It was a beautiful Monday at Hazeltine National. Vikings Hall of Famer John Randle, looking fit and wearing a Pro Football Hall of Fame golf shirt, was about to play in the Tee Up for Tomorrow golf tournament to benefit the St. David’s Center for Child and Family Development.
I asked Randle about golf. He filibustered.
“I love the game,’’ he said. “I’ve got, like, three sets of clubs. It started when my brother took me out to play and I said, ‘I don’t play golf. I play football.’ I stunk. I couldn’t believe I couldn’t hit that little ball. After I retired and had more time on my hands, I said, ‘I’m going to give it a shot. I want to beat my brother.’
“It took me about a year and a half. I had been shooting like 130, and I’d be staring in the mirror saying, ‘Johnny, you can do this, you can do this, you can play this game.’
“Eric Dickerson, a good friend of mine, and Richard Dent, we’d get together at NFL events. They killed me. I said, ‘I want to compete with those guys.’ I got addicted.
“I’d get up in the morning and practice, and play, and practice again. I found myself not watching the NFL Network anymore. I’d watch the Golf Channel. It became an itch.
“Randall McDaniel and I started competing. He was like, ‘I went to Torrey Pines.’ I’m like, ‘That’s nice — I went to The Masters.’ Chris Doleman plays. Henry Thomas plays. Joe Browner, Matt Blair.
“I said in April I wanted to shoot 80. At the end of May, I was playing with [former Gophers football coach Glen] Mason, and Larry Fitzgerald Jr., at Spring Hill. The caddie was keeping track. We got done, and he said, ‘Man, that was a nice round.’ I said, ‘I was trying to shoot 80.’ He said: ‘You shot a 74.’
“Next thing you know, the caddie tells Mason, and Mason tells about it on the radio, and I’m like: ‘You can’t tell people that! That’s going to mess up my handicap!’
“The next day, I went out and shot a 76, and then I had to do an event for EA Sports in San Diego, launching the Madden game. Jerry Rice, Marcus Allen, we’re playing in a flag football game, and I scratched my knee and got up shaking my hand, and Marcus says, ‘You’re mad you missed that tackle?’ I said, ‘No, I hurt my hand — that’s going to mess up my golf game!’
“I played in a tournament for prostate cancer in Arizona with [Doleman], golfed with Dole for the first time. He says, ‘Little Muscle, you can play!’ I said, ‘Dole, that’s all I do’. In those winter months in Minnesota when you’re stuck inside the house, all you can do is go to the driving range and hit balls three or four hours a day, go home and flip on 218, the Golf Channel, and say, ‘Where are those guys playing this week?’
“I’ve become friends with Lumpy [Wayzata professional Tim Herron]. I live through Lumpy. I’m like ‘How was the tournament!’ and he’ll be smoking a cigarette, saying, ‘Ah, it was all right.’
“I guess I started in 2003 or so. My brother kept beating me, and one day we went out there and I felt like the priest from ‘Caddyshack,’ with no rain. I’m saying, ‘Man, do you see this?’ and my brother is rolling his eyes. Irv wouldn’t even ride in the same cart with me, because we’re competing.
“We played the TPC in Blaine yesterday, and I didn’t use my driver much. Shot 37 on the front. Started pulling out the driver. Shank. Shot 42 on the back. That’s why I wear these bands on my wrist, to tie the driver down in my bag so I won’t use it.
“Mason and I walk Spring Hill about once a week. We’ll be smoking cigars, and I’m like, ‘How can you beat this? You get to play a game you love while getting exercise, walking six miles a day.’
“I love it, and I work at it. This is my game.’’