For some, the NFL preseason is a mere dress rehearsal for another pro campaign. For others, it is a time to fight for a job and an NFL paycheck. Two New England Patriots players fit these respective descriptions.
Stephen Gostkowski is a 9-year NFL veteran, and one of the most consistent kickers in NFL history. Jake Bequette is entering his third NFL season, fighting for a spot on the roster in a career hindered by injury and inconsistency. Their status on the Patriots is very different, but they share a common love: golf.
“I’ve grown up playing the game,” says Bequette, a Little Rock native who had a stellar career for the Razorbacks. “My dad (Jay) is a huge golfer and he had all of us out on the course at a very young age. I’ve been playing my whole life.”
Gostkowski’s introduction to golf came much later in life. The Mississippi native and University of Memphis standout relates, “The first time I really played was when I got to the NFL (2006). Our punter at the time, Josh Miller, took me out couple of times.
“I had to get into it because I needed a hobby in the off-season. When I was a kid, I always moved from sport to sport. When I got to the NFL, I started taking up golf and bowling.”
The golf journeys of Bequette and Gostkowski crossed paths when Bequette was drafted in the third round of by New England in 2012. “Stephen is a member at Spring Valley and he was nice enough to bring me out there,” explains Bequette.
“I’ve also played with (Pats’ tight end) Michael Hoomanawanui at the International. As far as nationally, I played Pebble Beach the last two off-seasons and it’s a great course. It has lots of history and is a lot of fun.”
Gostkowski favors his home course at Spring Valley with Red Tail as another local favorite. He also raves about Spring Creek Ranch in Tennessee. Regardless of the course, golf provides a needed respite from the pressures of the NFL. “I like to be good at anything I do,” says the most accurate kicker in Patriots history and 6th best ever in NFL history, “But I look at golf as a break, a way to get my mind off of things.
“I enjoy the competition part of it, but with two kids, I don’t have a lot of time to practice. I just try to have fun. The more fun I have, the better I play, so I try not to take it too seriously.”
Bequette, a multi-time SEC Honor Roll scholar, agrees, “Golf is an escape. It seems like when you’re on the course, that’s the only thing you are thinking about. I take it seriously and I love to play well, but it’s truly an escape.”
When you play for a driven franchise like the Patriots and a football-focused coach like Bill Belichick, there is not a lot of time to ponder putts during the season.
Says Gostkowski, “I really don’t get to play at all once the season starts. I would say that I get in a good 30 or 40 rounds a year, but then I put the clubs away for six or seven months and have to start over again.”
Adds Bequette, “During the season, it’s football all the time, so I try to maybe sneak out to the range on an off day or take some practice swings in my apartment.”
Gostkowski has participated in charity events with Tedy Bruschi, Joe Andruzzi, and Robert Kraft among others. His love of golf is akin to his love of kicking. “Golf is such a mental game. I think it’s extremely relatable to kicking field goals. If you’re confident about your shot, you will hit a good shot. The same goes for kicking.
“It’s fun to clear your mind and just hit a great shot or a birdie to win a dollar off of your buddy. Just thinking of the shot and not the consequences of the shot is the key. Mentally and with regard to controlling your nerves, golf and kicking are similar.”
Unlike Gostkowski, Bequette will be grinding and gasping for a roster spot as New England prepares for the 2014 season. His golf outlook is just as passionate. “Golf is the ultimate individual support in my opinion. You’re out there against yourself.
“As they say, it’s a game that cannot be won, only played. You try to perfect your craft and have fun with it. The game is a tremendous individual battle.”
John Molori is the co-author of “The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players.” Like him on Facebook at John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. Email firstname.lastname@example.orgWHAT'S YOUR REACTION?