I find it equal parts awe-inspiring and maddening when an athlete can play two sports let alone pick one up and, in a relatively short period of time, become better at it than a lot of people who do it for a living.
Former NFL running back Danny Woodhead, 37, retired from the league four years ago and transitioned into golf. Now, the 5-foot-8 Nebraska native is one step away from qualifying for the U.S. Open at Brookline, Mass., in June.
Here he is rolling in a long putt (and making fun of his celebration) during his even-par 71 final round of the local qualifier at Omaha Country Club on Wednesday.
Woodhead, who will need to finish in the top 10 in aggregate points out of all the sectional events to move on, told the Omaha World-Herald that he’s been “grinding” away at the sport since stepping away from football.
“Only four years, but it’s been a lot of hard work. … I was able to see a little glimpse last year making the final four of the state match play. I just want to keep getting as good as I can. That’s my whole goal. We’ll see what happens, but the next month I’m going to be grinding to get ready for sectionals and see what happens,” said Woodhead.
Granted not everyone has the luxury of being able to try a pivot to golf in their 30s, but really? Four years? That’s all it took? I’ve been playing for a couple of decades, and I still suck. This isn’t surprising out of Woodhead, though, because he’s been an athletic freak since high school.
He has the record for high school career rushing yards in the state of Nebraska, and holds 21 Division II college football records, including the mark for most all-purpose yards in a season (3,159) and career (9,480), most 200-yard-rushing games in a career (19 of his 44 overall contests at Chadron State), and most consecutive games with a touchdown (38).
(Of the 3 million reasons why it’s forbidden to say Bill Callahan’s name in my house, his refusal to give Woodhead a scholarship at Nebraska is in the Top 3. The coach who dialed up a gazillion screen passes for Marlon fucking Lucky during his short stint as the coach of the Huskers not seeing the value of the homegrown talent/future all-purpose pro was unconscionable at the time and is now unforgivable given how Woodhead’s career played out. Fuck you, Bill Callahan. Sincerely, fuck you.)
Where was I? Oh right, Woodhead is one of the better major sport athletes-turned-golfers in recent years to make the transition from the field or court to the tee box. Tony Romo made the sectional qualifier in 2010 but hasn’t been back since. He had to withdraw from the competition after weather delayed the tournament due to scheduling conflicts with OTAs for the Cowboys.
North Carolina A&T’s Academic Athlete of the Year J.R. Smith picked up the game during his NBA career and has doubled down on it since retiring. He’s also taking advantage of NIL deals, which why the hell not.
John Smoltz actually made the Senior U.S. Open. It didn’t go great, but casually competing with aging pros because you lack competition in your life takes a level of coordination and athleticism that very few people can relate to.
We’ll see how Woodhead does during his sectional qualifier because the competition will be quite a bit better. If he does make a pro sports return to the New England area in June, it’ll be a fun storyline to follow for the first couple of days as I’m sure the Patriot fan favorite who rushed for 2,238 yards and had 2,698 receiving yards as a pro will be embraced immediately by the crowd… and miss the cut because, let’s be real, that’s where this run ends if he even makes it there to begin with.
Regardless of whether he qualifies for the U.S. Open, it’s yet another incredible-but-not-so-shocking development in the life of the North Platte, Nebraska, product — and a reminder that, with a little dedication, most professional athletes are probably better at any sport than like 95 percent of normal people.