South Shore, Lake Tahoe, Nev. – They hadn’t seen each other for almost three years and they hadn’t played a round of golf together since 2004. But quarterback Alex Smith and his former coach at Utah, Urban Meyer, were already looking for a competitive edge on the practice range before Friday’s first round at the American Century Championship, where they were paired together.
“I played with Alex one time at Utah, and I beat him,” said Meyer, who shortly will begin his first year as head coach at Ohio State.
“Yeah, he remembers beating me but I don’t remember that,” said Smith.
Then Meyer began to backtrack shortly after Smith bombed his first drive nearly 375 yards, which was 120 yards past Meyers’ effort.
“Alex has gotten stronger since then,” quipped Meyer as he walked from the tee box. “The last time I played him he was 190 pounds.”
The two were joined by Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk, who shared a connection in that he is an Ohio State graduate.
Smith scored the first points in the group when he parred the second hole to earn a point in the 54-hole tournament that uses a Stableford scoring system that awards graduated points for pars or better. He also scored a point for his par on the third hole.
Then, Meyer found his stride and hit a bunch of fairways. He also displayed a nice tough from 100 yards and in.
“How often have you been playing,” Smith asked playfully, when Meyer pitched to 20 feet on the sixth hole. The two each made pars on the par-3 seventh hole, in what was a typical style for each of them. Smith pitched from the trees and made a 10-footer while Meyer two-putted from 35 feet.
In between shots, they made up for lost time with questions about each other’s family and memories of their college days together.
“He was a skinny 170-pound kid who stood about 6’4”, but he was as competitive as anyone I’ve ever seen. He didn’t want to lose at anything,” remembered Meyer.
“I was so pleased that he finally got some stability in his pro career,” Meyer continued. “When I started to hear that Alex Smith can’t play in the NFL, I thought to myself, ‘then I’ll never coach a quarterback who will play in the NFL, because he was the best as far as mechanics and making decisions.’”
Smith, who plays golf about 12 times a year, still showed the competitive fire that he first learned from Meyer when he first took over as head coach at Utah.
“When he first got there, it was tough,” said Smith, who played for Meyer in the 2003-04 college football seasons, where they led the Utes to a 22-2 record and back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships. “You had to prove yourself to him. It was demanding. It was eye-opening for me.”
After the 2004 season, Meyer left to become head coach at Florida and Smith was drafted No. 1 by the San Francisco 49ers.
“He taught me that the most committed team in the end is going to win,” said Smith. “The ball is going to bounce funny ways, but over the course of time, the most invested team comes out on top. With coach Meyer, we were the most invested team, and it makes it tough to lose when you fight for everything
“I think everyone who goes to Utah has a chip on his shoulder because he didn’t get recruited by a BCS school. We all went out with something to prove and played like it.”
Smith and Meyer were still trying to prove something to each other on Friday. But this time it was on the golf course, before they turned their attention to getting back to business next week. Meyer was holding meetings for his staff on Monday. Smith was reporting to the 49ers on Thursday.
But, for this golf round Meyer enjoyed the upper hand. And Meyer claimed that it was the second time he beat Smith on the golf course, something Smith still contested. But they agreed that it wouldn’t be another eight years before they again spent time together on a golf course.
The event continues over the weekend and it will be televised by NBC on Saturday and Sunday from 3-6 p.m. (ET).
By Craig Smith, former director of media relations for the U.S. Golf Association.