Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt takes a shot during Monday's Cardinals Charities golf tournament at Whirlwind Golf Club.
It was always football for Ken Whisenhunt, and having grown up in Georgia – and the football-crazy South – that isn't a surprise.
But golf was also a big deal to someone who grew up in Augusta and around the Masters tournament, enough so that he played in the 1994 U.S. Mid-Amateur tournament and once briefly considered becoming a pro.
"But you are realistic," Whisenhunt said. "I have played with some of those (pro golfers) and I understand how good they are."
He's left with his own golf outings, like Monday's annual Cardinals Charities Celebrity Golf Classic, or when he travels to the famous Lake Tahoe Celebrity tournament in mid-July. It's not the professional level, but Whisenhunt is still driven to do well. And his golfing reputation, at least around his team, is built in the process.
"I have seen him at Ocotillo (Golf Club) but I've never played with him," quarterback Matt Leinart said. "He's good. I have heard that from everyone. I want to play with him. I'm not good, but I want to see what all the fuss is about."
Fourth-string quarterback Tyler Palko has already established himself as one of the best golfers within the locker room (as well as recent additions like long snapper Mike Leach and punter Ben Graham). Palko also hasn't had a chance to play with Whisenhunt, but while Palko was at the University of Pittsburgh and Whisenhunt an assistant for the Steelers, he got a sense of Whisenhunt's game.
He also got a sense of jealousy watching Whisenhunt.
"I remember thinking, 'Man, that's the life,' " Palko said. "He was coaching big-time football, he can play golf at any course he wants
and* he is shooting a (handicap of) one or a two."
Whisenhunt is the key component of the annual golf outing, although it's likely more for his status as head coach than his golf skills. Bill Lewis, the team's manager of alumni relations and the man who puts together the tourney, said Whisenhunt ends up playing with a key corporate sponsor each year. The tournament, which costs $5,000 per foursome, had about 15 fewer golfers this season in the hurting economy, but Lewis said the net dollars to Cardinals Charities will remain about the same if not a little more than 2008.
That's the feel-good aspect of the day. Then there is the part about winning.
Cardinals video director Rob Brakel, who came with Whisenhunt from the Steelers, has played Whisenhunt in golf numerous times and has first-hand knowledge of Whisenhunt's competitive side. Brakel said of all the times the two have played, he has only managed to beat Whisenhunt once – and claims Whisenhunt won't sign the scorecard from the match.
Brakel has no doubt that had Whisenhunt pursued golf, he would have been successful.
"I played him once and he finished 2-under, and he had missed a bunch of putts," Brakel said. "He can absolutely score when he is in that groove."
Chasing the victory was always at Whisenhunt's core, whether he would have gone with football or golf once upon a time.
"I think if you ask some people, I am pretty much that way in everything I do," Whisenhunt said. "That's my personality. But I enjoy that, that's what drives me, whether it is football and preparations for games on a weekly basis or playing golf at a charity event."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 5/4/09.