Cleveland Browns are nuts about golf

By Jason Stahl, Contributor

CLEVELAND -- Real men do play golf.

No, really, it's true. And these guys eat red meat, drink gallons of beer, hate pastel colors, and get a kick out of killing small animals with rifles. What further proof do people need that golf is a manly sport when you have NFL players who literally bow to its altar in the off-season?

And not just NFL players but all types of professional athletes. Just turn on the television and you can watch a celebrity golf tour made up entirely of ex-athletes from all sports hitting the rock around, or get a tour of an athlete's new home he bought on a golf course. And these guys have the time and money to devote themselves to the game when they're not trying to bury some guy in the turf or check some poor dude into the wall.

The Cleveland Browns are no exception. Granted, there are some players on the team who would rather play Tiddlywinks with Saddam Hussein than hit the links -- guys like backup quarterback Tim Couch, for instance. Word is that starting quarterback Kelly Holcomb doesn't play much either.

Offensive lineman Ross Verba can't get enough of golf, but right now he can't swing a club thanks to an injury. But there are plenty of players on the roster who are just counting the days to the off-season so they can tee it up. Here are four guys who can golf with anyone:

Name: Nate Hybl
Position: Quarterback, practice squad
Handicap: Scratch
Best score: 64, course unknown, Clinton, Okla.. Also shot 65 at StoneWater Golf Club, Highland Heights, Ohio.
Clubs: Mizuno T-Zoids, Titleist woods, Titleist putter, and balls? "Whatever my brother sends me," Hybl says. "Right now, I'm playing Pro-Vs."
Background: Nate and brother, Ryan, a two-time All-America golfer at the University of Georgia, learned to play the game from their father, who played professionally on the mini-tours when they were growing up. "I'm glad I started young," Hybl says, "because it's hard to pick up golf late in life and be good at it." Nate himself played on the golf teams at the University of Georgia and Oklahoma University, but football took up most of his time. He guesses he played 10 to 12 rounds a year in college, but now he plays a lot more, 40 to 50 rounds per year. "I don't have homework to do and other stuff," he says.
What football player makes the best golfer: "The leaner positions -- quarterbacks, punters and kickers."

Name: Chris Gardocki
Position: Punter
Handicap: 6
Best score: 72, Collington River Plantation, Hilton Head, S.C.
Clubs: Callaway X-16s, 12-year-old Callaway putter, Nike balls
Background: Started playing at Clemson University at the prodding of a friend. "The weather there is nice year-round," Gardocki says. From then on, he was hooked, playing with his friend and the team quarterbacks. Today, he plays a lot with friend and teammate Phil Dawson, 2 to 3 times a week in the off-season.
What football player makes the best golfer: "Quarterbacks, punters and kickers -- the mental positions where you have to think a lot. Both golf and kicking require a lot of thinking."

Name:Steve Heiden
Position:Tight end
Best score:70, Carmel Mountain Ranch Golf Club, Calif.
Clubs:Two sets: Ping I-3s, and TaylorMade 320s with a Titleist K driver, Scotty Cameron and Odyssey putters, Nike balls (free from sponsor) and Pro-V 1x's.
Background: Started playing between 10 and 12 years old, lived 1/4 mile from a golf course in Minnesota.
What football player makes the best golfer:"I think kickers, punters and long snappers are the best golfers because they don't get beat up. After practice, they want to go play because they haven't been running around and getting hit the whole time."

Name:Phil Dawson
Best score:74, Spanish Oaks Golf Club, Bee Cave, Texas. Dawson is a member there and lives there in the off-season.
Clubs:TaylorMade X-14s, Nike Tour Accuracy balls (from sponsor). "When I pretend to be a better golfer, I play Pro-V Xs." He owns eight putters, and the one he is currently playing with is an old TaylorMade Nubbins.
Background: "My granddad started teaching me to play at 5 years old. It was tough because I was a lefty. People tried to change me, but I wouldn't. We started doing putt-putt tournaments, then went to par-3 courses, then worked our way up to playing nine holes. Then, I went to college in Austin, Texas, where there are some beautiful courses, and I really got the bug there. I just love competing on the golf course and being outside. Chris (Gardocki) and I have had a lot of fun playing golf together. Who knows, I may try one of those celebrity tours later."
What football player makes the best golfer:"I have to say kickers, because golf is lot like kicking. You have to evaluate the conditions on any given day. You have to look at the lie, the wind, whether the ball will fly or not, etc. It's not as simple as in practice. You go out and you may not be able to do the same thing as you did in practice."

Jason StahlJason Stahl, Contributor

Jason Stahl currently works for Medquest Communications in Cleveland, Ohio, as Editorial Manager. Prior to joining Medquest, he spent five years with Advanstar Communications as Managing Editor of Landscape Management, a trade magazine covering the professional landscaping business. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1989 and John Carroll University in 1993.

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