Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow Will Not be Out-Worked on the Field. The Course May Be a Different Story
He has been deemed perfect in some circles, but Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow does have at least one flaw: tardiness. Tebow shows up 30 minutes late at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course for his scheduled 8:25 a.m. tee time in the Celeb-Am round of the American Century Championship. Of course, Mr. Perfect has a perfectly legitimate excuse. His flight arrived late from Los Angeles, where he'd spent the night before hobnobbing with a galaxy of sports stars at ESPN's annual ESPY Awards show.
Tebow doesn’t bother warming up on the driving range. Instead, he and his caddy—his oldest brother, Robby—are whisked to the 11th hole to join their foursome for the day. A flock of Tebow disciples who helped make the rookie quarterback’s No. 15 jersey the NFL’s top-seller lead me around the promised fairway. One fan points. “He’s over there. Mob scene, bro.” Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner and backup quarterback with all of three starts in the National Football League, is surrounded by dozens of admirers who outline the tee box at the par-3, 161-yard 12th hole.
There, Mr. Perfectly Late unleashes a mighty swing that yields a missile-like worm-burner. Mr. Perfect? How about a perfect imitation of Charles Barkley? “The game humbles you,” Tebow says as we walk toward the green, his already-soft voice drowned out by shrieks from adoring fans. “It’s not a sport I play consistently, so it’s hard to improve.”
Tebow two-putts, then signs some autographs while we head toward the 13th tee box. His sincere apologies for not being able to sign more are a subtle reminder that he’s just, well, perfect. It’s a reputation many of his fans adore and most of his detractors, for whatever reasons, can’t stand.
Too polite. Too positive. Too preachy. Too sugar, spice and everything nice. Ever since he won the Heisman in 2007 and led the University of Florida to a national championship a year later, the legend of Tebow has been too perfect to be true.
Make that perfect off the football field. On it, the detractors are quick to identify Tebow’s imperfections: passes that float high and wobbly; a robotic throwing motion; an awful pocket passer.
“Who cares?” asks current University of South Carolina (and former University of Florida) head football coach Steve Spurrier, who knows a thing or two about competing against Tebow. “Nobody’s going to out-work Tim, and to me, that sometimes offsets whether he’s a pretty passer. There have been many, many successful quarterbacks who weren’t the prettiest passers in the world, but they got the job done. That’s what Tim’s done his whole life. I think he’s a winner and he’ll continue to be one.”
Knowing he needed to improve his skills as a quarterback, Tebow was a willing participant in workouts organized by Broncos players during the NFL owners’ lockout. “All you want is a chance to go out and compete,” Tebow says. “I threw more often through the off-season. I didn’t really take a break, as far as throwing and working out with my receivers.”
Tebow threw hundreds of passes and may have improved on-field relationships with his teammates, but the lockout denied him opportunities to glean much needed football knowledge from the Broncos’ coaching staff. And it showed early in training camp. Tebow clearly lagged behind quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, who were more accurate in passing drills.
During training camp Tebow’s popularity amongst the fans continued to soar. After one practice, a reporter drew the ire of new Broncos head coach John Fox by asking about the huge disparity between the number of Tebow jerseys noticeable in the crowd versus the lack of Orton jerseys. By the end of camp, Orton’s held a sizable advantage where it counted most—on the Broncos’ depth chart. Meanwhile Tebow’s chart rating took a Standard & Poor’s-like downgrade. Jersey No. 15 went from being No. 1 in the hearts of Broncos’ fans to No. 3 in the rotation for the team’s second preseason game. His detractors rejoiced. Tebow, however, remains committed to work harder. His temperament is perfect for what’s needed to overcome all the obstacles he faces to become a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Seeking perfection on the football field is one thing. Overcoming one’s inadequacies on a golf course is a different story. On this day, Tebow is unfazed by his shortcomings early in the round, maintaining a smile during our walk up the 13th fairway. As we approach the green, Tebow starts name-dropping the courses he’s played with people you’ve heard of.
Pebble Beach. Augusta National. And, during his time at UF, he once played a round at TPC Sawgrass with fellow lefty Phil Mickelson. “He’d hit, I’d watch him and try to do the exact same thing he did,” Tebow says. “I shot an 82.”
From what I’d seen in Tebow’s first few swings, I wonder if they’d only played nine holes. But it would get better. But on the par-4 406-yard 14th he grabs his driver and proceeds to show some power off the tee—350 yards worth of power. At 6-feet-3 and 245 pounds, Tebow looks—and plays football—like a linebacker trapped inside the body of a Sherman tank. He plays golf the same way.
“Grip and rip it—the way I like it,” Tebow says after crushing a 350-yard drive. “That’s the fun part for me. “I just need to straighten out my drives to do well at all. If I swing the hardest I can swing . . . well, I was timed at Disney during the ESPN the Weekend. I set a record. (Former Major League Baseball star) Nomar Garciaparra was at 125 mph, and I broke his record by quite a bit. I’m not sure if mine was 141 mph (as reported), but it was pretty good.” (If accurately timed, Tebow’s swing speed surpassed that of the fastest swinging PGA Tour player by an improbable 16 mph.)
While attending Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Tebow received his first set of golf clubs as a Christmas gift from his father, Robert. The youngest of five siblings, Tebow shared the bag with his brother, Peter. “It didn’t have any woods, just irons,” Tebow says. “When we played, we used the same bag. My brother hits lefty and putts right-handed. I’m lefty all the way.”
When asked whether he’s taken golf lessons since coming to Colorado, the look on Tebow’s face seems to answer, ‘Lessons? I don’t need no stinking lessons…’
“If I had a lot of time, one day I would go practice golf and really try to get good at it,” Tebow says. “Right now, I go play to have fun and make bets with my brother.” To hear the word “bets” come out of the mouth of Mr. Perfectly Nice sounded like a scandalous scoop. Then you wonder if the bet is a wad of Benjamins—or a milk shake from Ben & Jerry’s.
“If we’re ever playing against each other, it’s cutthroat,” says Robby Tebow, the eldest of the three Tebow brothers. He walks toward the green toting a putter while autograph seekers besiege his little brother.
Robby Tebow fancies himself as the best golfer in the Tebow family. He’s also helping his famous brother on the course, and has seen steady improvement. “He’s getting a lot better,” Robby Tebow says. “He had a chance to play with Jack Nicklaus at the Honda Classic. Jack gave him a lot of tips and Tim played really well. He got a lot from the experience, plus it was really cool to play with Jack.
“If Tim had more time, he could become really good. But he doesn’t play during the season. Golf takes time, patience and a lot of work. He doesn’t have all of those things.” What Tebow does have, surprisingly, is a gift for sarcasm. At one point during the round he teases a pair of his playing partners, both of whom hit short irons out of the fairway into the water. When Tebow wound up doing the same he yelled, “Man, we are Hillary Duff-ing it out there right now.”
Advised to use some finesse on a shot from the 15th fairway, Tebow turns to a playing partner and deadpans, “I’ve always been finesse in everything I do.” He then finesses a ricochet off a tree.
Of course, if you’ve seen Tebow play football, you know that he does so with the finesse of a bull rhinoceros. “I’m very intense and aggressive in everything I do,” he says. “I can be sarcastic sometimes, yes. I like to have fun, joke around and have a good time. I just believe in being positive, being upbeat and having a smile on your face.
“If you’re not enjoying life, then what are you doing? It doesn’t matter how successful you are in whatever it is that you do, if you’re not enjoying life you should change. I always try to have a smile on my face and try to brighten other people’s days.
“That’s why the mission statement for my [Tim Tebow] foundation is to bring faith, hope and love to those needing a brighter day in the darkest hour of need. That’s something that, as an athlete, you can provide. Maybe for a minute, for an hour or for a day. You can make a difference.”
At the par-5, 546-yard 16th hole, Tebow delivers a rocket off his driver. The ball drifts left before bouncing off the cart path and nestling into mulch alongside a tree. His second shot is a 5-iron that flies 187 yards into a bunker. Finally, we find some dirt on Tebow—or on his Nikes, anyway. He chips out, misses a long putt and settles for par.
In football pads, Tebow isn’t much of a settle-for-par kind of guy. He seems committed to making believers out of the non-believers. Hall of Fame running back (and former University of Florida star) Emmitt Smith believes work ethic will help Tebow win over the doubters.
“One, he wants to win—and wants to win very badly. I know he’s willing to pay the price and work hard for it,” Smith says. “Everywhere you go there’s a naysayer. No matter who you are—even the greatest ones have had naysayers. Jerry Rice had naysayers. Walter Payton had naysayers. I had naysayers. You’re going to have that.
“The bottom line is whether you or not believe enough in yourself and have enough self-esteem to withstand all of that. You have to develop thick skin. I think Tim understands what it takes and is willing to go through the fire and pay the price. And the end of the day, the naysayers don’t show up.”
As we make our way to the 17th tee box, Tebow says he has not yet played golf with his new boss, Broncos legend John Elway. But they’ve had plenty of opportunities to talk football.
One, in particular, occurred last December. When Tebow was called on to make his first NFL start last year against the Oakland Raiders, Elway invited the rookie to his home at the urging of Broncos VP Joe Ellis. Elway told stories about his first NFL start, as well as the highs and lows he experienced during his rookie season.
“He gave me a lot of advice,” Tebow says. “It was great to talk to someone who had gone through the same things I was about to experience.”
Right now, Tebow is committed to making the most of his career in pro football. When does decide to commit more time to golf, Tebow probably will excel at it.
“When I do something, I want to be good at it. I’m very competitive. I know with time I’ll get better at it,” he says. “I get motivated easy, I don’t get frustrated easy. What’s fun about golf is that it’s a hard game to master. You’ve got to grind.”
After walking nine holes with Tebow, I needed to drive to the airport. Unlike Mr. Perfect, I can’t afford to arrive late for departure. Besides, I’ve seen enough to know that just as he would on the football field, Tim Tebow would motivate himself to grind his way toward a perfect ending to his round of golf.
Contributing Editor Sam Adams (likethebeer.com) is an award-winning journalist and standup comedian.