WINDERMERE, Fla. – Jerry Rice, who came to define excellence at wide receiver, wants you to know something: The crispness in which he ran routes in the NFL doesn’t exactly correlate to how he operates in the rest of his life.
“I’m an edgy guy,” Rice said. “I like to take chances.”
That’s why the Hall of Fame wide receiver took a few shots at Web.com Tour events in the past – missing the weekend badly on all four occasions. And it’s also the reason why Rice likes to tinker constantly with his golf swing as he searches for an extra boost.
A couple of years ago, though, his risk-taking attitude pushed him to go in a really bold direction with his golf game.
“I went to the Bubba Watson style for a while,” Rice said. “Standing further away from the ball, just opening everything up and just swinging.”
Yep, Jerry Rice went all in on “Bubba Golf.” No, he wasn’t hitting massive slices or hooks (or driving it 350-plus yards), but he gave a full embrace to the loose attitude of Watson’s golf game, along with adopting the open stance of the left-handed two-time Masters champion.
“I did the skill competition with Bubba, and just to watch how he could hit so many different shots on command was cool,” Rice said. “For most guys, if they hit a draw, they’ll have a closed stance. But Bubba is totally the opposite. It’s just amazing.”
Still, it’s one thing to admire Watson’s game. It’s a significantly larger leap to try to mimic it.
But Rice, 53, has been willing to do whatever it takes to improve in golf, even if it means a drastic change, such as a move to Watson’s cavalier golf approach.
“When I got to plus-1 or plus-2 handicap a couple of years ago, I just felt I needed to change to get lower than that,” said Rice, who played 20 NFL seasons, primarily with the San Francisco 49ers, and holds league records for receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197). “That’s why I tried the Bubba approach. But in retrospect, maybe I should’ve stuck with what I was doing.”
Rice worked with the Watson method for several months, and you have to give him credit for attempting such a bold maneuver. In the end the predictable result – too many wild swings – weaned Rice off the Watson way.
“The way I play now (conventional style and standing closer to the ball) after the Bubba style, if I’m offline a little bit, it won’t be too far off,” Rice said. “I’m more in control than with the Bubba style.”
Rice has found that his golf game has suffered in recent years, regardless of his style of play, as his handicap has risen to 1.6. On Wednesday at the Brian Gay Invitational – a pro-am ahead of the three-day Diamond Resorts Invitational celebrity tournament – Rice and his team posted a 14-under 58, the lowest score from the morning groups at the Golden Bear Club at Keene’s Point.
Rice’s struggles in a few Web.com Tour starts garnered headlines, especially when he shot a ghastly 92 in the opening round of the 2010 BMW Charity Pro-Am. Could a good showing this week give him the boost to go after pro events again?
Well, it’ll take a lot more than that. Rice said he wouldn’t feel comfortable going out for a pro tournament again unless his handicap reached plus-4 or plus-5. And even then, he wouldn’t accept a sponsor exemption, as he had in his previous Web.com Tour ventures.
Rice may be edgy, but the tactician still takes over when it comes to learning from his past.
“If I did it again, this time I would try to qualify because you need to earn that,” Rice said. “There are only so many slots, and I know how much of a struggle it is to try to get into a tournament. If I do it that way, I deserve my spot if I get it.”