To most NHL players, golf is a passion, but also the kiss of death.
It’s the sport they’d least like to think about come April when the regular season has ended -- much too early for some. While 16 teams move forward, keeping their childhood dreams alive by playing for the Stanley Cup, other are free to play golf.
The Bruins’ Marc Savard doesn’t necessarily see it that way though. This season, he wants his spot in the postseason, and he’ll take some tee time, too.
Savard, last seen as the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game hero -- blasting the game-winner with 21 seconds left in the third period for an 8-7 victory -- hopes he can make his very first playoff appearance come April. If he has anything to say about it, Savard won’t be hitting the links anytime soon, and if he does, perhaps it’s to work on his hockey swing.
“Well, it’s kind of a similar motion from shooting a puck in hitting a golf ball,” Savard said of golf’s popularity among his hockey peers. “But golf is a little more challenging in that it’s a one-man game. When you’re playing hockey, there are different lines of defense and when opponents score, it’s a team breakdown. You have a bad shot in golf, it’s only yourself to blame. Golf is tougher in that way for sure.”
Golf has been the hobby of choice of many hockey players. Given that golf is also a swing-friendly sport, perhaps plaid pants and golf berets aren’t its driving appeal. It wasn’t a sport Savard easily picked up. Never having played growing up in Ottawa, it was a sport Savard first experienced as a 20-year-old NHL rookie. At first, Savard shot right-handed and was ready to jump in his golf cart and never look back. Then he began shooting left-handed and shot an 85 in the first round.
“Savvy,” a natural passer who has led a notable hockey career (168 goals, 388 assists for 556 points, in 637 games in 11 NHL seasons) has played golf for only a decade, yet has a zero handicap and is the owner of more than 15 sets of golf clubs. And you can bet he knows where all the choice courses are in every NHL city. When playing for the Atlanta Thrashers, Savard lived on the grounds of the TPC Sugarloaf, the famed course that hosts the PGA Tour and AT&T Classic. His neighbor was none other than one of golf’s best, Stewart Cink, and it wouldn’t be long before Savard made himself part of the 2004 John Deere Classic, but not as an up-and-coming golf sensation, but rather as Cink’s celebrity caddy.
“It was a real eye opener to see just how good those guys are -- how incredible they are every day,” Savard said. “We still keep in touch, and last year a bunch of us went to Ireland and he met us there a week before the British Open. He played with us and my buddies got to play with him, and that was a real treat for them.”
Since befriending Cink, a Thrashers’ season-ticket holder, Savard has improved his game thanks to tips from his golf pro friend. Savard has learned how to better manipulate the curving of the ball while in flight, which can help maneuver the shot to his desired destination.
“Usually I’m a lefty so he helped me to draw the ball to have the shaping to have the both shots, to work it both ways,” he said. “We also got to play a lot when I was in Atlanta, and he’s helped me out with little things once in a while too. Besides that, we’ve had some pretty good matches.”
All of Savard’s practices would prove beneficial upon learning he had qualified to play in the Canadian Mid-Amateur that was held last August in London, Ontario. Before qualifying, his mettle was tested during two preliminary rounds, where Savard surprised even himself.
We got to keep trying to climb and look ahead of us and not behind us. That’s what we’re focusing on right now. - Marc Savard
“There were a couple of steps to getting onto that, so I went to the first qualifier and I think I shot five-under at that and won that by eight strokes,” he said. “Then I went on to the second qualifier and I think I finished 16th out of 25 players. At the Canadian Mid-Amateurs, I knew my game needed some work, but I was able to make the cut there and ended up 30th out of 170 players. Not bad for my first time, so I was excited about it and I know I can at least play with those guys and work on some things.”
The jovial forward, who has 13 goals and 46 assists in 52 games this season, would love to play on the Canadian Tour after his hockey-playing days are over -- and maybe get one of his buddies to caddy for him.
For now, Savard wants to earn his first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins are fighting to climb the Eastern Conference ladder, so tee time will have to wait.
“You have to be ready every night,” Savard stresses. “We got to keep trying to climb and look ahead of us and not behind us. That’s what we’re focusing on right now.”