MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Don’t mistake the pained expressions following each swing for pain and suffering.
Those are new game faces.
Peyton Manning knew what he was up against when he came to Winged Foot this week to play in the 84th Anderson Memorial Four-Ball Invitational, which includes some of the best amateur combinations in the country.
He enjoyed the golf. He enjoyed the experience. He needed a hug.
“I have no business playing on this level, but I actually kind of hung in there,” Manning said Friday after narrowly missing a putt for par on the West Course’s iconic 18th hole. “I birdied No. 1 today and birdied No. 10. I birdied the 13th on the East yesterday so I’ll go home with that. I had it all in perspective the whole time and I really enjoyed myself.”
He partnered with Fox News chief political analyst Bret Baier.
They were 7-over Thursday on the East Course and came back with another 77 Friday on the West Course. They were a long way from qualifying for match play.
“We’ve been friends for years and had an offer to come up and play,” said Baier, who played collegiately at DePauw and famously ended an interview with the Dalai Lama by asking if the spiritual leader had ever seen Caddyshack. “We came. We saw. We did not conquer. You have to keep it out of the rough here. This is the first time I’ve played Winged Foot. It’s awesome. Both courses are tough. Both are really unique and beautiful courses. The green complexes are really challenging. You have to putt your ball here.”
The invite came from Winged Foot member J.P. O’Hara.
“We played together here in 2006,” the Anderson Memorial tournament chairman said. “I’m a big Giants fan because of his brother, Eli, and the Maras, but we stayed in touch. I saw how well he played in the charity match with Tiger as his partner and told him that merited an invitation to play. It’s really special to have Peyton come. He is so humble and gracious. He’s gotta be one of the greatest athletes of all time.”
Peyton Manning lines up a putt on the fifth green of Winged Foot West during the second round of the Anderson Memorial Four-Ball Tournament on Aug. 20, 2021, as Dan Crockett looks on. (Mike Dougherty/The Journal News)
Manning did some homework on the championship and came anyway.
“I said, ‘J.P., I don’t think it does merit an invitation,’ ” he quipped. “It got canceled last year, so I came this year. I’m not qualified or worthy, but I sure have enjoyed myself. What a treat to play both these courses and meet some great people.”
The recent addition to the National Football Hall of Fame who played for the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos uses a blue and orange bag with a Cherry Hills Country Club logo.
Manning says time for golf is limited to gaps between his kids’ sports and school events. He is down to a 4 handicap.
“He’s got a love for the game. He’s got the bug,” Baier added. “He plays as much as he can and now his brother, Eli, is really getting into it so I think there’s going to be a family competition, which will spur them on to greatness as it has in the past.”
They have played several rounds together on Long Island this season.
“Eli likes to play,” Manning said. “In the summers, they hang out in Long Island with the kids. We’ve gotten together a couple of times this summer. He’s active, but when he gets the opportunity he likes to play.”
The next opportunity to play might come next month when the Giants add Eli to the Ring of Honor on Sept. 26.
“Our whole family is excited for what the Giants are doing for Eli this fall,” Manning added. “That will be a special ceremony.”
Mike Dougherty covers golf for The Journal News/lohud.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @lohudgolf.