Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
Football and golf don’t seem to have a whole lot in common on the surface. Football is a team sport played with high energy and full contact, while golf is mainly an individual sport played at a slow focused pace where the only contact is between your club and the ball. For most National Football League players, perhaps it’s these differences that draw them to the links. It allows them to unwind while still fueling their competitive fires.
There are a few, like Tony Romo the recently retired quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, who every now and again try their stroke on the Pro Tour. Romo, you might know, is an avid player who carries a 0.3 handicap, recently made news by attempting to qualify for the U.S. Open. Unfortunately, he shot a 3-over 75 in an 18-hole local qualifier at Split Rail Links & Golf Club in Aledo, Texas and fell just a few shots short.
Nearly sixty years ago, another prominent quarterback, John Brodie, was invited to the play the 1960 Yorba Linda (California) PGA Tour Open Invitational. Success in this tournament for Brodie meant the NFL could have lost one of its finest quarterbacks and surely altered the league’s history books.
When Brodie first arrived on the campus of Stanford University, he actually planned to concentrate on baseball and basketball, the sports he earned all-city honors in at Oakland Tech High School across the bay. Unfortunately, Brodie suffered a separated shoulder in a freshman basketball game and missed most of the hoops season as well as the upcoming baseball season. A constant competitor, Brodie turned to football the next fall and immediately got the attention of head coach Chuck Taylor. The next Spring football when football began Taylor couldn’t find his starting quarterback anywhere. What Taylor didn’t know then was that Brodie aspired to play golf and was busy trying out for the Cardinal golf team.
Brodie secured a spot on the golf team as well and went on to compete in two NCAA Golf Championships for Stanford in between football seasons. On the gridiron, Brodie played three seasons of college football (1954-56) and during his senior year led the nation in pass completions (139), completion percentage (.579), passing yards (1,633) and passing touchdowns (12).
The All-American quarterback was selected third overall in the 1957 NFL Draft by his hometown San Francisco 49ers. In his first three seasons in San Francisco, Brodie backed up future Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle. During that stretch, Brodie spent his offseason competing on the golf course. He shot an opening-round 65 at the San Francisco Open, won the Northern California Amateur golf tournament in 1958 and qualified for the U.S. Open in 1959.
In 1960, Brodie was going into his fourth year as the 49ers quarterback-in-training. To add to the frustration of not starting, Head Coach Howard “Red” Hickey started to tinker with a shotgun offense. Brodie wanted nothing to do with that style of offense since the quarterbacks who ran it generally took a pounding. Life as a golfer on the Pro Tour started to sound pretty sweet.
In just his 10th pro tournament, Brodie shot a second-round low of 67, five strokes under par at Yorba Linda. At that point, he trailed the leader and eventual champion Jerry Barber by only four strokes while leading the legendary Arnold Palmer by two shots. As they say, it’s not where you start but how you finish.
On the final day, still in contention, John stared down the par-5 15th fairway. He needed to be aggressive if he had any chance to overtake the leader. He gambled and tried to reach the green in two. Instead, the shot came up short and the ball landed in a pond. Ultimately, Brodie recorded a double-bogey on the hole and finished the tournament at even par, ten strokes behind Barber.
“I always wonder what would have happened if I had knocked that ball on the green and holed it and won the tournament.” Brodie stated years later. Maybe he would have retired from pro football and embarked on a solid pro golf career. However, in 1961 the 49ers traded Tittle to the New York Giants and Brodie became the team’s starting quarterback. He decided to put golf on the backburner and finished his 17-year career with the 49ers much stronger than it began. Brodie threw for more than 30,000 yards and 214 touchdowns and left pro football as one of the greatest quarterbacks the 49ers franchise and the NFL had ever seen.