Goldfingers goes way of Golden Tee

For many prominent athletes, retirement means riding off into the sunset never to be seen in the public eye again.

Others, however, find ways to remain in the spotlight, driven by a need to always be the center of attention.

After 13 Pro Bowl selections, three Super Bowl championships and a runner-up finish on Dancing with the Stars, Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice has made headlines yet again — by joining the PGA’s Nationwide Tour.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, Rice announced that he would be playing in Thursday’s Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, Calif.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime here,” Rice said to the AP. “You know I’m a competitor. I don’t want to go out there and have those players who are playing on the Nationwide Tour think this is a publicity stunt for attention. It’s not … I have the opportunity to go out and prove to everybody I can play golf.”

Rice has been hitting the links since his days of catching passes from Joe Montana, and he seems to fully realize the amount of effort this endeavor will require.

“I got addicted to the game; I have so much passion for it,” Rice said. “These guys are really good golfers. They are one step below the PGA and a lot of these guys are going to go on and be part of the PGA. To line up against these guys, I’m honored … I’d love to make this cut in my debut.”

My family lived in the Bay Area up until I was 11, which meant I grew up with the Eddie Debartolo-era 49ers. I was a witness — long before any campy Nike ad campaign — to football played as close to perfection as possible.

I was spoiled watching Rice carve up defenses in Bill Walsh’s innovative west coast offense, making football look as easy as riding a bike.

When Rice signed with Oakland in 2000, it was clear that he had lost a step and was entering the twilight of his career. Following a trade to the Seahawks midway through the 2004 season, Rice retired after failing to catch a pass in Seattle’s opening-round playoff loss to the Rams.

Rice is the greatest receiver in the history of the NFL and has earned the right to do whatever he wants with he free time. He needs to consider, however, that he’s playing against golfers who are on the fringe of being professionals.

These are people who have been making a living off of golf for a long time — a living that doesn’t add up to much money, as they’re playing in what amounts to the PGA’s minor league. All the amateur golfers at the event are vying for their PGA Tour cards as well, and they won’t simply step aside to let a sports icon have his moment in the sun.

There’s a good chance that Rice could make a fool of himself and get embarrassed in his first Tour event, but he just might surprise everyone and get the best of the field.

Hopefully, this isn’t just another fading star’s attempt to stay in the limelight; Rice deserves more than 15 minutes of fame.

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