Pros adjust schedules for college games

September, 10, 2009
09/10/09
10:29
AM ET

This is an important time of year on the PGA Tour. You'll find many players nail-biting, hand-wringing and flop-sweating through each week, only to be completely on edge when the weekend rolls around.

The FedEx Cup playoffs? Ha! That's a good one. OK, so maybe the four end-of-season events are significant and all, but I'm talking about something that makes these guys more excitable than Christina Kim on a caffeine high.

Stewart Cink

Michael Cohen/Getty Images

During the second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, Stewart Cink showed which college football team he follows closely.

College football season.

"For a lot of us out here, college football is a priority," said die-hard University of Iowa fan Zach Johnson. "It's exciting. It's one of my passions. I thoroughly enjoy Saturdays -- and maybe Thursday nights at times, too, of course."

Scott Verplank wasn't enjoying his Saturday at the Deutsche Bank Championship very much. The Oklahoma State alum was unfortunate enough to draw an afternoon tee time, which meant his final nine holes would be played directly opposite the No. 9 Cowboys' opener against 13th-ranked University of Georgia. So he did what any big-time supporter would do. He finished up his round of 3-under 68, then made a beeline for the nearest flat screen.

"As soon as I finished, I ran in," Verplank remembered. "I had already told the locker room guy to make sure he had the remote control for me, because I had to confiscate a television. Yeah, so I sat there and watched the whole second half, screaming and hollering at the TV. It was fun."

Consider it the deep, dark, dirty secret of the FedEx Cup format. Sure, the system inaugurated in 2007 gives the PGA Tour greater finality to its regular season, but for many pros the biggest advantage comes in the ability to once again become full-time football fans.

Don't believe it? Allow me to present Exhibit A, in which one veteran player recently stopped me outside the locker room at Liberty National and asked the question inquiring golf minds want to know: "Tim Tebow or Sam Bradford?" It seemed only perfectly suitable that before I could even answer, a University of Texas alum walked by and solemnly declared, "Colt McCoy."

"All we are out here is a bunch of people," said Georgia Tech grad Stewart Cink. "We're just individuals who like to play golf and we like the same things everyone else does."

Maybe more.

These aren't exactly fair-weather fans giving it the ol' college try. Listen to some players and they sound more like Lee Corso than Lee Trevino.

"I think this quarterback is going to surprise a lot of people, from what I understand," fervent Alabama supporter Jason Bohn said of junior Greg McElroy. "The timing with him and [wide receiver] Julio Jones is pretty good."

"I think we're going to be pretty good," claimed Nick Watney, a Fresno State alum. "New coordinators, so hopefully everything will come together. We've got to find a quarterback, but [coach] Pat Hill always puts a good team out there, so you never know."

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And then there's Verplank, who apparently plays golf only to fill spare time from his role as co-chair of The Next Level Campaign at OSU, which is designed to raise funds for the improvement of the Cowboys' football facilities.

"Our offensive line should be a strength this year," he began. "We have Russell Okung at left tackle; he's a potential top-five or top-10 pick in next year's draft. Obviously, Dez Bryant is the best receiver in the country, in my opinion. He's a man playing with boys out there. I'm kind of buddies with Zac Robinson, our quarterback. Great kid. Great leader. I wouldn't trade him for anybody. You know, the year that Tim Tebow won the Heisman, two guys passed for 3,000 yards and ran for 800. One of 'em was Tebow and the other one was my guy, so he's not a bad player. And then we have a first-team All-American in Kendall Hunter, so we've got the tools. It's just whether or not we can do it."

If this golf thing doesn't work out, the dude can always work the press box in Stillwater.

Verplank is hardly alone, though, in his school ties. Yes, there are fans of the NFL and Major League Baseball and so many other sports among the PGA Tour membership, but to steal a moniker from Arnold Palmer, college football is The King.

Still not buying it? Let me submit Exhibit B, in which players actually admit to planning their Fall Finish schedules around the biggest games.

"I did that before the FedEx Cup, so now I definitely do it," said David Toms, such an ardent supporter of 11th-ranked LSU that he may actually bleed purple and gold. "The first thing I look at when I plan my schedule in the beginning of the year is where the football games fall."

"I can see myself doing something like that," admits Bohn, who enjoys spending his free time on rolltide.com. "I would never take off any kind of major event for college football, obviously, or a FedEx Cup event. That would be silly. But yeah, you have to take weeks off, so you might as well pick 'em around something."

And if some players don't have that luxury? No worries. Every screen in a PGA Tour locker room during a Saturday in autumn will be tuned to college football.

Well, for the most part, at least.

"There are so many people from other countries out here," Cink points out, "that it could be the other kind of football, too."

Only if those guys can pry the remote control away from the likes of Verplank, who understands as much as anyone the need to complete the PGA Tour's regular season schedule as early into the football season as possible.

"If we can compete a little bit for the television market, then that's great and we can get it over with here in September," he says, then echoes the sentiments of so many of his peers. "Bring on football."

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.
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