This NFL coach uses golf to de-stress, but admits ‘sometimes it’s a dumb game’

This NFL coach uses golf to de-stress, but admits ‘sometimes it’s a dumb game’

Doug Pederson’s introduction to golf is a familiar story.

Although Pederson and his brothers Craig and David were involved in almost every team sport, they’d frequently rise before dawn on Saturdays to walk a round with their father Gordy at the Riverside Golf Course in Ferndale, Wash.

The golf course has long since closed and is now the site of apartments and commercial buildings.

The memories remain.

“He was just a recreational Saturday morning golfer, like most dads,” said the Jacksonville Jaguars coach. “He’d tell us, ‘Hey, if you want to play, come on … let’s go. They were 6 a.m. tee times and we’d be there. It was one more way to hang out with Dad.”

Pederson was a standout athlete, eventually making all-state in football, basketball and baseball at Ferndale High School. While his chances to play golf were limited by his high school schedule, Pederson said the sport’s combination of physical and mental challenges was always intriguing to him.

“We played enough golf to pique our interest,” he said of the family outings. “I didn’t get very good right away. That came later, after I was in the NFL as a player, making a little more money, and when you have some coin in your pocket, you can get a nicer set of clubs, get fitted and play more in the offseason.”

Pederson has fond memories of playing golf with teammates at Louisiana-Monroe where he played quarterback, and with his NFL teammates at playing stops in Green Bay, Miami, Philadelphia and Cleveland; and coaching at Kansas City and Philadelphia.

And he has continued his love affair with the game as Jaguars coach — especially the bonding with his family that it provides.

Golf is a big part of Doug Pederson’s downtime

Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Pederson has had a lifetime passion for golf that began when his father would take him and his brothers out early Saturday mornings in Ferndale, Wash. (Photo courtesy: American Century Championship)

Pederson is in the middle of a six-week break before he begins training camp to prepare for this third season with the Jaguars. He will spend as much time as possible playing at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club’s Ocean and Lagoon courses, or the Tequesta Country Club in Jupiter, near his second home.

His wife Jeannie is an avid player and they play as much as possible with their sons Josh, Drew and Joel.

Pederson’s favorite playing partner is his wife.

“I’d rather play with her than any men’s group,” he said. “We love playing together. It’s always relaxed and we have a great time.”

There isn’t much question who the best Pederson is — Josh, a tight end entering his second season with the Jaguars, is a +1 handicap and spots his father six strokes a round.

“Eight, if it’s a tough course,” Josh Pederson said.

There also is a bit of trash-talking when the Pedersons hit the links.

For example, there is the sons’ nickname for their father.

“We call him ‘The Big Slice,’” Josh Pederson said.

Josh Pederson was on track for college golf at one time. He played on the American Junior Golf Tour and when his father was an assistant coach at Kansas City, he got to a playoff for the Kansas state high school championship before losing in sudden death.

But the younger Pederson became a star for the Blue Valley North High football team and then followed his father to Louisiana-Monroe, where Pederson became first-team All-Sun Belt.

Like his father, football is his job but golf is his passion.

“I thought about college golf but I grew up with [five-time PGA Tour winner] Sam Burns and when I couldn’t beat him, it was a wakeup call,” Pederson said. “But now, it’s a time for us to bond, spend time as a family, get out of the house and go to the course. We’re all competitive. My mom’s a pretty good player, my brothers are pretty good. We relax, unwind and get away from football.”

Doug Pederson talks about his son’s golf game with a mixture of pride and envy.

“He smashes it,” Doug Pederson said. “It’s not even fair.”

Pederson ready for return to Tahoe

Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson during the organized team activity session Monday, June 3, 2024 at EverBank StadiumÕs Miller Electric Center in Jacksonville, Fla. [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union]

However, Pederson holds his own. His handicap dips a bit below minus-6 when he’s able to play often and one of the highlights of his summer will come on July 10-14 when he plays in the American Century Championship at the Edgewood Tahoe Country Club for the seventh time.

Pederson tied for 24th in the 72-player field last year under the Stableford Points format with a +3 score and beat three active NFL quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield, and topping Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Mahomes, Joe Theisman, Steve Young and Jim McMahon.

More recently, Pederson realized the dream of almost any golfer when he got the chance to play the Augusta National Golf Club in May, on an invitation from Augusta member and former CSX CEO Michael Ward.

Pederson shot 84-86 and played Amen Corner (hole Nos. 11-13) a combined 3-over on the two days, with three pars and three bogeys.

“It’s a different world … time stands still,” Pederson said of Augusta. “I could have played better but just to walk that course is tremendous. You visualize the shots the [PGA] Tour guys play because you’ve watched it on TV so many times. You know every step.”

Former Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee, likely the best golfer among past or current players on the team, gave Pederson high marks for his game and his desire to get better.

“He’s got what I call a quarterback swing … most of them swing the same way,” said Scobee, who like Pederson played college football in Louisiana [at Louisiana Tech] and has played golf in Pederson’s charity tournament in Monroe. “It’s a very athletic swing, very free, not a rigid swing. He’s got some good motion. Doug, like a lot of the quarterbacks who play a lot of golf, has good timing and hand-eye coordination. He’s got the mentality to be a good golfer.”

Golf provides an escape from NFL pressure

Coaching an NFL football team is one of the most stressful jobs in sports. Golf, especially, with family, is Pederson’s escape, whether it’s golf vacation trips during the offseason or the occasional round on a fall Saturday morning during the season when he can put aside thoughts of the cauldron he will step into on Sunday afternoons.

“It kind of disconnects, unplugs, however you want to call it from the normal hustle and bustle of the job of life,” he said. “You’re kind of out there and the wind’s blowing and you lose track of time a little bit. That’s what was so special about playing Augusta. It allows you to think, process some things and really relax.”

Pederson also is one of those players who thinks golf is better walking.

“If I could walk 18 holes every day, I would,” he said.

He admits that the game brings its own brand of frustration in that no one truly masters it. Pederson was a three-sport star in high school. He was a record-setting quarterback at Louisiana-Monroe and played 100 NFL games in 10 years.

But like most athletes who are stand-outs in team sports, golf has proven more elusive to master.

“Sometimes it’s a dumb game,” he said. “It’s so hard. You watch these professionals and they’re working on their craft every single day and you listen to their interviews and you know how frustrating it is for them when they’re missing shots by a couple of feet. We’re all missing by yards.”

Pederson can coach a football team for weeks in training camp, know its identity and character, its strengths and weaknesses and have a fair understanding of what he’s going to get week-to-week.

A football field also has the same dimensions every game.

But golf? It’s played on different courses, with different holes, doglegs left and right, big greens, small greens, undulating greens, flat greens, tall grass, short grass, trees, sand and water.

Who knows what will happen with each shot?

“It’s a frustrating game because it’s a different game every day,” Pederson said. “You can play five straight days and it’s going to be five different scores. You might get your drive good one day and your wedges are bad and the next day your drives are horrible, but your wedges are good or the next day it’s your putting.”

Pederson was familiar with First Coast golf

Pederson had played golf on the First Coast of Florida well before he became the Jaguars’ coach.

When one of the teams he was playing or coaching with would play a road game against the Jaguars, Pederson would try to work in a round of golf.

When he was with the Green Bay Packers, for example, and the team flew into Jacksonville early enough, he would make a beeline for the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course with Brett Favre.

Pederson collects golf courses wherever he plays or coaches. When he was with the Packers he played Whistling Straits. While with the Eagles he played Pine Valley, Merion and Liberty National. While in Miami, he put tees in the ground at Doral, PGA National, the McArthur Club, the Medalist and Tequesta.

Since becoming the Jaguars’ coach in 2022, Pederson has been spotted playing at the TPC Sawgrass, Glen Kernan, Deerwood and the Slammer & Squire.

“The golf in this area is very good,” he said.

Pederson said he’s anxious to play more golf in the Western U.S. at some point. He’s never played Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill or the Olympic Club but has gotten in a round at the TPC Scottsdale.

Pederson is curious about what makes a golf champion

Pederson said his dream foursome, other than his family, would be to play with Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and one of golf’s early stars such as Gene Sarazen. Like any athlete or coach, he said he would use that opportunity to try to see what makes those players great.

“I would love to be able to play with them, not so much the playing part, but I’d just love to pick their brains,” Pederson said. “Stuff about golf, the course, how they play it. I’d love to know how a guy like Sarazen got around the course with those old persimmon woods, and for them to shoot the scores they did.”

Pederson has goals in golf. His best gross score is a 73 at Frenchman’s Bend in Monroe, La., which means he’s still looking for his first under-par round.

One of Pederson’s best days was when he shot 76 at Grove XXIII, the ultra-private course in Jupiter owned by NBA star Michael Jordan.

Pederson also has yet to make a hole-in-one, another part of the game that frustrates him because he thinks his strength is short irons.

But he embraces what’s hard and frustrating about golf and knows he can spend a lifetime trying to figure it out — a quest he’s only too eager to continue.

“There’s always something that frustrates you about the game,” he said. “You can never get good at it. Football was my craft. I spent time getting good at it. But I don’t think you ever get to the point where you think you’ve arrived with golf.”

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