It’s not really a pinggg, or even a wwwwhhck. When John Elway connected off the first tee box on The Broadmoor’s fabled East Course on Sunday, the delightful sound of sweet spot meeting Titleist turned heads all the way over at the starter’s shack, 20 yards away: thhhhmmp.

No. 7 can play.

But No. 4 took him for $100. During a recent game at Castle Pines Golf Club, Broncos quarterback Case Keenum fired a 74 that nipped Elway’s 76. The new guy didn’t even give his boss any shots. Kids these days!

“Case can really hit it,” Elway said Sunday. “It reminded me of my youth, watching how long he is off the tee and with his irons. I can’t do that anymore.”

Monday at The Broadmoor, 84 hopefuls will compete for two spots in the U.S. Senior Open on one of the most spectacular tracks in golf, the East course. Elway tees off at 10:10 a.m. In assessing the state of his own golf game, the Broncos general manager and vice president of football operations did what any self-respecting player should do: Elway lamented how he hasn’t played enough lately. If only the rest of us had the NFL draft as an alibi for the occasional three-putt or chili dip.

“It’s very much a long shot for me (to qualify), but I enjoy getting into these situations because it makes you a better player, too,” said Elway, who’s serving as the honorary chairman of the Senior Open that runs June 25-July 21. “You have to concentrate. Every shot counts. You want to play well. And in the long run it makes me a better player.”

Hmmm. Sounds like running a proud NFL franchise that’s suddenly trying to climb from a rare hole. What’s happened over the past 18 months — the honeymoon from Super Bowl 50 was more like a chaperoned sleepover with a 9 o'clock curfew — is something that 1996 me never would have imagined: many of the same Coloradans who wore No. 7 pajamas to bed are swearing Elway’s name as if he had won back-to-back Super Bowls for the Raiders or Chiefs, not the Broncos.

Tough crowd, but his success as a Hall of Fame player raised the bar when Elway became an executive. And it stands as the most intriguing storyline in all of Colorado sports, the twists and turns of two legends running the Broncos and Avalanche, with Elway and Joe Sakic as general managers.

“In my mind I’m probably as motivated as I’ve been since I took this job. That’s why I’m really, really looking forward to this season,” Elway told The Gazette. “I’ve always been a little bit motivated by criticism. And some of the criticism is just. But I’ve always used that as incentive to want to get better. We had a lot of good years before last year — bringing Peyton (Manning) here, the Super Bowls — so that made last year all the more disappointing. My No. 1 goal right now is to get us back to where we have that good football team with a great culture. That’s where it needs to be here.”

Elway and the Broncos are particularly optimistic about Bill Musgrave coordinating the offense, and they believe his approach will fit the personnel better than a season ago. As far as how Vance Joseph will be improved in his second season as head coach, Elway said: “We’ll have to see. He had to drink through a firehose last year. I think a lot of times those situations are when you’re going to learn the most. It’s hard to say until we get into the season. So we’ll see.”

And his reaction to the NFL’s stance on player protests, a new policy where players can stand on the sideline or remain in the locker room during the national anthem?

“I’ve stayed away from it. (I) think I’ve made myself clear in terms of I think we should stand for the anthem. Obviously everybody has different approaches,” Elway said. “Joe (Ellis) has done a great job of leaving it up to the players and giving them the leeway to be able to do what they want to do. But I’m glad to see now there’s a baseline to move forward from.”

The most welcome sight during Elway’s practice round was The Broadmoor’s fleet of mowers trimming down the rough to a manageable length. That stuff's thick. What will it take to advance Elway into the U.S. Senior Open alongside the likes of Tom Watson and John Daly? Russ Miller, the Broadmoor's director of golf, has the magic number pegged at 71. The East is set up as ruthless par 70 that puts a premium on hitting fairways off the tee. Elway's driver is solid. His wedge game admittedly needs work.

“If he’s out to play for just the fun of it, he’s good,” said George Solich, the oil-and-gas billionaire and former Evans Scholar at CU-Boulder, who will caddie for Elway on Monday. “But if he’s got $10 on the game he’s really good. Cards, golf, running down that hill. He likes playing for something.”

Elway is playing for something, here and at Dove Valley. He turns 58 during the Senior Open, on June 28. Under Colorado’s bluebird skies and with 18 holes of Broadmoor golf ahead of him, he reacted like he knew this question was coming: Why not scrap the NFL pressure cooker for a life of standing tee times at The Broadmoor? Playing golf every day sure sounds less stressful than lifting the Broncos from 5-11 to 11-5. 

“This is fun. I love playing golf. But this is a hobby. If I do it too much, then it’s not fun anymore,” Elway said. “I’m still enjoying what I’m doing with the Broncos. I’m still very, very driven by it. I want to get us back to where we’re competitive year-in and year-out. That’s the fun part of it. It’s no fun to go 5-11. Winning, that's fun.”

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

Sports columnist

Denver sports columnist for The Gazette

Load comments