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Gravitating Toward Golf

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 Matt Leinart (left) watches a shot sail toward the green; Ken Whisenhunt (center) takes some swings on the driving range; and Kurt Warner (right) gets in some practice putting Monday at the annual Celebrity Golf Classic.

It wasn't his birthplace of Augusta, Georgia, that turned Ken Whisenhunt on to golf, nor the area's legendary Masters tournament.

It was Whisenhunt's brother, who came home from a golf outing with their father one day when Whisenhunt was "9 or 10" and proclaimed it really cool. That was enough for Whisenhunt, who went out with his father a couple weeks later and was hooked – enough so that he made a brief run at becoming a golf pro after his NFL playing days were over years later.

For many Cardinals, golf is a natural pastime – or it should be.

Whisenhunt was in his element at Monday's annual Celebrity Golf Classic at Whirlwind Golf Club, an event that benefitted Cardinals Charities. A total of 320 golfers participated in the scramble format, including a handful of current and former Cards.

Golf as a profession doesn't hold much interest for the football set. Whisenhunt said he never asks 'What if?' when it comes to his golf career, in part because becoming a pro golfer is difficult but mostly because his "real" career has turned out to be fairly successful.

Kicker Neil Rackers grew up around golf, selling golf balls when he was 10 to earn some money and playing with his family on holidays. He gets in plenty of practice because specialists like he and long-snapper Nathan Hodel tend to have a little more free time to go hit the links.

But Rackers said he never even thought about trying pro golf.

"I know when I am shooting a good round, it's great and then the next hole you get an eight," Rackers said. "You can never win at golf. You can't beat the course."

Normally, you just can't beat the quarterbacks. At least, that's how center Al Johnson – one of those players who sees the natural marriage between an NFL player's dead time and golf opportunities – tends to see the game.

"I was flipping through NFL Network the other day and saw (Saints quarterback) Drew Brees' tournament, and I am seeing minus-scored and thinking, 'Whatever,' " said Johnson, who rates his game as "terrible." "It's not fair."

Perhaps Johnson came to the right team as a free agent last year, however. Cardinals third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre said he hasn't played the game since last July, and the two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart weren't expecting much better.

"There is something special about us quarterbacks that allows us to (play golf)," Kurt Warner said. "But I am not one of those guys."

Matt Leinart has been playing more golf this offseason than ever, and said in his own eyes he is much better than when he started and "can hold my own." Then he admitted "I am terrible."

But he knows with his position comes great responsibility.

"It does seem like everyone I talk to thinks to be a good quarterback you have to be a good golfer," Leinart said. "Every quarterback I know is a good golfer. So I am trying."

It's not necessarily easy. Johnson said his golf game gets "messed up" this time of year, when weightlifting is at a premium. Tighter shoulders will help blocking Adam Carriker in St. Louis in September, but not swinging a club at Whirlwind in May.

The scoring isn't everything, though, not as much as hanging out with the teammates in a non-football environment, long snapper Nathan Hodel said. There is a benefit with that, too.

Whisenhunt wouldn't mind a little more golf. He'd actually like to play every day, he said.

"But obviously," he added with a smile, "I have other things that take precedent."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 5/5/08.

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