, but if he wins a round, it can be a long ride home. "He beat me in Cancun once," Neuheisel said, "and I think we went over every shot on the 45-minute bus trip back."
Stoops played a round with Spurrier at Whispering Pines in South Carolina a few years back. On one hole, Stoops' drive went awry. He fought his way out of high grass and chipped his way up a cliff, and when the carnage finally came to an end, he begrudgingly announced he'd shot a 10 on the hole.
"Well, Bob," Spurrier was quick to interject, "I think it was an 11."
It's not uncommon for the competitiveness that coaches display on the football field to trickle over to the golf course. But keeping their game in top form all year is a daunting task.
Stoops took home two trophies the 2012 Pebble Beach Pro-Am after shooting an 82 on Saturday and an 80 on Sunday -- two of the lowest rounds he'd mustered in years. The performance had been so unexpected, Stoops had to cancel a flight he'd already booked in order to finish his round on Sunday.
Spurrier still flaunts his $20,000 prize for a fourth-place finish at a Pro-Am in Lake Tahoe in 1990, but he actually finished sixth. John Elway and actor Jack Wagner declined to accept their winnings in order to maintain amateur status. Spurrier's prize the next year was far less.
Spurrier won the Chick-fil-A Bowl's charity golf tournament twice, but it's been a few years since he has claimed victory. Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson is a three-time winner, including the 2014 installment, but even he pins much of the credit on his playing partner, former basketball star Jon Barry.
It's tough when the golfing season lasts little more than two months, and even those precious moments on the course can be interrupted at any moment by football.
"There's not a lot of real good golfers that are coaches that I've met because golf is a game you have to practice," Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. "You have to spend time doing it."
For Akron coach Terry Bowden, there's not much room to brag. He has broken 80 just once in his golfing career, and he's quick to admit that his short game needs work and his drives are short and erratic. Bowden's most memorable accomplishment on the golf course is the time he nearly died in a tee box. He tripped and fell, impaling himself on a tee he had tucked behind his ear. Years later, his family still teases him about the incident.
For Bowden, golf is all about family. Since the time he was born, the Bowdens have made an annual pilgrimage to Panama City, Florida, for a week of golf. Patriarch and longtime Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is 85, but he still plays 36 holes a day during the family trip, and if he's allowed to hit from the forward tees, he still routinely beats his four sons.
For the Bowden boys, the competitive spirit is reserved for that one week every year. They hold a 36-hole challenge dubbed "The Bowden Tournament," the family split into two with youngest brother Jeff playing 18 holes with each team. When it's over, a trophy is awarded to the runners-up, and it's required to be on display in the offices of the losing players for the rest of the year.
"It just means you're the lousiest team in the family," Terry Bowden said. "But anybody else who walks in the office thinks you placed second."
Tuberville spends far more time working on his game than the Bowdens. He'll arrive early to hit balls for an hour before teeing off, then he'll stay late to work on the shots he flubbed during his round. He loves every minute he's on the course.
Tuberville has been golfing since he was 12, and he has been encouraging others -- including his sons and his assistant coaches -- to pick up the game ever since. For Tuberville, golf isn't a distraction but rather an opportunity.
"I think it really helps you to be around people that can see you in a different light than just a football coach," Tuberville said.
When he was an assistant at Miami in the early 1990s, Tuberville and head coach Dennis Erickson were regulars at La Gorce Country Club in Miami Beach. They'd play a round, and by mid-afternoon they'd head to the clubhouse to unwind.
More often than not, horse racing great Eddie Arcaro and baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe DiMaggio would be there, too, telling tales. Tuberville got to know both men, and he'd sit for hours listening to two legends unfurl their life stories.
"I'm 31, 32 years old listing to these guys talk about their lives and experiences," Tuberville said. "I was able to do that because I played golf."
From Bo Jackson to Roy Williams to T. Boone Pickens to countless fans and boosters, Tuberville has played with a wide swath of golfers on some of the country's best courses over the years. That's par for the course for college coaches.
"I like to say football coaches are America's guest," Neuheisel said. "Especially if you've had a winning season, we get invited to lots of cool places."
A few years ago, Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre was invited to play Clint Eastwood's course, Tehama, in Carmel, California, with some boosters. MacIntyre was lining up a putt on the 17th green when Eastwood sauntered up and introduced himself.
"I missed the putt," MacIntyre said. "I thought he might shoot me like Dirty Harry."
Still, Eastwood walked the 18th hole with the group, then spent the next few hours chatting with them in the clubhouse. It's the crown jewel of MacIntyre's golfing career.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has gotten to be friends with professional golfer Davis Love III after playing with him in a Pro-Am. The two exchange texts regularly, with Love now an avid Rebels fan. Gus Malzahn has struck up a friendship with Auburn alum and pro golfer Jason Dufner, and Stoops has recently played a few rounds with famed golf coach Hank Haney, who has helped the Oklahoma coach with his swing. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer has played with Phil Mickelson and Del Curry, and he has a tee time with Darius Rucker whenever the rocker makes his way through campus.
"Golf enables you to get around people like that and ask questions," Tuberville said. "I've been fortunate to be around people I've learned a lot from."
The golf bug bites plenty of coaches. Malzahn and Freeze both say they can't play as often as they did when they were coaching high schools, but they make a habit of getting out whenever possible. Former Notre Dame and Washington coach Tyrone Willingham picked up the game late, but he has enjoyed it so much he now volunteers as an assistant for the Stanford women's golf team. Beamer, Dan Mullen, George O'Leary and others have houses at Reynolds Plantation outside Atlanta, and they see each other on the course regularly.
Still, they may be the last remnants of an old way of doing business.
"A lot of new coaches look at golf as a negative when they're looking for assistants," Neuheisel said. "If guys get the golf bug, they're worried they won't be 'round-the-clock coaches."
But that's exactly why so many still like to dust off the clubs when they can, drive out to their favorite course and walk the 18 holes even if their cell phone is buzzing in their pocket. Their games may be rusty, but it's a rare chance to compete without the burdens that come with the job.
"I'm a big believer that you can last a long time in your profession if you have outside activities," Spurrier said. "You get refreshed, and when July is over, I don't even want to play golf anymore. I'm ready to put the clubs away and get the team ready to go."