Emmitt Smith, Legendary Dallas Cowboy Running Back, Talks Golf

January 22, 2015
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The Super Bowl is coming up. Everyone knows about your career with the Dallas Cowboys, but less heralded is your love of golf. When did you get hooked?

I bought my first set of clubs back in 1991 — a set of Hogan Edge blades. Not exactly the easiest clubs to hit for a beginner. I didn’t know much about golf, but I bought them because they were beautiful-looking golf clubs. I started learning how to play, and I spent a lot of time on the course. The bug bit me. I’d find myself wanting to clear my entire day — work out early, then go and play golf all day.

You must have improved fast — learning to play with blades teaches you to hit the sweet spot pretty quickly.

[Laughs] Pretty much. I had a pretty nasty swing at first, but I did learn to hit the ball. I’m still not as accurate as I’d like to be, but I can manage myself around the course.

What do you love most about golf?

That it’s a new challenge every day. It forces you to be focused for 18 holes, four or five hours. I also respect the game because it takes a lot out of you, mentally and emotionally.

What do you hate about golf?

It’s a game that you can never, ever master. No matter how hard you work at it or how good you become, there’s always something you can improve. Every round is a different round. You can go out and shoot a 65 one day, and you think you can shoot 65 the next day — but you can never get that type of consistency where you’re just tearing it up every day.

Wait, you shot 65? You might have gone into the wrong profession, three Super Bowl victories aside.

[Laughs] No, the lowest round I ever shot was 72, even par. I’ve never been under par, but that’s a goal.

Which is more difficult: winning a Super Bowl, winning the title on Dancing with the Stars — as you did in 2006 — or shooting under par?

Breaking par, because I have three rings, and no rounds under par. [Laughs] You’ve got to go 18 holes under par, and I’ve never done it. Even when I shot 72, which was some years ago, trying to get back to 72 is so hard. Football was something that came naturally, but golf is not as natural for me as I want it to be. That’s part of the attraction. It’s so fun and so hard.

What strengths and weaknesses did playing NFL football bring to your golf game?

Playing football makes golf a bit difficult, because lifting weights makes you bulkier and less flexible. But as for strengths, the athletic ability helps me a lot in golf. There are benefits from the coordination and the mental toughness I developed in football. Then there’s the mental aspect. Golf makes you deal with the pressure of having to hit the right shot when you need it. In football, if you have a bad play — take a loss, fumble — you have to move on to the next play. Football has given me the ability to forget a bad shot and move on to the next.

What current or retired NFL players do you like to tee it up with?

I’ve played with Marcus [Allen], Eric Dickers on and L.T. [Lawrence Taylor], and it’s always fun. I’ve seen L.T. and Jim McMahon play golf without shoes on — L.T. will play in flip-flops. Flip-flops! And he’ll say, “I don’t need no shoes to beat you cats!”

You also have your own annual charity golf event in Dallas, the Emmitt Smith Celebrity Invitational. How did that start?

My mom always told me to never forget where I come from — no matter how high you go, always reach out to help another person. So the event began a few years ago with wanting to give back. We try to raise over a million dollars each year for kids who have high potential but may have limited resources, and the last couple of years, we’ve done that.

Your former coach Jimmy Johnson once called you a “nifty” runner. What word best describes your golf game?

Probably “controlled.” I’m trying to develop discipline. When I don’t need to hit my driver, I hit my 3-wood and play to a comfortable number.

Who has better hair: Jimmy Johnson or Miguel Angel Jiménez?

Jimmy! Miguel’s ponytail is cool, but Jimmy’s hair stays so frosty, so tight. It hardly ever moves, so he wins.

Emmitt Smith: Three Things I Know for Sure

You should put your dreams on paper.

My high school coach Dwight Thomas told me that it’s only a dream until you write it down, and then it becomes a goal. The dream of becoming a professional athlete was something that I had as a child, but then I started writing down my goals and understanding what I needed to do to get there. Just doing that on a consistent basis has helped me achieve a lot of the things that I wanted to achieve in life. I still have what I call my “dream mirror”—on a mirror, I have pictures with my dreams and goals written on the back, and I look at it every morning.

Keeping your head still leads to solid contact.

I tend to want to see the shot too quickly, so keeping my head still has been a challenge. But keeping your head down and still throughout the swing helps both your accuracy and your impact. It’s one of the things I need to continue to work on.

The Cowboys will win a Super Bowl in the next five years.

Choosing a Super Bowl champion is like rolling the dice. But I think they can do it in the next five years. They’re committed to running the football, which balances out the offense. If we can keep guys healthy, we’ve got a good chance to bring back another ring.

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