Chatting with America’s Caddie: Josh Scobee on mulligans in football and golf

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So this NFL rookie kicker walks into a pro shop …

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? But if a Josh Scobee movie was ever made, that would be the very first golf scene.

At one point, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ all-time leading scorer was the top-ranked golfer from another sport. So he sat down and talked about the similarities (and differences) between kicking and golf, the football mulligan he would like and more.

Collins: You’ve tried to qualify for the U.S. Open … When did golf become more than just a hobby for you?

Scobee: It probably was around 2009. I was right around scratch [meaning a low, low handicap] and had never played a single tournament round. So I found out about U.S. Open qualifying and I signed up not knowing what I was getting myself into. I signed up and looked at the field that I was going to be competing against. I recognized a name in there — Brian Harman. He was playing right behind me. And I’m like, “Yeah, I think he’s [a] pretty good player. I think he’s at Georgia.”

I think I ended up shooting 81 — or something like that. And at that point, I was like, “You know what? That wasn’t too bad for my first qualifying round.” Obviously that didn’t qualify.

Brian was one of the guys that ended up getting through. He was like 5 under. And that’s when I figured that getting beat by 15 shots is probably not going to cut it. That was the first one and I really got addicted to wanting to do more qualifiers.

Collins: But you started playing tournaments, too.

Scobee: I wanted to play more fun tournaments, ones I knew that I had an opportunity to win. And the first one that popped up was a tournament that [NFL quarterback] Drew Brees used to host out in San Diego. It was just called the “Celebrity Championship.” I played in it and got into the final pairing with [former MLB pitcher] Rick Rhoden and ended up winning the tournament by birdieing the last two holes to beat him by one. Then I won the next year, playing against [former tennis pro] Mardy Fish and [former MLB pitcher] Mark Mulder in the final [group]. So that kind of got my celebrity golf mojo rolling.

Collins: Is there a part of you that thinks about PGA Tour Champions when you’re 50?

Scobee: Oh, absolutely. I have 11-plus years to think about that. At the same time, I understand how difficult it would be because it’s not like these guys, once they turn 50, are just old and decrepit. These guys are still going out and shooting 5,6, 7 under in their sleep. Once I get to that age … yeah, I will aspire to do that.

In terms of the PGA Tour? Absolutely not. There’s no aspiration or dream for that because I’ve played with them and against them here in Jacksonville. Even the guys that are considered on a second or third tier compared to the top-level tour players, these guys are capable every single day of walking out and shooting 8 under like it’s nothing. I’ve seen casual 64s and the occasional 9 or 10 under where [the player] probably left a couple shots out there. When I have my best of the best days, that’s what it might be.

So trying to compete against them at that high of a level and doing it on an actual tour on a week-to-week basis is not something that I aspire to do or even thinking about because I know how good those guys are.

Collins: Is there a football comparison?

Scobee: It would be like a middle school kicker saying, “Yeah, I could go pro right now against those guys. I can go out and make an NFL team, make a difference.” There’s just a huge gap.

Collins: How did golf find you?

Scobee: I would say by the grace of God — and the grace [of] my wife! I didn’t start playing golf until I was a rookie in the NFL. And it was because of my wife and her dad, who was a college golfer. He bought me lessons one year for Christmas and just got me obsessed with it. Fortunately, getting drafted to the Jaguars meant I was in golf heaven here in Jacksonville.

Collins: Did you know right away that you were addicted?

Scobee: Oh, I knew right away. I might have shot 110 that day, but it was one shot. I can remember it.

I was playing with a buddy of mine at Windsor Parke Golf Club in Jacksonville, that’s where I started playing golf. This group on a par-4 was letting us play through. Of course, I pumped my ball in the woods on the right. They’re waiting on the side of the green for us to play through. I had about 150 yards from the trees and I holed it! That was [the] shot where I’m like, “OK, this is a lot of fun.”

That shot made me want to come back the next day after [Jaguars] practice, then the next day after practice. It just got me obsessed. That’s the beauty of golf. It can take one shot that just makes you want come back the next day.

Collins: You might be the first NFL player I’ve spoken with who wasn’t introduced to the game by a teammate. There has to be a golf benefit to being on an NFL team, right?

Scobee: It seemed like every week there was a charity event that we got invited to. I slowly but surely started getting better — you break 100, break 95, then trying to make a bogey or better on every hole. [I] just started getting better and better. I got down to a single-digit handicap and started wanting to play tournament golf.

Collins: How long was the process from start to scratch golfer?

Scobee: It probably took five or six years to get down to single digits. And then it took another two years to get to what they call scratch, where you’re actually keeping track of your handicap and it gets down to right around zero.

Collins: When did guys on the football team start to realize that you were golfing a whole bunch and then wanted to get a piece of the action?

Scobee: Well, they started noticing whenever I was working on my practice swing at practice. You know, as a kicker you got a lot of free time on your hands during a 2½-hour practice. Especially during two-a-days in training camp. So, you know, I’m out there for no reason whatsoever just making that backswing. Working on my hand position, working on my impact with no actual club in hand. Guys start noticing and going, “Oh, you’ve been playing a lot, huh?”

Collins: What’s the closest comparison to playing tournament golf and kicking a field goal in an NFL game?

Scobee: What’s really similar about it is the isolation. Because we’re talking about a very individual job as a golfer. You’re out there, and yes you have a caddy, but it’s your job to select the right club. It’s your job to pull the trigger. It’s your job to gauge the wind properly and your job to hit the right shot. And it’s the same thing as a kicker.

Yeah, you have a snapper, you have a holder, you have [an] offensive line, but it’s your job in the long run to make sure you’ve gauged everything properly — the wind, the turf, how you’re feeling that day. And then how you’re going to strike the ball and whether or not it goes through.

Because I’ve never heard of a holder getting credit for a field goal or whatever his field goal percentage is — never heard that.

Collins: There are no holders in the Hall of Fame.

Scobee: Yeah, and there probably won’t ever be.

Collins: No long-snappers, either. That’s a job I would say is extremely underrated.

Scobee: Absolutely. It’s a job where you’re expected to be perfect 99%, if not 100%, of the time. These guys are so good that not only are they expected to snap the ball back on a field goal at a precise spot, they’re also expected to get the laces where the holder catches it and he doesn’t have to spin it. That’s what special-teams coaches expect. They work on it so much that whenever you snap it back there, the holder catches it and they don’t have to spin it at all, the laces are already out.

Collins: That is awesome. And something I’m sure most fans had no idea about.

Scobee: That’s what they work on. Very boring.

Collins: Not if it’s a 50-yard field goal to win the game, it ain’t boring!

Scobee: And it makes a big difference. You can go back and look at many, many game-winning field goals that were missed because the laces were on the left or right and the holder didn’t spin them out of the way. So as a kicker, when you’re approaching the ball and you see the laces as you’re about to kick it, you flinch a little bit. You’re kind of apprehensive to kick it. But if you see the laces facing forward immediately, you have a lot more confidence to pull the trigger.

Collins: Is there anything in golf that can equate to that moment?

Scobee: Yeah, it’s really similar to where you have that trigger as a golfer. Like a forward press or a little knee buckle right before he pulls the trigger. It’s that type of motion where everything just slows down for you in that moment and you can really focus on one thing. You’re going to have a much better chance of success. There’s been many times when I can remember exactly everything that’s gone on — from when I give the holder the nod for the ball to be snapped to when I make impact. I can remember everything and the times when I’ve missed one I’ll come back to the sideline and I can’t recall everything.

It’s just a little bit of focus that you’re missing on those certain kicks. In golf what I do, take a forward press and then pull the trigger. If you can look down and see the dimples on that golf ball, really focus with your vision and remember that impact position, you’re going to have a much better chance of success instead of getting up there and going, “OK, I hope I hit a cut here. I hope I had to draw. I hope I don’t slice it out of bounds by 50 yards.”

Collins: You know how golfers say, “This course or hole doesn’t really fit my eye.” Are there stadiums like that?

Scobee: Any stadium in the north late in the season is pretty tough. Cleveland and Pittsburgh were always very, very difficult because they have these open sections in the stadium that, it’s kind of like a wind tunnel. Whatever direction it’s blowing, it’s going to come in and do the exact opposite. The other stadium that’s pretty tough is MetLife Stadium, where the Giants and Jets play, because it’s a really tall stadium on every single side.

So the wind comes down there and just swirls around. It actually blows in from both goalposts. It’s great if you’re a punter. It’s not good if you’re a kicker.

North or northeast late in the year, [with] natural grass … it just gets tough. The biggest factor in kicking and in golf is the wind.

Whenever you get no wind or very light wind on the golf course, these pros just light it up. Same thing with kickers. You’re rarely going to see kickers miss indoors. It’s because of no wind.

Collins: What do you miss most about kicking in the NFL? (Scobee retired in 2014.)

Scobee: What I miss most would be that moment after you’ve made a field goal on the road and you’re coming back to the sideline. So you get back to the sideline, you know, take off your helmet, either sit down, or do whatever you’re going to do. Then turning around looking to the guy that’s been heckling all game and just kind of giving him that little, “Yeah, you saw that.”

Collins: You don’t have to say anything.

Scobee: Yeah, just that look. Just kind of give him that look and have him shut up for [the] next 45 seconds or so!

Collins: Cause that’s as long as the silence is going to last.

Scobee: It just depends on where you are. I mean, if you’re in Philadelphia, as you know, the fans are wild and it won’t even stop after you come back to the sideline after making a 50-yarder and they’ll still be like, “Oh, you got lucky on that one.”

Collins: I’m giving one mulligan for a kick in your career. Where are you taking it?

Scobee: You know what, this is not part of the coping that I’ve tried to deal with whenever your career ends. Like trying to overcome things and forget things.

Collins: Yeah, but we’re golfers. Ask any golfer the best shot they’ve hit and they say, “I’ve got to think about that for a while.” Ask them the worst shot — they know immediately!

Scobee: That’s a good question. Technically, I only had one game-winning field goal attempt that I missed. That was my rookie year against Pittsburgh from 60 yards. Even though it would have been amazing to make it, that one wasn’t one I would say.

Collins: And you did make a great game winning kick from 50-plus yards your second year. OK, so where’s the mulligan?

Scobee: Yep. It would have to be like the last kick of my career when I played for Pittsburgh. It was like to put the game on ice. It wasn’t a game winner, but it was to put us up by about four or five points.

Whatever, it was going to make it a touchdown game and not a field goal game. And I missed it. And that ended up being the last kick of my career. Not knowing it at the time. Not a clue that, “Hey, this is going to be the last you ever attempt.” So that would be the one. It’s like if I could go back and make that one, who knows what [might] have happened? I might have played more years. Maybe had a really good career with Pittsburgh. But you know what?

That’s the crappy thing about sports. You never know when it’s going to be your last kick, your last shot, your last game, your last season. That’s why you have to make the most of it.

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