Rypien gets on course after shaky start Birdie on final hole salvages QB's round


POTOMAC -- Though there's hardly a golfer at this year's Kemper Open worried about Mark Rypien cutting in on his livelihood, all would have longed for the tremendous reception the Washington Redskins quarterback received as he lumbered to the green yesterday after his tee shot on the final hole.

"To hit a shot like that is eerie in a way, it felt so good," said Rypien of the shot on the 166-yard, par-3 ninth hole, which he left five feet from the pin. "It kind of reminded me of throwing the last touchdown pass to Gary Clark in the Super Bowl."

Rypien would connect on the green, too, knocking in the putt that sent a roar through the huge gallery, giving him his only birdie of the day and capping a first round of 9-over 80. Though not a score that would make Rypien consider giving up his weekend job, it gave the first active professional athlete from another sport to compete in a PGA Tour event memories that will last a lifetime.

"The score wasn't tremendous, but the feeling was," Rypien said. "That was the greatest feeling on the last hole to see all the people lined up on the side of the hill."

The gallery saw Rypien's best effort of the day. What the majority missed when Rypien started his round on the back nine at 8:45 a.m. was an opening performance that left every spectator at risk.

Playing with Paul McIntire and Carl Cooper (both Texans), Rypien was cheered loudly when his name was announced. Seconds later, he was groaning loudly after pushing his first shot way right on the 324-yard, par-4 hole.

"It was right of right," Rypien said of the shot that, thanks to a

tree, stayed on the course. "I was nervous. The club felt like a thousand pounds."

His second shot was no better, and by hole's end Rypien had a double-bogey 6 -- and a following full of wanna-be comedians.

"Get ready to scatter," one man said, as Rypien approached the tee on 11, a 165-yard par 3. After Rypien dribbled his tee shot, anotherasked, "Hey, is that Jerry Ford?"

"I didn't hit a club face the first two or three holes," said Rypien, whose bogey on 11 left him 3-over after two holes. "I think for the first four or five holes the crowd could relate because I was really struggling."

Rypien settled down after the first two holes, parring five of the last seven on the back nine. His swing became more consistent as the day wore on, and there were several highlights, including the 330-yard drive he smoked on the 453-yard eighth hole, which he parred and set up his dramatic finish on the last hole.

"This just gives me more admiration for the pros who play week to week," said Rypien, who finished with nine pars and one

birdie. "Any time you get over the ball, it's a pressure shot. When you play with your buddies, it's not."

Despite playing under pressure, Rypien spent much of the afternoon chatting with the gallery. With some of his shots scattered all over the course, many of his fans got into some up-close discussions.

"It's just nice to see him out here," said Vince Mammano, 26, of Forestville, who said he attended every Redskins home game and the Super Bowl last year -- despite showing up to each game without a ticket. "He's as big a celebrity as anyone, and he's done all right here."

Especially when he made his five-foot putt on the final hole.

"The old golf gods came down, grabbed it and pulled it down," Rypien said of his birdie.

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