SOUTH BEND — Tim Brown and Jerome Bettis are among the best football players in Notre Dame history. Golf hasn't come as naturally to them.
Still, the two Pro Football Hall of Famers have become avid golfers after retirement, one reason they were chosen as honorary chairmen for this weekend's U.S. Senior Open at Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course.
Both said it was a big honor to be chosen as chairmen from among the many great players in Notre Dame history.
"I can tell you how big it was for me – I didn't ask for money," said Brown, a longtime wide receiver for the Los Angeles and later Oakland Raiders. "That's how big it was. This was like, whatever you guys want me to do, we're in."
Brown and Bettis have been around the tournament all week. They threw a football around at Notre Dame Stadium with defending champion David Toms, and played the course Saturday. Bettis was the winner, although both agreed they're evenly-matched.
The two players are now single-digit handicaps, although it wasn't always that way. Bettis, a running back who had his best years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, said that quarterback Kordell Stewart convinced him to take up the game.
"He beat up on me for a couple years until I had said to myself I'm not going to lose anymore, and started to work at my game," Bettis said. "But not until I retired did I really start to get lessons and work towards my game.
"So I have a love affair with golf now as a result of it because it's the only real competition – the only way we can compete as former athletes is on the golf course."
Brown said his elementary school principal tried to introduce him to golf at age 11, and at the time he had no interest.
"I'm an inner-city kid that grew up in Texas," Brown said. "I was like, this man done lost his mind. I'm not playing any golf. But that's the only sports regret I have in my whole life."
Brown said he didn't take up golf until his mid-20s, when the Raiders forbid him from playing tennis in the offseason due to knee troubles. The physical demands of football made golf difficult.
"Every year you end the year with a shoulder injury or a knee injury or whatever and you have to adapt your swing to that," Brown said. "So really not until I finished the game was I able to play golf the way I wanted to."
The bigger challenge, however, was the mental side of the game.
"In football, physically you're getting beat up," Bettis said. "Golf is about mentally getting beat up."
The two also expressed excitement about the current state of Notre Dame football. The Fighting Irish reached the College Football Playoff for the first time in its five-year history this past season, but were defeated in the semifinals 30-3 by eventual national champion Clemson.
"I think coach (Brian) Kelly has done an amazing job at recruiting kids that are right for Notre Dame, but also have given us the opportunity to be competitive on a national stage," Bettis said. "So hopefully this is the start of something really big. I think coach Kelly is a great coach, and I think they're going to take this momentum and build on it."
Contact: bsanders@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSanders