Scouting Peyton Manning the golfer, trash-talker and teammate of Tiger Woods

  • Covered Broncos for nine years for Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News
  • Previously covered Steelers, Bills and Titans
  • Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame Board
    of Selectors since 1999

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The scouting report says he’s a big-play threat, a competitive, well-prepared player with laser-like focus in the pursuit of a win. Oh, and he’ll drop some well-placed smack on you.

And that’s Peyton Manning, the golfer.

“No question, no doubt,” longtime friend and former teammate Brandon Stokley said with a laugh. “Probably everything he was in football he is in golf, but with more stories — good stories, really good stories. But all of that focus you saw in football, I see that in his golf.”

Said former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan: “He talks smack to everybody, especially if you act a little cocky or like you’ve got it all figured out. But he’s a fun guy, a lot of back and forth in between holes maybe or after, but he’s competing for every second, every shot. But if they get into talking in this one, I would expect him to give more than he gets with those guys.”

Those guys are Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady, who will face off against Manning and Tiger Woods on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, TNT/TBS) in an 18-hole event called “The Match: Champions for Charity.” It will take place at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida, to raise money for coronavirus relief efforts. The two pairs, with eight Super Bowl wins, eight NFL MVP awards and 20 major golf championships on their collective résumés, will play nine holes of best-ball format and nine holes of a modified alternate-shot format.

Manning, a member of Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver and Augusta National, carries a 6.4 handicap index, according to the USGA’s Golf Handicap Information Network. The average recreational player would be about a 16. Manning consistently shoots in the 80s at Cherry Hills, which has hosted the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and the U.S. Amateur at least once since 1978.

While he was still playing for the Broncos, Manning shot a 77 at Augusta National in the spring of 2013, a round that included a hole-in-one, in a group that also included John Elway and then-Broncos coach John Fox.

Manning has called golf “kind of a forever game. I enjoy it, always have, from the time I played with my buddies at [the University of] Tennessee to now, when I’m done playing [in the NFL].”

So what can we expect this week?

“Peyton is going to be Steady Eddie, he’s going to be like, you know, he can shoot high 70s, but he’s probably more like a low-80s-type guy, and he’s cool with that,” said former Broncos and Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, who has spent time on the course with both Manning and Brady. “[Manning] is never going to have a triple [bogey] … he’s going to be a par-bogey type of guy around the course.”

Stokley might have the most experience as a Manning foil, adversary, pest and friend on the golf course. Both still live in the Denver area, and as a former teammate of Manning’s with the Indianapolis Colts and the Broncos, Stokley estimates he has played “hundreds” of rounds with Manning through the years, including some this year.

“We battle, but he’s a grinder, just a grinder, never lets up for a minute,” Stokley said. “He makes plays, a competitor; I just always expect him to make a big play on the course, that’s my mentality when you’re playing him. … I never want to be surprised; he’s going to make a 50-footer, or he’s going to chip in. I’m never surprised with those moments anymore. He just makes big plays on the golf course usually at the big times, when he really needs one … you know, like he did on Sundays.”

Ah, but there is also that Manning willingness to dive in for a little chatter along the way. Woods, after playing a round in the pro-am at the Memorial last year, said Manning “just gave me crap the entire time.” Manning’s sharp tongue was on display in a video last month with Mickelson, Woods and Brady, in which Manning chided Brady for a “B&E” incident. He’s quick to get into the give and take on the course, and Welker said the uber-prepared Manning is quick with the finer points of the rules book, as well.

“He’ll be jawing on the golf course … and he’s big on the rules and everything, so like if that thing is behind a tree, that thing is behind a tree, there’s no way around it; he almost wants a rules official out there,” Welker said. “… Like, ‘Hey, did you ground that club?'”

Manning’s competitive fire never seems to fade. The two-time Super Bowl champion is so competitive with Stokley that they rarely play together as a team.

“Let’s just say me and Peyton are never teammates,” Stokley said. “Only in one situation, we have a certain group of guys we play three or four times a year, and then we’re teammates, but that’s it. … We’re friends, as great of friends as you can have, but somebody is always walking off a little bit pissed when we’re done playing. It’s not mean or anything, but just really competitive, and we keep it respectful, but after the fact, we will send a text message or two to rub it in a little.”

Both Shanahan and Stokley see Manning as an example of why golf becomes a popular activity for many in the NFL both during and after one’s playing or coaching careers.

“Jerry Rice, when I first got to San Francisco, was just picking up the game back then, and we were talking and he was talking about struggling a little bit,” Shanahan said. “I told him, ‘Hey, if you attack golf the way you do playing wide receiver, it’s not going to take you long.’ I’ll be damned if by the end of a year he hadn’t cut his handicap from like a 22 to inside a 5 — in a year. Same for John [Elway] when I first got [to Denver] — he went from just learning the game to breaking par in a short time. They just dive in with all that talent and drive.

“You could see if Peyton has any time, he’s going to be a good, good player. He’s a legit low handicap, and he takes the same pride in it he took in football. That was the first thing I saw when I’ve played with him.”

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