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January 1, 2016

Hard Hitting Practice Habits

NFL All-Pro Patrick Peterson works tirelessly to perfect his game on the field and on the golf course

BY: TONY L. STARKS

For Pro-Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, the No. 1 priority on Sunday is to keep the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver out of the end zone. Doing that on a weekly basis requires him to be “in the zone” from kickoff through the final whistle.

“When I’m playing cornerback, I know what to expect. I’m going to be out there on an island. I know this guy. I know his every move, and I’m going to shut him down. He’s not going to catch a ball,” says Peterson.

After the season, which will conclude next month as Peterson’s Cardinals vie for a championship, Sunday’s No. 1 priority changes to golf. And his expectations change, as well.

“In golf, I hope to hit it straight. I hope to hit a draw when the wind is coming left to right,” he adds. “It’s different each and every time you have to strike that ball – and that’s the beauty of it.”

Peterson first picked up a golf club during the 2011 NFL lockout. Fast-forward four years, and he carries a 4.3 index. It’s just not fair.

Obviously Peterson is an elite athlete. He runs 40 yards in four seconds, bench presses his body weight more than a dozen times and has a 38-inch vertical leap. Okay, all of that certainly helps. But what’s really gotten Peterson to this point in his golf game so quickly is the same dedication to practice that he’s exhibited throughout his NFL career – which has earned him Pro Bowl visits in each of his first four seasons.

The physical gifts have always been there. So what Peterson really focuses on is the elusive space all athletes strive for: The Zone. For him, the zone in football and the zone in golf is a similar mindset.

“Both golf and football have those times where you have to be absolutely focused,” he explains. “In golf, each swing is only like a second in time. Then you’re walking or riding for a few minutes before you take that next swing. So the gap time in between each shot in golf is all about staying focused and preparing for that split second when you’re actually hitting the ball.

“It’s like in football after the play happens. You’re walking back to the huddle, settling back in, getting the next play. Then the quarterback gets under center, now you lock onto the guy in front of you and get to the task at hand. That in-between time, and the split second of intense focus are the major similarities between golf and football.”

Those split seconds of intense focus are where Peterson gets in the “zone.” While it comes naturally to many elite athletes, he contends that it’s something anyone can practice and improve upon. For Peterson, being in the zone means: “Seeing what you’re going to do before it happens and knowing what the outcome is going to be – no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

In both sports, repetition and preparation are the keys to making that happen. Despite only playing the game for four years, Peterson uses a term that’s popular in many PGA Tour circles: Visualization. “You have to envision your shot before you hit it, visualization. Doing that means you have to practice those shots, take time to actually work on them and imagine the type of shots you want to hit when you’re practicing.

“It’s kind of like all the practice reps during the week, all the time we spend in the film room getting ready to go out on Sunday. By the time kickoff comes, I already know what’s going to happen because I’m so prepared.”

With his home in Scottsdale, a popular location for PGA Tour players because golf can be played year round, Peterson has gotten a chance to rub elbows with a few high caliber ball strikers. He’s played rounds with Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, multiple members of the 2015 National Champion LSU Tigers men’s golf team (Peterson’s alma mater) and has even hit balls on the range with another Tiger.

Given his own athletic prowess, Peterson was not in awe of their physical capabilities, but instead the way they strategize and manage their game. Knowing which shots to hit at which moment and then going out to execute.

“It’s like me playing defensive back, for some reason it came very very easy to me. And it’s the same for them in golf,” he says. “But what separates us from other athletes is not just physical preparation, but the way you mentally prepare. I can relate to that, spending hours upon hours in the film room every week. I have a lot of respect for those guys.”

Living in Scottsdale has also afforded Peterson a great relationship with nearby club manufacturer Ping. The company’s Master Fitter, Bill Iseri, has worked with the dominating DB from day one.

“Patrick was still relatively new to the game the first time we met but his athletic ability made it look like he’d played for some time. In the beginning, his speed caused some inconsistency with results until he learned to control it. He’s obsessed with the game so he figured it all out,” says Iseri. “All of Patrick’s shaft specs are heavy, low-torque, tipped, X-flex. It makes him a pretty simple fit. I’ve enjoyed fitting Patrick more than any other professional athlete. He is kind, appreciative and mature beyond his 25 years.”

Peterson’s tight in-season schedule makes it tough to get to the practice range all the time, but he installed a simulator in his home so he can keep is swing grooved throughout the grueling NFL season. With the off-season around the corner, Peterson has expanded his commitment to golf by creating the Patrick Peterson Celebrity Golf Tournament. The inaugural event will be contested March 19-20 at Camelback Golf Club in Scottsdale. More information can be found at www.patrickpeterson.org.

“You don’t see that very often – a 25 year old hosting a golf tournament and wanting to be very involved with it. I’ve had opportunities to play in Michael Jordan’s golf tournament, played in the American Century the past couple of years, hoping to get into Pebble Beach and the Waste Management. Having had those experiences, I thought it would be a cool opportunity for me to start a golf tournament,” he explains. “If we can execute the way I like, I know if will only get better each and every year.”

If Peterson brings the same commitment to the tournament that he does to practice, than it will undoubtedly be a success.