By Craig Smith
Special to lombardiave.com
South Shore, Lake Tahoe, Nev. – A.J. Hawk turned his baseball cap backward and grabbed a handful of practice balls as he strolled off to begin his third round at the American Century Championship.
“I’m getting pretty low,” the muscular Green Bay Packer middle linebacker said to a few of the other sports celebrities standing nearby. “Hopefully, I’ll bring them back later.”
He grabbed his driver on the 425-yard first hole while the other players in the his group –quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Matt Schaub — went with long irons, just hoping to find the fairway on the dogleg right.
“They’re smart. That’s why they’re quarterbacks,” joked the 6’1”, 247-pounder before he blasted his drive over the tall pine trees guarding the right side of the fairway, leaving himself just a 130-yard approach that led to a par.
“I just hit it as hard as I can. I try not to think too much,” said the self-deprecating big man who plays with just one wood (a 10-degree driver) in his bag. “I have issues when I start thinking out there. I just like seeing how far I can hit it. I don’t mess with my clubs, and I don’t practice. I just like to play.”
The only thing that Hawk hits harder than a running back might be a golf ball. The Packers knew he was a hitter when they selected him as the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft coming out of Ohio State, where he won the Lombardi Award as the best interior college lineman.
“I try to use my legs, just like in football,” said the 27-year-old Hawk after another 330-yard drive. “I try to turn my body. People think that because I’m a football player, I can’t turn. But I’ve seen some big old fat dudes who can turn and hit it pretty far.”
Earlier in the week, Hawk won the long-drive contest among the 80 celebrities for the second time in three years. His blast of 337 yards was 15 yards farther than his winning poke from 2009. It was so far that it hit the NBC camera tower at the back end of the practice range.
He had three birdies on Thursday, with his last coming on the 315-yard 11th hole when he drove it to the collar of the green. But he didn’t make any birdies over the last 43 holes of the competition at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
Still, he never got frustrated. And he enjoyed the off-season banter with the opposing NFL quarterbacks.
“I can talk to these guys anytime (Tebow and Schaub), but just not so much on game days,” quipped Hawk, the defensive signal caller for the Packers. “I don’t trash talk during games. I’d sound like an idiot. Besides, I have too much to say in the huddle.”
Hawk is heading into his sixth NFL season as a starter after being instrumental in the recent Packers Super Bowl win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He hasn’t missed even one game due to injury, and he has been among the team’s top two tacklers in 2009 and 2010. This past season, Hawk had a team-leading 111 tackles.
Clearly, he’s a hitter on and off the golf course.
Craig Smith is the former director of media relations for the U.S. Golf Association