“You ever heard of that? (It’s) a par-5, fairway bunker, fairway bunker, greenside bunker and then in the hole. For birdie! It was three sand traps and then in the hole at Ocala (Fla.) Country Club.
“Standing in the (greenside) bunker, I was thinking, ‘I can still make par. Still make par.’ And then the (ball) went in” for a birdie four.
As you read this, South Carolina’s iconic football coach’s clubs are in a closet, where they’ll stay until, oh, late January if things work out this fall the way he and Gamecocks fans hope. Spurrier, in his eighth season at USC and coming off a school-best 11-2 record in 2011, recognizes two seasons – and when it’s football season, that’s what he does.
When it’s golf season, though, few have enjoyed the game as much as the 67-year-old coach, who won a Heisman Trophy as a player and a national championship as a coach at Florida. From Gamecock Club spring meetings to family vacations to celebrity competitions, Spurrier rarely misses an opportunity in the spring and summer to tee it up.
Since moving to South Carolina for the 2005 season, he’s discovered and played many of the state’s 364 golf courses. This year, though, a Jan. 5 knee replacement played havoc with his onetime single-digit handicap – he limped through this year’s RBC Heritage Pro-Am at Harbour Town Golf Links – though the “Head Ball Coach” refuses to use that as an excuse.
“I just swung the club poorly a lot this year,” he said during his preseason media golf outing at Cobblestone Park Golf Club. “A lot of times, I swung it pretty well. I just wasn’t consistent.
“I broke 83 just three times all year. I shot 79 the first day at Lake Tahoe (the American Celebrity Challenge), 78 at Marsh Creek in St. Augustine, and 78 out here at Cobblestone. I haven’t played as much, and it’s just bad swings, my fundamentals.”
Other years, though, Spurrier – who says he doesn’t have a “classic” golf swing – has proven his ability. He once shot a 66 in Florida “from the white tees; that was in 1987. Made seven birdies and one bogey, made a bunch of 15- and 20-footers (putts), one of those good days when it all fell together.” And he’s played with a who’s who that includes Arnold Palmer and Willie Mays.
In a 2005 interview, Spurrier said he took up the game before going to play football at Florida. “I really got started during that summer in Johnson City (Tenn., his hometown),” he said. “I had a buddy in high school (who would say), ‘Steve, we get to play free at Johnson City Country Club.’ So I’d say, ‘That’s my kind of deal if it’s for free.’ I’d borrow their clubs and play with them.”
By the time he left Gainesville, Fla., “I could shoot in the 70s and low 80s” at the university course. His salad years as a golfer came when he coached the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits and shaved his handicap to a 2. “I was playing Avila Country Club in Tampa three to four days a week (and) obviously your handicap can get real low,” he said. “That was probably the best I ever played.”
Spurrier takes pains, though, to tell USC fans that “(golf) is not the biggest, nowhere close to the biggest thing in my life.” Still, he admits, “(the game) gives us a chance to compete in the offseason, and when you’re traveling around, obviously, finding a beautiful golf course and having a game is something I really enjoy.”
In fact, Spurrier once told how the late San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh once said he wished he had taken up golf in order to avoid burnout. “I think he retired at 62 or something like that,” Spurrier said. “(Walsh) wished he’d gotten away from it in the offseason.”
The coach smiled as he summed up: “I think there’s a lot of sense in that.” Certainly, splitting his year between football and golf has kept the Head Ball Coach rejuvenated and enthused. Come 2013, he’ll be back in search of that elusive double eagle – or perhaps another triple-sandy birdie.
Hometown: Johnson City, Tenn.
Bio: Won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as a senior at Florida; played in the NFL with San Francisco and Tampa Bay; assistant coach at Florida, Georgia Tech and Duke; head coach, Tampa Bay Bandits (USFL), 1983-85; head coach at Duke, 1987-89; Florida, 1990-2001; Washington Redskins, 2002-03; South Carolina, 2005-present.
Highlights: Won seven SEC titles and one national title (1996) at Florida; was 35-22 in three USFL seasons; begins 2012 season with a record of 197-75-2 in 22 college seasons, including 116 SEC wins, second only to Alabama’s Bear Bryant; with 55 victories, needs 10 to pass Rex Enright (64) for more wins at USC.
Where I play: “I’ve got too many (favorite courses in South Carolina), I guess. Here in Columbia, I really like our home course at Cobblestone Park, and I live out at Woodcreek and play there. Those are my two top courses in this (Columbia) area.
“Around the state, The Reserve Club at Lake Keowee is one I’ve played in a member-guest, so I enjoyed that one. I also like the Cliffs at Glassy, up on the mountain, some beautiful views there. When we go to the Charleston area, there are lots of good courses: the River Club at Kiawah Island and Cassique, I like those two, and I likeCherokee Plantation. And I play Sage Valley once a year. I also play Harbour Town one day a year at the Heritage Pro-Am, and that’s a good one also.”
Where I eat: “I’m not real big on anything except something close to the house most of the time. We go to a little restaurant, Stonefire Grill, about six blocks from where we live, a nice convenient place. When we go downtown, we like Blue Marlin, that’s a good one.”
What I do for fun: “(In the) summer, we usually go to the mountains three days a year. I like to go to Linville Ridge and Grandfather Mountain, stay with a friend there, and we played Grandfather (golf course) twice; they had rain and Linville Ridge was fogged in both days. As for the beach, we usually go to where I have a place at Crescent Beach, Fla. It’s only about a five-hour drive, so that’s where I usually go. And we do one lake day with (booster) Bert Pooser. He invites all the coaches out to Lake Murray, so we do that one day a year, too.”