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John Elway can swing the part, but he swears that practice is bane of his golf game
John Elway can swing the part, but he swears that practice is bane of his golf game (Courtesy tahoecelebritygolf.com)

Big-play master John Elway roots for Michelle Wie to get her victory

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,

STATELINE, Nev. - Meet John Elway and you'll instantly understand what "presence" means.

Arguably the most cool-headed quarterback in NFL history (he led a league-record 47 fourth-quarter comebacks), Elway is just as commanding in a polo shirt as he was in shoulder pads. Seven years into his retirement, he still looks much as he did when running out of a collapsing pocket and letting the football fly with his Howitzer arm.

People still gravitate to the big guy with the John Wayne gait. Elway creates buzz among the celebrities at celebrity golf tournaments like the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe.

Yet he walks around largely entourage-free. Still the biggest name in Denver, where he owns a string of car dealerships and a share of Arena Football's Colorado Crush, Elway stepped out of the spotlight at his own NFL Hall of Fame induction, tapping his eldest daughter to give his speech.

Make no mistake, though - No. 7 still has plenty to say.

The winningest quarterback in NFL history, engineer of the famed Drive and Drive II in the playoffs, Elway was still dogged for most of his career as the star who couldn't win the really big one. Three lopsided Super Bowl losses threatened to leave a gap in his legacy.

Back-to-back Super Bowl wins in the late '90s changed all that. So perhaps it's no wonder that this scratch golfer with a golden arm has something to say about Michelle Wie's quest to win her first small one.

Q: Do you take anything from football, from those high-pressure situations like the ones dubbed The Drive and The Drive II, and bring it to the golf course?

A: No, football is such a different game. There's so much more patience than in football. At times [in football] you have to show some patience and take what they give you, but in this game you've got to do it all the time.

We're used to, when we get behind, going in and gritting our teeth and coming back. If you grit your teeth in [golf], you're probably going to make a big mistake.

Q: It seems like a lot more quarterbacks play golf than any other position in the NFL. Do you have any insight into why that is?

A: Obviously quarterbacks aren't the bulky types that a lot of other football players tend to be. And you have to be a good athlete to play quarterback. [Golf] is also a game that is conducive to the way quarterbacks think. And that is the challenge. Golf can be very challenging. That tends to wake you up.

Q: With your schedule - owner of an Arena Football team, car dealerships, your restaurant - how much preparation time do you put into a celebrity golf tournament like this one?

A: You know, I thought I was going to practice, but something always seems to get in the way. Unless you really make it a priority, it's tough to really get it going. I'd always love to come out here and play better, and practice, and do those types of things. But in reality, I don't play that well.

Q: You are a scratch golfer. though. You're not hitting dribblers and whiffs like Charles Barkley. Do you ever think Senior Tour or anything on that level?

A: I really do it for fun. I think if I want to make it something else, I'd go crazy. I set my expectations too high with the amount of time I spend on the practice green and chipping and putting, all those kind of things. It's just a matter of, you set your goals. It takes a lot of time to play golf … so it's tough to do when you have a lot of other things going on.

Q: When you see [Bengals quarterback] Carson Palmer or Ben Roethlisberger out here, quarterbacks in the league now who are coming back from injuries, do you say anything to them?

A: No. In football everyone can have injuries. I'm sure they're in the best of hands. It's just a matter of them working their way through it. The biggest thing is getting their confidence back.

Q: Has your perspective changed now that you've been an owner? Do you look at sports any differently from when you were playing?

A: Well, yeah. You look at it differently. Because when you're playing you're right in the middle of it. Especially when you're quarterback, because your attention's demanded every down. You have a lot more to do with what happens on the field. And off the field, outside the lines, there's no way you have that under control.

[Ownership] is kind of the opposite. You have all the control outside the lines and none of it on the field.

Q: Is NFL ownership or a GM job the ultimate goal?

A: It's something I'd be interested in if the right opportunity came along. I've still got two kids in school in Denver so it'd be tough to leave there right now. But I'd definitely look at it.

Q: Are you a big pro-golf fan? Will you watch golf on TV?

A: Oh yeah. I love to watch golf.

Q: What's your take on the whole Michelle Wie thing, then? It seems like everyone has an opinion on it.

A: She's obviously just playing golf. She's got to win one against the women first. Then she can go and play against the men. But I don't look at it as she shouldn't be playing against the men. If that's what she wants to do, then she can do that.

I just hope that she can win some tournaments, get some confidence. She's a great player. But she's young. I just hope she can get that first win under her belt.

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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