Thursday, February 9, 2012
Bill Belichick remains his verbose self
By Gene Wojciechowski
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Bill Belichick shook hands with his playing partners, walked off the 18th green at Spyglass Hill and then, on a mulch-covered path near the scorer's trailer, stopped and bared his football soul.
"Hell, yes, I told our guys, 'Make them go to Manningham,'" said the New England Patriots coach Thursday, confirming an NFL Films audio recording from the final minutes of Super Bowl XLVI. "You think I wanted Gisele to yell at me too? Everyone knows you have to stop Cruz and Nicks on that play."
In a perfect world -- and Thursday on the Monterey Peninsula was about as perfect as it gets -- Belichick would have cracked wise after his first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He would have actually said what I just made up.
Instead, he shook hands with tour playing partners Ricky Barnes and Bud Cauley and Alabama coach Nick Saban, walked grimly off the 18th green at Spyglass, signed a few autographs and then made a beeline for his courtesy car.
"I'm just out here having fun," said Belichick, four days removed from the Super Bowl loss to Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and the rest of the New York Giants.
Really? I followed Belichick from his last shot on the driving range at 8:10 a.m. to his trunk slamming in the Spyglass parking lot a little before 2 p.m. On a Fun Scale of 1 to 10, Belichick's body language screamed minus-4.
His score -- somewhere around 90, what with all the times he picked up -- was the result, he said, of someone who "hasn't played in six months." And he's right: The last time Belichick played was in July on Nantucket, just before the start of Patriots training camp.
He wore gray pleated pants; a black, short-sleeve shirt; white golf shoes; a white visor; and, on rare occasion, the tiniest hint of a smile. Belichick, who has played in this tournament several times, didn't arrive at Pebble Beach until Wednesday. He didn't bother with a practice round. Instead, he spent part of that night in the world-famous Tap Room of The Lodge hotel watching Duke's miracle comeback against North Carolina with Saban, former U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate and former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa.
Spyglass is the most difficult course on the peninsula. So it didn't help Belichick's game that he was playing with brand-new clubs, delivered a day earlier in a touring pro-sized blue-and-white bag. When his tee shot on No. 6 squirted far right and into the woods, Belichick pretended his 9-degree driver was Tiquan Underwood and cut it for the rest of the round.
Pate, a Bama man, is a close friend of Saban's. And Saban was an assistant coach on Belichick's Cleveland Browns staff in the early 1990s. The connection wasn't lost on Pate, who noticed immediately the layers of rust on the coaches' golf games.
"What I like about Bill's swing is that he has an excellent grip, so fundamentally somebody has taught him the most important thing about the game -- the grip," said Pate, as we watched him tee off on the second hole. "He takes the club back inside just a little bit and as he makes his downswing the club gets away from his body -- which is good -- and he's going to hit a little slight cut, left to right, which is a money shot. Totally under control. He's going to be in play most of the time."
Sure enough, Belichick's drive found the fairway. But it was obvious that Belichick would soon file for legal separation from the club. He used a 3-wood on the par-4 No. 4 and after the crummy drive on the par-4 sixth, he slammed the clubhead into the tee box grass.
|Getting information out of Bill Belichick on a golf course is pretty much the same as it is around a football stadium: nearly impossible.|
If you could combine Saban's tee-to-green game and Belichick's short game, you'd have a decent golfer. Saban was registered as an 11-handicapper, which was lower than it should have been. "He's no 11," said Pate.
Not right now, he isn't. Saban got the shakes whenever he had to chip. With the exception of a few quick practice sessions at the university's golf center, he hasn't played since last summer.
Belichick, a 16 handicap, has a wonderful short game, but he plays with all the joy of a coal miner going into the darkness. Though I did see him raise his arm and do a mini fist pump after sinking a 10-footer for par on No. 8.
He chatted with Barnes a bit. He autographed his share of hoodie photos. He gave his significant other, Linda Holliday, a warm smile when she signaled thumbs up after a well-struck 3-wood.
"Nice shot, baby," she said.
I saw Belichick hit more than a few nice shots. I also saw him hit a tree and watched as his face contorted in controlled disbelief as the ball caromed back behind him.
A magazine writer made a run at him during the walk to the parking lot. She flamed out, just as another writer and I did -- though I'm pretty sure he said something about wanting to play in a foursome that included Saban, LaRussa and Arnold Palmer.
I made one last interview attempt, but it fell incomplete, just like Tom Brady's Hail Mary pass on the final play of the Super Bowl.
"I'm done with the interview, thank you," he said.
Done with the interview? There was no interview.
Maybe he was worried we'd ask about the NFL Films audio. Or about the heartbreaking loss to the Giants. Or about that new driver of his.
Saban was less guarded. Then again, Saban's Bama team just won the national championship a month ago. In fact, Belichick grilled Saban about a handful of Bama's draftable players during the round.
"I think when the season's over we all need a little solitude of doing something different," said Saban. "Just psychologically, you got to get sort of mentally flushed out so you're ready for the next thing. For [Belichick] it's going to be free agency and the draft. For us, we just finished recruiting, so we have an offseason program coming up and spring practice."
Saban could identify with Belichick's Super Bowl disappointment. He's had his share of crushing defeats.
"At the same time, they're AFC champions and they accomplished a lot of good things this year," said Saban. "I think when you're in high school and pro ball, if you don't win the last game you're always disappointed. But you also got to reflect back and make sure you appreciate what you were able to accomplish."
Belichick accomplished a 90 or so on his Thursday scorecard. For now, that will have to do.
|Just days after Bill Belichick walked off the field in Indianapolis after his Patriots lost the Super Bowl, he was still dodging interviews at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.|
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
MORE COMMENTARY »