From the Sept/Oct. issue of FORE Magazine
USC’s Lane Kiffin has quite a bit on his plate right now – with a troubled football program and the demands of a young family – so he hasn’t been on the golf course much lately. But he enjoys the game and hopes to return to it someday.
By Jill Painter
When Lane Kiffin interviewed for the Oakland Raiders’ head coaching job in 2007, he was taken aback by one peculiar question from Raiders owner Al Davis. Kiffin was prepared to talk offensive philosophies and coaching experience and why he would make a good fit in the NFL. He didn’t know his golf game would be discussed.
“He asked me in my interview if I played golf,” Kiffin said. “I said, `No, I don’t.’ He was excited. I didn’t realize that no was the right answer, but I realized that by his reaction.”
Davis demands total immersion in football from his employees – and especially the head coach. Although Kiffin landed the job, he lasted just 20 games before a contentious split with Davis.
He moved on to Tennessee for one season before taking the Trojans job. But although Southern California is known for its year-round opportunities to get out on a golf course, the second-year USC coach finds that he now has even less time to dabble in the game.
“I played a little bit in my early 20s, and then once I had kids, it’s been really limited,” said Kiffin, 36. “There’s no time between being a head coach at USC and my family.”
The football job presents some considerable demands, with USC on probation, operating under a bowl ban and limited in the number of scholarships it can offer.
And Kiffin’s family keeps him hopping when he’s off the field: He and his wife, Layla, have three young children, Landry, 5, Pressley, 4 and Knox, 2. Also, the Kiffins live in Manhattan Beach, and he’s found that there aren’t a lot of nearby places to play near his home.
Kiffin does occasionally sneak in a little time to watch golf on television, though Tiger Woods’ current hiatus has curtailed even that. “Like most of America, I only watch golf when Tiger is playing on Sunday,” he said.
Kiffin got his start in golf when he was a quality control assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He didn’t have much interest in learning the game, but Mike Perkins, the team’s the video director, convinced him to join him on the course.
"He’s terrible,” Perkins said with a laugh.” You’re not going to get me to admit he’s an athlete, but I’m not a golfer, either. I just said, `Lane, let’s go out and talk and have fun and have a couple of cold ones.’ We had fun.”
Kiffin remembers playing plenty of bad golf with Perkins, but he enjoyed being outdoors with his co-worker. “He was always trying to get me to go out,” Kiffin said. “He played all the time. And he beat me every time.”
Asked if that meant he lost money, Kiffin laughed and said: “I didn’t make enough money to lose back then.”
Kiffin was a beginner, but Perkins still took him to play TPC Sawgrass, where the PGA Tour’s Players Championship is held. Kiffin shot somewhere around 120, he said. Maybe worse. Perhaps he stopped filling in his scorecard.
“It’s very hard,” he said. “I think I ran out of balls twice. It’s challenging and exciting. You watch on TV and you remember that’s where you were at playing.”
Every April, USC’s football team conducts the Lane Kiffin Heritage Golf Classic for Trojan fans and former football players. The host played four holes in 2010, and although he mingles with folks all around the course, he didn’t play at all this year.
“I’m not very good,” Kiffin said. “I’ve probably played five times the last five years. I get frustrated because I’m not very good at it. If you don’t spend much time on it and you play, it’s not that much fun.”
Kiffin hopes to sharpen his game at some future date – even if that doesn’t happen until he retires from coaching. “I think I will play then,” he said. “There will be so much time open once the kids are out of the house if I do retire.”
At that point, maybe he can play with colleagues and business associates in charity tournaments, opportunities he spurns now.
“Unfortunately, I don’t go,” Kiffin said. “That’s the one part where I wished I played. From the business aspect, there are so many people you build relationships with who do play golf, but you have to turn them down.
“I do like going out with a couple of people that I know and enjoy being around. The camaraderie is natural. I like and enjoy that.”