In an NFL career beginning in 2009, former University of South Carolina placekicker and punter Ryan Succop has been about as “clutch” a performer as college and pro football have seen.
Picked last in the 2009 NFL Draft, he merely made an NFL-record-tying 86.2 percent of his field goal attempts his first year and kicked more field goals than any other Chiefs’ rookie – not bad considering the record-holder was Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud.
But even Succop has known the occasional failure – perhaps none more memorable than a golf showdown with his college football coach.
The week of the Gamecocks’ spring football game prior to his senior season, Succop and former USC coach Steve competed at Columbia’s Cobblestone Park Golf Course. The “Head Ball Coach,” an avid golfer, had a tradition of challenging the best golfer among his players each year – though, as Succop learned, it was a one-time-only deal.
“When they were recruiting me, he’d always said, ‘I’ll give you a chance to beat me,’” Succop says. “I thought, Man, that’s awesome.’ But later I thought, ‘That was just a little recruiting pitch. It won’t happen.’”
It didn’t for three years. “Then that week, he said: ‘What’re you doing’ on such-and-such a day? That’s my 63rd birthday, so you can play my first 18 (holes) of the year with me.’"
“I hadn’t hit a golf ball in five months, but I knew if I said no, I’d never get a chance to do it. I was four (shots) down after four holes, ended up playing decent the back nine and got close, but I made double bogey on the 17th and he made par to cut me by two shots.
“I think I said to him, ‘So when’s the next time we play?’ And (Spurrier) said, ‘Uh-uh, not again, sucker. You get one chance.’ His deal is he’s never been beat by an active player. And he had some good ones at Duke and Florida.”
Succop began playing golf at age 5 or 6 when his family moved to a house on a golf course. “My dad would take me out after work, me with my one little club, and we’d hit balls every night before dinner,” he says. “Growing up, I had a group of kids my age, and we would play all day long in the summer, dawn to dusk.”
Succop went on to play golf and football for Hickory (NC) High and was on a state championship golf team his junior year. “My senior year, six guys started in matches, and five played college golf,” he says. The sixth – Succop – had other plans.
He now plays to a scratch handicap, good for a tie for ninth on Golf Digest’s 2015 listing of 100 best golfing athletes. During the NFL off-season, he and his family live in Charlotte, and Succop plays “as much as I can,” he said.
That match vs. Spurrier is one of his favorite memories, but there almost was another candidate for No. 1.
“When I’m in Charleston, I’ve played at Bulls Bay, which is awesome,” he says. Once, he was scheduled to play with Bulls Bay’s most famous member, former Hootie & The Blowfish front man Darius Rucker, a rabid Gamecocks fan.
“Something came up, though, and it fell through,” Succop says. If he gets another chance – unlike with Spurrier – he hopes to make the most of it.
Hometown: Hickory, NC Family: wife Paige (Easley native), son Cooper (5 months).
Bio: Kicked and punted for the University of South Carolina football team from 2005-08; his 251 career points ranks 10th all-time for the Gamecocks; was chosen with the 266th and final pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, earning the title of “Mr. Irrelevant” for that year; as of 2015, made 152 of 185 field-goal attempts for an 82.2 percent success rate; career-long field goal is 54 yards.
Highlights: Earned second-team All-SEC honors (2006, 2007), honorable mention Associated Press All-SEC (2007); nominated for Lou Groza (2006 and 2007) and Ray Guy (2007) awards for kicking and punting; 2009 NFL All-Rookie team; waived by Kansas City in 2014 for salary-cap reasons and signed by Tennessee, he went 4-for-4 on field goals against the Chiefs in a 26-10 win.
Where I play: “Bulls Bay near Mount Pleasant is one of the best courses in South Carolina, and Sage Valley (Graniteville) is phenomenal, awesome, beautiful. And the Ocean Course (Kiawah), how do you beat that? I’ve played it a few times. Two summers ago, we played it all the way back, almost 8,000 yards, and I remember I was even par going into No. 14, all fired up; then we turned straight into the wind, and I ended up shooting 76 or 77. But I was excited for a little bit."
“I haven’t played Harbour Town, which gets a lot of credit. There’s another course down that way, Chechessee Creek, and I love that course; it’s fun, Lowcountry golf, beautiful. It’s a course I shouldn’t like because it’s narrow and short, but I have fun there."
“In college, I loved playing Cobblestone Park, that’s a little gem in Columbia. I used to go out there quite a bit and practice with guys on the (USC) golf team. My first couple years in the NFL, I knew (Gamecocks golfers) George Bryan IV and Wesley Bryan, so I’d practice with those guys. They were better than me, but I wanted to beat them. Wesley just got to the Web.com Tour, and I got to caddy for him when he played a tournament in Nashville, which was a fun little deal."
“In Myrtle Beach, I’ve played Caledonia and True Blue, which are awesome courses. True Blue is the harder of the two. I played those several times because my wife’s family has a place in Litchfield, and I love those. Oh, and I also played in the Monday after Masters (pro-am) at Barefoot Resort, the Dye Course. That was fun, getting to play in the tournament.”
Where I eat: “In college, I loved Groucho’s Deli in Five Points. That’s a classic little place. And there’s a barbecue place I always went in college, near the Carolina Coliseum – Palmetto Pig. I’ve always been a barbecue guy. In Charleston, there’s a place we really like called 39 Rue de Jean.”
What I do for fun: “I do a lot of rifle hunting, for deer and other game. When we’re in Charleston, I like to go out to catch redfish. And I love to bow-hunt (bow and arrow). I’m an outdoorsman, though my wife says I have too many hobbies."