OMAHA, Neb. – “OK, two people up here are football players, and two are not, and I’m not going to tell you which ones are which.”
Omaha television personality John Knicely drew laughter from the large crowd at the Omaha Country Club practice range on Wednesday afternoon, as Senior Open competitors Hale Irwin and Fred Funk waited to begin their friendly golf skills competition with Danny Woodhead of the San Diego Chargers and 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, both of whom grew up in Nebraska and starred at in-state colleges. Funk flexed his muscles, which drew more laughter, but didn’t seem to confuse anyone.
The quartet, which actually included three football players – Irwin played defensive back for the University of Colorado before embarking on his Hall of Fame golf career – spent the next 30 minutes hitting a variety of shots. The appreciative crowd included groups of Omaha-area youngsters who were spending the day at the final U.S. Senior Open practice session as part of the “In The Zone” and “On The Range” programs hosted by Chevron, the USGA and Omaha C.C. While many kids came individually with their parents, local groups such as The First Tee of Omaha, Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands and several YMCA chapters were among those who were on the grounds Wednesday.
In addition to the skills competition, youngsters were given the chance to explore Chevron’s STEM Zone, which highlights the science of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits. Kids could get in front of the camera and film their own sports updates while learning the science behind the teleprompter; practice their putting while being introduced to the Stimpmeter, the tool that measures green speed; or learn about the USGA limits on clubhead sizes while also better understanding the principles of volume and displacement.
“This is cool, I never really thought about it before today,” said Liam West, 10, of Omaha, who got to fire ping pong balls at a target while learning about friction’s impact on the spin of a ball. “It’s fun to learn about the science behind something that’s fun.”
The STEM Zone, which was also on-site at the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, connects sports with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning and provides an enjoyable experience for kids who get the chance to visit it. However, the ultimate goal behind the initiative runs much deeper than simply providing a fun experience, says Chevron’s Bianca Larussa.
“We’re trying to show kids the science behind the game of golf. They don’t realize that professional athletes are really intuitive scientists,” she said. “We’re hoping that these exhibits will spark in them an interest in careers in science and engineering.”
While science and golf are a natural fit to keep kids informed and entertained, it was obvious on Wednesday that the same can be said for golf and football, though on the surface they appear to be such different sports. Woodhead and Crouch are both passionate about golf, and according to the Chargers’ wide receiver, the similarities don’t stop there.
“World-class athletes are the best at what they do, at their chosen sport, so being a part of this is a great experience,” said Woodhead, who doesn’t have a current handicap but estimated that he plays to about a 3. “What many people don’t think about is the fact that football is very physical, but there is such a large mental aspect to it, as well. I think that’s where we relate to one another, because professional golfers need to be so strong mentally.”
Scott Lipsky is the social media specialist at the USGA. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.