A not-so-chance encounter on an Arizona course between Santonio Holmes and his boyhood idol, Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, helped turn Holmes into a Super Bowl MVP – and an avid golfer.
It happened after the 2007 NFL season, Holmes’ second in the league, at a charity tournament the week of Super Bowl XLII. The Belle Glade native and first-round pick from Ohio State never had even held a club, but he saw it as an opportunity to spend quality time with arguably the greatest receiver of all time.
“I got a chance to hang out with him and he taught me how to hold the club and swing it,” said Holmes, who caught 389 passes for 6,030 yards and 36 touchdowns over a nine-year career with the Steelers, New York Jets and Chicago Bears. “That’s what really got me into golfing was that I saw Jerry and people were talking about how good his swing was and how much he had improved.”
The receivers talked shop during the round and Rice agreed to work out with Holmes two weeks later, giving him pointers on route running. Fast forward a year and there was Holmes putting those lessons into action at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in Pittsburgh’s 27-23 victory over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII. He capped his MVP performance with an acrobatic touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with 42 seconds left for the game-winning score, having set it up with a nifty 40-yard catch-and-run.
“It all started with a golf swing from Jerry Rice,” Holmes said with a hearty laugh. “We shared so much over those 18 holes that I was so ready to play that next season.”
Holmes led the Steelers in receiving the following season with 79 receptions for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns. He has used his platform to create two foundations that are close to his heart – the III & Long Foundation, which helps raise money and awareness to help fight Sickle Cell Disease, and the 10 ALL IN Foundation, based in Palm Beach Gardens, which is a nonprofit geared toward helping underprivileged children in hard-hit communities such as Belle Glade.
Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, and I say that because the greatest of the greats have played there and I’ve been blessed with the chance to play more than 18 holes on this course based on the fact that I’m a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Favorite course in south Florida?
The Floridian and Medalist. I would say Medalist over the Floridian, but I would definitely take both of those courses.
What is your handicap?
My handicap ranges from a 14 to a 22. I’m shooting probably in the low 90s on average.
Lowest round, and where?
I know my lowest score was an 85 up there in Ohio. I had two chip-in birdies from off the green and beat my friend by two strokes, but I don’t remember what course it was.
Favorite club in your bag?
If I had to play with only one club the entire day, I would definitely choose my 7-iron. It’ll give me between 190 and 200 yards on average. I can make the 150-yard shot with the 7-iron, I can punch out with a 7-iron, I can chip up with a 7-iron. I love my 4-iron off the tee, but my 7-iron is my go-to.
How often do you play?
I practice more than I play, so I treat it like it’s real. I probably practice four times a week and I probably play three times a week and maybe 10 rounds in a month.
Favorite swing thought?
I think twice. I go up to the ball, I feel the club that I’m holding to match the swing length of that particular club and focus on my body position over the ball, whether I’m too far in front of the ball, and I try to find my sweet spot, my connection spot. So, most guys are taught how to swing a club, or they use certain mechanics to mimic the shot. Me, it’s all about my mental preparation and my feeling because no one can control your feeling but you. You can see it, you can say it, but you can’t feel what I’m doing.
Are you self-taught or did you work with an instructor?
I am 100 percent self-taught. I have participated a time or two where I stood at the range and a person of interest has watched me swing the club and has shared with me a few things, but no one has ever given me any lessons.
Any holes-in-one or close calls?
I came close. I was playing with (former Steelers cornerback and Hall of Famer) Mel Blount last year at his charity event in Arizona. Off the tee I decided I’d use my driver and almost got an albatross. It was probably like 20 feet from the hole. I almost got a hole-in-one on a par-3 at my home course in Belle Glade. I hit the flag stick and it landed maybe 2-3 inches from the hole for a tap-in birdie.
When did you become serious about golf?
In 2017. I started participating in a number of charity events hosted by former players like Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward, Merrill Hoge, Ron Jaworski, Anquan Boldin and Bo Jackson. That’s what drove me to love the game even more because people played the game and if I’m always with the people, I needed to learn how to interact and show that I’m more than just a football player or an athlete.
Who would complete your dream foursome?
Tiger Woods. I want to just see the power and strength of what he’s capable of doing on the course, even at his age, and just to pick his brain. Justin Thomas. The minute he stepped on the PGA Tour I started hearing his name a lot more and I started paying attention. Dustin Johnson. When he first started, he never really talked to the media, real short with his responses, and that caught my attention for the type of player that he was because his attitude is what I love. If I could add one more name I would definitely throw Big Ben (Roethlisberger) in the mix. I heard his game is impressive and just to be on the golf course with him and talk about our football careers would be cool.