On Colleges, On Golf
4:29 PM EDT, July 14, 2012
Jarrett Payton used a weird, loopy backswing — a Matt Suhey replica, he explained — to hit his drive into the fairway on the third hole at Oak Park Country Club.
This was a notable accomplishment considering some Payton tee shots would have been apt for the movie "Sideways."
But then the craziest thing happened. Payton rode to his ball and scooped it up, saying: "I'd rather be near you guys. I want to be social."
Oak Park member Tom Dee and I were in the rough. Behind trees.
It brought to mind the great line from Tom Kite's cameo on "The Simpsons": "Homer, the traditional way to cheat in golf is to lower your score."
But that's Payton. He was competitive enough on the soccer field to score 35 goals as a sophomore at St. Viator and made the NFL after being named MVP of the 2004 Orange Bowl for Miami.
But golf? He never has taken a lesson, even though uncle Eddie Payton is in his 27th year as Jackson State's golf coach. The self-described social butterfly treats a round more like a cocktail party.
"Some of the best relationships you can make are on the golf course," he said.
Payton keeps business cards in his golf bag, which once belonged to his father and is emblazoned with "SWEETNESS." Walter Payton loved to play, and Jarrett said his weapon of choice was a 2-iron.
"His forearms were so strong," he said. "The ball sounded like a rocket taking off."
One time Walter told him: "Get a bag ready. I'm taking you somewhere."
It turned out to be Washington and a trip to the White House. In the Oval Office, Walter reminded his 11-year-old son to "stop touching stuff."
PresidentGeorge H.W. Bushtook them out to Congressional Country Club, and Jarrett remembers having his golf cart back down a hill into a bunker, only to have Secret Service members push him out.
Before he died of bile duct cancer in 1999, Walter took Jarrett everywhere. Now Jarrett doesn't take a step without Walter. The iconic photo of Walter wearing a headband in a Bears jersey is tattooed on Jarrett's right shoulder.
His Twitter handle is @PaytonSun, which sometimes draws snarky tweets such as "Become your own person."
Thanks for the life advice, people, but Jarrett's doing fine. He's a self-described philanthropist, entertainer, speaker and entrepreneur.
"Dad always said: 'Don't be like me; be better than me,' " he recalled.
He said there's no chance he will read the Jeff Pearlman book that detailed an "enigmatic life" — including Walter having fathered a child out of wedlock.
"My family and I know who my dad was; no book or person can change that," Payton said. "I have no animosity toward Jeff. My parents raised us (sister Brittney is co-host of the TV show "Chicago's Best") to love everybody."
Payton's golf game is flawed, but that's partially the result of his being obsessed with social media. He and wife Trisha were MySpace friends before meeting. They were married on March 4 in tribute to Walter's jersey number.
"I have a problem with turning the phone off," he said a few seconds before tweeting his whereabouts.
He maintains eight Facebook pages and five Twitter handles, including @paytonson for 3-month-old Jaden Thomas Payton. "I used his little finger to hit 'send,' " Payton said of his "I'mhere!" tweet on March 23.
"He reminds me of Pops," Payton said. "He's a jokester and he lights up the room."
Jarrett also has that magnetism. It's the reason Steve McNair stuck his neck out for him in 2005. The Titans quarterback audibled to a halfback dive on second-and-goal so Payton could score his first NFL touchdown, telling him: "You better get in."
Payton had no such exhilarating moments over nine holes on a 100-degree day.
He's a good chipper because he practices in the backyard of his west suburban home, and on most holes he picked up his ball and engaged in a greenside chipping contest with PR maven Lissa Druss Christman. The loser of the mock bet would have to babysit the other's kid.
There was a clear highlight to the day. After three holes, a cart pulled up with iced bottles of Jarrett Payton All-American Wheat Ale, a new beer crafted in Chicago by Argus Brewery after two months of taste-testing.
"I never had the opportunity to have a drink with my dad," Payton, 31, said. "This is one of the best beers out there. It's got a nice little aftertaste — but it has a little sweetness in there too."
9 holes with … Jarrett Payton
Five-second bio: Son of "Sweetness" hosts a show on chicagolandsportsradio.com, analyzes the Bears for WMVP-AM 1000, has his own beer label and brings an anti-bullying message to Chicago schools.
Where: Oak Park Country Club (Front-nine blue tees: 3,220 yards).
Payton's handicap: "I don't have one."
What he shot: Anyone's guess.
How he describes his game: "I'm all over the place."
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