Mad golf skills have helped make the 2-handicap a better punter—and the best stick on the Broncos.
Golfers are labeled “athletes” with some reluctance. So are punters in football. Don’t tell that to Denver Broncos punter Britton Colquitt, who is a pure athlete at heart—and a real good golfer.
How good? He’s reached celebrity status. Colquitt received an invitation to play at the American Century Championship this month at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Nevada. The tournament showcases a galaxy of sports greats past and present. Some in the field, like Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, are pretty good golfers. Others, like Hall of Fame basketball player Charles Barkley, are not very good—but they show up for the fun of the event.
Colquitt’s bosses, head coach John Fox and general manager John Elway, are in the field. Elway has participated every year at the celebrity tournament, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
“What’s crazy is, it’s been on my bucket list ever since I knew about it, one day to play in it,” said Colquitt, his ever-present smile lighting up a dark corner of the locker room at his home club, Colorado Golf Club. “It’s come true a lot sooner than I thought.”
Colquitt believes he will give a good account of himself in Tahoe. He is a 2.2 handicap, “though my game doesn’t always show it.” His best score is a 73, but Colquitt continues to work hard on different facets of his game with hopes of reaching his No. 1 goal—to shoot par for the first time ever.
“It changes for me,” Colquitt said. “I really wanted to narrow down my irons and ball-striking. Lately I’ve felt myself hitting it pretty good off the tee, then I end up being about 100 yards or less . . . that’s one of those places where you’re so close you don’t even know what to do. The trouble with that shot is, it’s all feel. When it’s feel, you just have to do it a lot.
“Of course, with golf every round there might be something different. Now it’s putting. I was putting great, but lately I haven’t been happy with it.
“Really, it’s a little bit of everything. My putting might be on and my driving might be in the woods. I’m hoping to be firing on all cylinders in Tahoe.”
Colquitt, 29, will have his older brother Dustin on the bag for the Tahoe tournament. Dustin Colquitt is the Kansas City Chiefs’ punter. Last season he beat out his younger brother for Pro Bowl honors in the AFC, although Britton had a statistically superior season.
Their father, Craig, was punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers on two Super Bowl championship teams, and his brother Jimmy punted for the Seattle Seahawks. Punting is a family business —all four Colquitts plied their craft for the University of Tennessee— even though Britton also showed his athletic prowess as an allstate soccer player, while playing other positions on the football team at Bearden High School in Knoxville.
At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Colquitt played safety and wide receiver—and was really good at both positions, according to his father. The threat of injury to their youngest son kept Colquitt’s father and mother, Anne, on edge.
“Defensively, his instincts were great,” Craig Colquitt said. “It was fun to watch. What ended it for me was, as a wide receiver Britton would go up for the ball. I was always afraid that eventually something would happen.
“In a playoff game, a guy tackled him from behind, between the knees and Britton buckled over. I went straight to the coach and said, ‘Next year he’s punting— and punting only.’”
Unfazed by the family’s fear of injury, Britton went back to wide receiver in his senior season.
“I knew it would be my last chance to do something athletic, and then it would be punting from there on out,” Colquitt said. “By the time I got to college, the level of competition had jumped so high … I knew I couldn’t run routes with those guys, whereas in high school I could.
“So it was easy to be ‘just the punter.’ But it’s nice when you have all these great athletes saying they wish they were you, that they wish had your position. It reinforces that I can let go of the ‘athletic’ term and just be a punter.
“When it comes to punting and kicking, it is a skill. It’s fun to see some of these big guys trying to kick a ball. They hit with their toes, trying to punt. The timing and mechanics of it, if you’ve never learned it, really, it’s so much like golf.”
Craig Colquitt taught his sons how to punt and how to play golf. Britton took to golf a lot quicker—and with more passion— than Dustin.
“Dustin is not as serious about golf as his younger brother is,” Craig Colquitt says. “He talks during your backswing, your ball may disappear . . . he’ll be an interesting caddie in Tahoe.”
On the other hand, Craig says, “Britton’s one of those people that can physically do anything. I’m not surprised by the golf.” Golf, Britton says, has helped his punting—and vice-versa. He draws similarities between the two sports from his golf bag.
“Dustin and I talk about different punts and refer to them in golf terms, using different clubs in the bag,” Colquitt says. He describes his NFL-best 67-yard punt at Atlanta in 2012 as a “3- wood or driver.”
Colquitt puts the comparison into a historical perspective as well. “A lot of people talk about the ‘rugby’ punt, and ask what happened to the ‘coffin corner’ punt,” he explains. “Well, back in the day golfers didn’t have the 60-degree club. Now all these pros are hitting high and sticking it.
“That’s kind of what the rugby punt is, because you’re closer—almost at an uncomfortable position. If you’re punting from your own 38, it’s uncomfortable. A professional punter definitely can hit it into the end zone. Well, if you don’t want to worry about that, pull out your 60-degree—which essentially hitting that rugby punt—and try to hit it high and stick it inside the 10-yard line.
“I guess the next biggest thing I learned, and it came from golf, is not to try to kill it. Most guys look smooth and create clubhead speed with their flexibility. It’s the same with punting.
“Some of the best, highest and furthest punts I’ve hit, I felt like I didn’t swing. You hardly feel it off your foot. Dad taught us that in golf, but it holds true in football.
“A lot of times in practice, my mind might be on golf, so I can relate it to don’t try to kill it and throw my back out, and make a nice, easy swing.”
If he could, Colquitt probably would play golf every day. But his seasonal obligations to the Broncos, who last year signed him to three-year, $11.7 million extension, along with the daily duties of marriage and fatherhood, prevent that from happening.
Colquitt and his wife Nikki have been married for three years. The couple has a two-year-old son, Nash, and three-month old daughter, Everly. On occasion, Dad will take Nash to the golf course. The toddler already has started an apprenticeship in the family punting business. “The other day we were in the basement. He put on his Broncos helmet and said, “Nash kick it,” Colquitt said.
“He found a football and tried to swing his leg. He doesn’t get the concept of dropping the ball on his foot, but he gets it pretty high.”
Nikki Colquitt understands her husband’s great passion for golf. She doesn’t get in his way when he receives a text invite from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to hop a private jet for 54 holes at the exclusive Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska.
“But I mark those things on my calendar,” she says laughing. “If he gets a little too excited about playing golf all the time., I’ll say, ‘You know, you just went on that trip …’
“He gets to play whenever. But he is such a good dad and knows how hard it is to take care of two little ones. He doesn’t try to play too much and stretch me too much. But he loves golf. It’s his absolute favorite thing.”
Marriage and fatherhood may take Colquitt away from golf a bit more than he’d like, but his wife has noticed a welcome change in his personality.
“In college, he was that same jovial, smiling guy—but he was wild,” Nikki Colquitt said. “He went out, he partied and had a great time.
“Now he is the best husband, the best dad and he is so level-headed. He has matured so much.”
On the football field Colquitt has delivered some outstanding kicks for the Broncos. But there’s a mildly amazing statistic attached to Colquitt and the Broncos’ record-setting offense in 2013.
Last season, Denver’s offense produced more touchdowns (71) than Colquitt produced punts (65) in 16 regular season games. In one three-game stretch, Colquitt punted only three times—including a punt-less game in Dallas won by the Broncos 51-48.
“Sometimes it’s kind of uncomfortable,” Colquitt said. “It’s hard to get into a groove. Back in the day when we were punting nine times a game, it was almost better because of the repetition.
“Now you have to be mentally strong, mentally ready for every situation. Even the Dallas game, there were seven times that I was about to run on the field and punt. But then we’d convert it on third down. “It’s hard to say I want to punt, but it’s my job.”
Manning’s proficiency may have limited Colquitt’s playing time—and there were plenty of fourth-and-short situations where the quarterback has tried to wave off Colquitt as he leads the punting unit onto the field to a chorus of booing fans—but there is no rift between University of Tennessee alums. However, there might be some question as to who has the better golf game.
Colquitt recently partnered with Manning against Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme and retired wide receiver Brandon Stokley at Castle Pines Golf Club. In his first crack at the former home of The International, the punter carded a 78, the low round of the four. “I don’t think Peyton blacklisted me from invite list,” he jokes, but if Colquitt continues to boom punts on the football field while lowering his scores on the links, the number of celebrity golfing invites he receives is sure to rise.