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Sterling Sharpe is friendlier on the golf course than he was on the football field, unless he's just double bogeyed.
Sterling Sharpe is friendlier on the golf course than he was on the football field, unless he's just double bogeyed. (GolfPublisher.com)

Ex-NFL star Sterling Sharpe: Sometimes you have to be "a prick" on the course

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,

LA QUINTA, Calif. - Sterling Sharpe found few things he couldn't do on a football field. He broke the storied Green Bay Packers' single-season records for receptions and recieving yards in just his second year in the league. He seemed to score touchdowns at will - 65 in seven NFL seasons, 18 in 1994 alone. He became the first man to catch more than 100 passes in two straight NFL seasons.

These weren't just historic stats; they were virtually unimaginable for a wide receiver as powerfully built as Sharpe. In some ways, he changed the image of his position as a domain of fast, skinny guys.

What Sharpe couldn't imagine was the 1994 neck injury that put a swift end to his career after just seven seasons (and five Pro Bowl appearances).

At the age of 29, Sterling Sharpe suddenly had a lot of time on his hands. The cheering stopped. Brett Favre moved on to other targets. The fantasy-football geeks stopped drooling. And the man used to making Lambeau Leaps before anyone called them Lambeau Leaps had to find something else to do.

Sharpe found his way into TV commentating, but he also discovered an outlet in golf.

TravelGolf.com caught up to the should-have-been football legend at Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs. Known as one of the most difficult interviews in sports, Sterling Sharpe could not have been more open.

He let us in on why he was "a prick" when he played, and he didn't pull punches talking about sports fans today or actor/golfer Samuel L. Jackson. Sterling Sharpe hasn't played football in 12 years But he can still deliver some shots.

Q: Any jitters playing golf, your second sport, in front of the crowds at these PGA Tour events with celebrity fields?

A: No. Longevity. I mean longevity allows you to be comfortable out here. After playing eight years and playing tournament golf for four, you get used to it. It takes some getting used to. But today? We hit it around pretty good today.

Any time you shoot 4 under on your own ball, that's pretty good.

Q: Do you remember the first tournament you played with a crowd and what that was like?

A: Yeah. The worst part was the first tee and then thinking that you were better than you actually could play. You think that because you practice this game, it is going to be just like you practice, and it's not. It's totally different. You have to allow the shots to come to you. You have to believe in what you're doing, trust what you've been working on.

That's the hard part in this sport. 'Cause you can make a perfect swing and hit it way right and you can make a half swing and hit it perfect. When they say this game is 90 percent mental or 99 percent mental, they're exactly right. If you can't control your emotions, you are in trouble.

Q: When did you first get into golf?

A: Probably about five years ago I got serious about my game and felt like I could come out here and compete as far as being able to play well. The first few years I played, I enjoyed being out here, I enjoyed being in the ropes, I enjoyed playing with the tour guys.

But probably the last four or five years, I got serious about wanting to play well, wanting to score well, wanting to do well. And it's a process. I'm never going to get to the level that those [tour] guys are. I'm never going to be able to match their intensity, their focus, their understanding, their shotmaking.

But for me to be where I am right now, I'm extremely happy where my game is.

Q: Does it compare at all to pro football?

A: No, because that's what I wanted to do all my life. That's the only thing I ever wanted to do. Playing golf and playing football, to me, is not even in the same category.

This is fun. You get a chance to meet a lot of wonderful people. You can play with anybody. My sport, you're not going to have guys sitting around on a Saturday morning going, "Let's get the helmet and shoulder pads on and go play football." It's just not going to happen.

Q: Who's the best celebrity golfer you've played with?

A: Unlike Tiger, Vijay and Phil, those guys who are at the top, for us it's any given day. Marshall Faulk I've seen go low. Marcus Allen I've seen go low. Not to mention the Rick Rhodens and the Dan Quinns and those guys.

Celebrity-wise there are a lot of guys, our games are pretty much the same. It's just a matter of they've been playing a little longer than some other guys.

Marshall has to deal with football and then come out here. That's the thing. It's interesting to see. On any given day, any given celebrity can put two rounds together and win a golf tournament. On our stage. We can't come out here [to a PGA tournament] at all.

We can wear the clothes, pick the clubs and carry the bags, but we're never going to perform like those guys perform. They do things with a golf ball that a lot of people outside the ropes can't even imagine.

Q: Who's the worst football-player golfer you've ever seen? The guy who you just can't believe is an athlete from watching him golf.

A: That's the thing about this sport. Everybody can be out here. Our high handicapper, Tom Knight, our amateur, he deserves to be out here. He had fun. He tried as best he could. I tried best I could the first day and didn't score as well as I wanted to. Jason Gore had an up-and-down day today.

Golf is one of those games. Forget the top four in this sport; the other guys and then take the top seven, eight guys on the celebrity tour, there ain't a lot of difference between those guys and the rest of us out here to have a good time. We get as angry as anybody when we make double bogey.

I had a four-birdie round going on the back and I go to our 16th hole and make double. And I'm furious. And at that moment, you've got to hit another tee shot, you've got another hole. Being able to do that is the hardest thing this sport has to offer.

Q: You look at the PGA Tour guys and they're out here trying to make a living, but they're also trying to entertain the fans, and deal with playing with the celebrities like you. Can you relate that at all to life as an NFL player?

A: I think Marcus Allen, who's been in my group every day, and myself have enjoyed playing with Duffy Waldorf on Wednesday, Stephen Ames yesterday and Jason Gore today. We fully understand that these guys are working. And we have a great appreciation for being out here with them. But we do everything in our power to stay out of their way.

Everybody's caddy has been wonderful to us, if we have a [putt] read we're not sure about. But for the most part I understand they're trying to win a golf tournament. I understand they're making a living out here and I know for me and most of my friends, most of the celebrity guys, we try our best to stay out of the pros way for the most part.

Because we're having fun and there's some tour cards on the line. I know Stephen Ames was talking about having 10 top-10 finishes and then playing a seven-hour round of golf yesterday. Which was kind of painful for him. But we have an understanding of what's going on and we're not bashful or ashamed to pick up our golf ball. If I hit it in there tight and somebody makes a 20-footer for birdie, I'll pick mine up. I've got no problem with that.

Q: Can you imagine something like this in football? Any celebrities you'd love to hit going upfield?

A: We're not going to have a reality show where a guy puts on a uniform and plays an NFL game. That's not going to happen. The term "big break" would definitely take on a whole new meaning. That's the thing about this sport - you can play with anybody and have a good time.

It can't be as much fun for [the tour pros]. I know how it is on game day. I didn't want to be bothered by anyone. If you weren't with me in practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I really didn't have a whole lot to say to you on game day.

And for them to be able to come out on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday - to have five game days - and still be able to perform at the best of their abilities, and be able to have us come out here? No one will ever imagine how big a credit it to those guys to be able to do that.

Q: How would you have treated a celebrity on your playing field on game day?

A: We've all got our quirks on game day. To be part of their lives on game day is very special. I know what it took for me to be the best player I could be in the NFL.

I was a prick when I played. And I know a lot of fans didn't like me, because that's what I needed to do to be the kind of player I was. A Phil Mickelson can come out here and shoot 64, 63 and play with a bunch of guys that can't break 80.

On game day, I don't want to be around a guy that's not playing. You don't have a whole lot to say to me. I understand about being a pro. And I have a great appreciation for what these guys do and who these guys are and how they are. You're not going to sign every autograph. You're not going to take every picture. You can't. And you have to be OK with saying no to a lot of people who support you and cheer for you and pay money to watch you do what you do.

It takes a really thick-skinned person to be a professional anything.

Q: How do you handle saying no to a fan?

A: After a birdie you can say, "I'm sorry, I can't do it right now." But after a double bogey, leave me the f**k alone!

The thing is, everybody wants to think that we're so different. It's a great myth. Everybody likes to say, "Oh, because you're a professional athlete, you're supposed to be different." I'm human. If my wife is in the stands and I feel like she's in harm's way, I'm going in the stands. Full out.

I'm not going because I'm above the law or beyond reproach. I'm human. And I think a lot of people outside the ropes forget about how human these guys are inside the ropes.

Q: What celebrity who's known as, using your words, a "prick" gets a bum rap? Who's really one? Samuel L. Jackson?

A: [Laughs] I get that all the time. "How's Sam Jackson? Is he a nice guy?" He's a nice guy to me. I don't want an autograph from him. Actually, I got his autograph on my head cover. But I don't want anything from him. I understand what he goes through, because I've gone through it.

I'm telling you, you're not going to have a guy run out on a movie set when Sam Jackson's delivering a line, like in [sports] you'd have a fan running around the bases. You're not going to get that.

I can't imagine me on the sidelines, getting ready to get back on the field in the two-minute drill and having some fan sitting there, going, "Hey, what are you guys planning on doing here?" I can't imagine that. I can't imagine me being in the huddle and Joe Fan getting to be in action, in the huddle, just wanting to hear the play. I can't imagine that.

I can't imagine scoring a touchdown and running to do the Lambeau Leap and some fan who's on the field with me, he's jumping with me. I can't imagine that. Yet here we are at the Bob Hope playing the same golf course, same fairways, same rough with the pros.

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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