STATELINE, Nev. — Once every 25 years, former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien wins the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship. This year, the feeling was much different than the first time around.
Rypien beat out former NHL player Jeremy Roenick and former LPGA Tour player Annika Sorenstam for the 2014 title after posting a record Stableford score of 33 to finish with 76 points Sunday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
This time around, he’s just going to enjoy the win with his family. Last time, however, he needed the win to impress his head coach in Washington.
"I was just trying to find a roster spot and find my niche," Rypien said. "One of the things (head coach) Joe Gibbs said was, ‘When I saw you win that golf tournament I knew that you were a guy that when the pressure came down you might be able to do some good for us.’ And that was a great start.’"
Rypien is now a mainstay in the event and has become known for his golf game in recent years. This win should come as no surprise since he logged back-to-back second place finishes in the last two years. But 25 years ago, he was an unheralded player going into his fourth year with the Washington Redskins and had only started for one season.
Among a group of celebrities that included far more celebrated quarterbacks, Rypien quietly emerged.
"I was getting ready to go to the Redskins to see if I could unseat Doug Williams and take the Redskins to great places," Rypien said. "I was still a young buck, a little wet behind the ears and I came out here and no one had any idea who the heck I was. I wasn’t a Dan Marino drafted in the first round or something."
The field was also much different 25 years ago as well.
"I didn’t have to beat Chad Pfeifers and Jeremy Roenicks – it was Frankie Avalon and Tommy Dreeson," Rypien said. "The competition has gotten better."
This year, Rypien broke a tie with Roenick and held off Sorenstam with a torrid stretch on his last three holes. After waiting out a rain delay that lasted for more than three hours, he eagled hole 16 and birdied both 17 and 18. The rain did little to his game but did a number on Roenick’s mindset and Rypien was able to capitalize.
Rypien is no longer a young buck, but he’s already thinking about how much he’ll have left in the tank in the years to come.
"In 25 years from now I’ll be 76. Do you think I could do that when I’m 76?" he said. "Nah. Probably not."
Rain Delay Zzz
While most players gathered in the clubhouse to start the player hospitality party a little early, Roenick was serious about the rest of his round. Still in a tie for first at that point, while the rest of his group enjoyed the party, he decided to nap – in the middle of the party.
Roenick stretched out underneath the table and napped. The NBC cameras captured him warming back up prior to the end of the delay with his caddie doing his best to avoid getting kicked in the face.
Chad Pfeifer, the Iraq War veteran who uses a prosthetic left leg, finished in a tie for fifth place this week, showing that he has the skill needed to go pro further down the line.
"I truly thought after (Saturday) that he was going to be the player to beat," Rypien said. "After he double-bogeyed two and then came back with birdies on three and four, I said to myself, ‘This is who I have to beat.’"
It’s been a surreal week for Pfeifer, who went from unknown to fan favorite nearly overnight. His plans to become the first PGA Tour player to use a prosthesis haven’t changed, but should he be invited back next year, he’s not turning down the invite.
"I just kept pinching myself all week," he said. "I was around so many great athletes. It was just amazing. I’m truly grateful that I was invited and I had the time of my life."