PGA Tour golfers' ardent college football fandom on display

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- At last week's PGA Tour season finale, the RSM Classic at Sea Island Resort, Open Championship winner Brian Harman couldn't get through his pre-tournament news conference without answering a question about a subject that's near and dear to his heart -- Georgia Bulldogs football.

Harman, who played golf for the Bulldogs before turning pro in 2009, was asked to assess quarterback Carson Beck, who has guided the two-time defending national champions to an 11-0 record in his first season as a starter.

"It's been really cool to watch his progression as he's gotten more and more comfortable," Harman said. "I watched him make some throws on Saturday that you just can't... I mean, he's locked in. It's his team, he's the leader of that team. I'm really proud. I don't know Carson at all, but it's been a lot of fun to watch his progression. He's a total leader of that team now, which is what you want out of your quarterback."

Then Harman posed a question to the reporter.

"Let's talk some more Georgia football. Have you ever seen a better route runner than [Bulldogs receiver] Ladd McConkey?"

While designated events, the PGA Tour's ongoing battle with LIV Golf and a potential deal with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund have dominated much of the discussion surrounding professional men's golf the past two years, the debate changes to something else in early August for many players.

Once college football kicks off, driving ranges, practice greens, locker rooms and rental houses sound more like sports bars, with golfers debating the sport's best players, teams and recruiting classes.

"I think it's a weekly discussion, for sure," said Brandt Snedeker, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour. "Especially this time of year and leading up to it. Who's excited about it, who's not excited about it? We talk about recruiting classes out there during the spring, and how your school's doing. I mean, we're all pretty much junkies, I think, at this point.

"I think it's funny how most golfers either want to be musicians or college football coaches. And I think every college football coach or musician wants to be a golfer."

Some PGA Tour golfers are more passionate about the sport and their teams than others. Harman and former Georgia golfers Harris English and Kevin Kisner routinely spend time on the Dawgvent, an Internet message board dedicated to the team. None of them admit to posting on the message board but love scanning threads for inside information and rumors.

"I read it because I just like knowing what's going on with the team," Harman said. "So yeah, I read it. It is funny when guys make these grand projections. It's like, 'Well, that's not true,' but it's good fodder. I enjoy reading it."

English, who played golf at Georgia from 2007 to 2011, remembered driving back from a duck hunting trip with Harman on national signing day in December 2018. They kept refreshing the Dawgvent to find out whether five-star linebacker Nakobe Dean of Horn Lake, Mississippi, had signed with the Bulldogs. Dean chose Georgia over a handful of other schools. He won the Butkus Award as the top linebacker in the FBS in 2021.

"Harman's on there all the time," English said. "I don't think Harman does Twitter or Instagram, but he does the Dawgvent."

Kisner said he's no longer as active on the Dawgvent as he once was -- he says he can get information directly from sources inside the UGA program -- but he still jumps on the message board occasionally. For a while, his friends were trying to guess his handle.

"They were saying, 'There's Kis again saying this,'" Kisner said. "I would get screenshots of a message and they're like, 'That was definitely you, right?' I was like, 'No, I don't ever comment. I just read what all you dumbasses say.'"

There were 10 former Georgia players on tour this season, and they've been barking louder about their alma mater than most golfers the past three seasons after the Bulldogs ended a 41-year drought without a national title.

"They've been winning, and it's unbelievable to hear the amount of trash talk that they have every week, all week long," Snedeker said. "It's just never ending. You pick one Georgia guy and ask him a menial question, and it turns into a 30-minute discussion of what's going on in Georgia football.

"And it's no different than Alabama, with [Justin Thomas] and those guys, which is why SEC football, or Texas football, or big-time college football is so special. The big iconic programs, they're all crazy about it. And I'm crazy about Vanderbilt football. We all kind of have a problem, for lack of a better term."

Like most message-board users, the majority of PGA Tour players prefer to remain anonymous. They protect their handles and true identities as much as their local knowledge of golf courses.

Patton Kizzire, an avid Auburn Tigers fan, almost sounds like a teenage boy who was caught red-handed with a magazine he shouldn't have been reading when he discusses Tigers football message boards.

"I get on there occasionally," Kizzire said. "I read the articles. I don't read the comments. That's too much. Everybody's stirring the pot."

Other golfers aren't afraid to unveil themselves and interact with fans.

Lucas Glover, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this past season, said he reads the West Zone, a message board devoted to Clemson Tigers football, multiple times a day. He's a self-admitted junkie when it comes to reading anything he can about the Tigers.

"I read it religiously, probably too much," Glover said. "Not sure I would be comfortable admitting how much I read it, but I'm on there a lot."

Glover, 44, played golf at Clemson from 1998 to 2001. His grandfather, Dick Hendley, was a football and baseball star for the Tigers about five decades earlier. Not surprisingly, Glover grew up a Clemson fan and has been a member of the West Zone for 22 years.

For the first 18 years or so, Glover didn't reveal his identity and posted anonymously under the handle JudgeSchmails, a tribute to the main antagonist at Bushwood Country Club in the 1980 film "Caddyshack." Glover's avatar is a famous photograph of legendary Tigers coach Frank Howard blowing a kiss after the Tigers' 27-0 victory over rival South Carolina on Oct. 22, 1959, the last time the teams played a "Big Thursday" game at the state fair in Columbia, South Carolina.

About four years ago, Glover disclosed his actual identity when a West Zone user wrote that he knew the golfer personally and was close to his family. Glover didn't know the man and quickly set the record straight. Last week, after another user suggested that Tigers running back Will Shipley had a $1 million name, image and likeness deal, Glover posted another correction: "Hopefully you don't believe that."

"A lot of the known knowledgeable ones have kind of been run off because of the idiots," Glover said. "But I know there's still some guys that coach and guys that are involved in a pretty substantial capacity that know ball that are on there. Over the years, you pick out who they are, figure out who they are, and then make sure you read up, because they know a heck of a lot more than I do."

Unlike many Clemson fans, Glover didn't pile on coach Dabo Swinney after the Tigers fell to 4-4 earlier this year.

"I've never been critical of Dabo," Glover said. "He's done so much for our university that I have no right or reason to be critical. Like any fan, I want to win more games, but as somebody that knows him personally, it's hard to criticize how he does his thing and how he goes about it. I think everybody with success is stubborn in a way."

That doesn't mean Glover is satisfied with the current direction of the program. The Tigers have lost each of the past five games he has attended, including two this season: 31-24 in overtime to Florida State at home on Sept. 23 and 28-20 in two overtimes at Miami on Oct. 21.

"I don't think Dabo wants me to come back," Glover said. "It took [Alabama coach Nick] Saban a little while to embrace the spread, and I think Dabo is going to find that he's going to have to embrace a little bit of the new college football or it's going to completely pass us by."

At times, it has been difficult for U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson not to weigh in on message board discussions surrounding his favorite team, the Iowa Hawkeyes. The two-time major champion played golf at Drake University but grew up rooting for the Hawkeyes.

Johnson, 47, reads Iowa Swarm Lounge, but says he never posts, even though he has been tempted to respond to those criticizing longtime coach Kirk Ferentz.

"I mean, I can't count the number of times a day," Johnson said. "It's pathetic. I'm not on social media anymore because my team does that. And so when it comes to my phone, my only vice is that."

Johnson enjoys following Iowa recruiting as much as in-season discussions on the board.

"You can get into some black holes in there, some deep holes," Johnson said. "That can really formulate your opinions and maybe even mess with your emotions. Well, specifically, personally speaking, mess with my emotions, but you've got to take everything with a grain of salt. We're talking about 17- to 22-year-olds. If this entire thing that we're talking about is pathetic, well, then I'm guilty of that. Look in the mirror."

Johnson now lives at St. Simons Island. He says the Iowa message board is sort of a connection to his roots. He's surrounded by Georgia football fans and takes quite a ribbing from other players about the Iowa offense's lack of, well, effectiveness. The Hawkeyes are averaging 18.5 points per game, which ranks tied for 123rd among 133 FBS teams.

"Thankfully, we don't have many Florida Gators around here," Johnson said.

Johnson served as an honorary captain for the Iowa football team at its 31-15 victory over Maryland on Oct. 31, 2015. The game was played about three months after he captured The Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. He carried the Claret Jug onto the field, just like Harman did at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, two weeks ago.

"I'm very tempted to post considering some of the absolute ignorant statements that are posted," Johnson said. "They're opinions, so that's fine, and I understand that. But ignorance is no excuse, especially if you're a fan. I understand frustrations. Sports are sports, and it frustrates me when guys think they know what's going on. I'm not suggesting I know.

"It's almost like trolling. What are you doing? I don't understand it. And here, I read it. So I take full responsibility for being an idiot."

Snedeker was the SEC Player of the Year and an All-American at Vanderbilt as a senior in 2003. Eleven years later, former Commodores coach Derek Mason asked Snedeker to be an honorary captain and address the team before its road game at Mississippi State in November 2014. The Bulldogs, led by current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, won the game 51-0.

"I've since retired from being involved in college football," Snedeker said.

Given Vanderbilt's football history, Snedeker finds himself often cheering for other SEC teams. He was a classmate of current Commodores head coach Clark Lea at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville.

"People always give me a hard time, like, 'Oh, you're an SEC fan,'" Snedeker said. "I'm like, 'Well, yeah, I love watching great football.' I love it when my team, who I love, beats somebody who's really good. And if it happens, it's a massive upset. That's exciting to me, and it's exciting to me to know that my team plays in the best conference in the country.

"That's why I'm a huge PGA Tour fan. I love playing against the best."