Before he became a world-famous country-rapping musician, Colt Ford was a journeyman golf pro who chased his dream of playing on the PGA Tour in the 1990s. The Athens, Georgia, native was twice named that state’s PGA Section Assistants’ Division Player of the Year (teaching John Tillery, the instructor of Kevin Kisner and Rickie Fowler) and won several mini tour events while traveling to back water towns under his given name, Jason Brown.
“It was called the Hogan Tour when I started,” he said of the Tour developmental circuit known as the Korn Ferry Tour today. “That’s how long it’s been.”
This week, Ford, 51, who missed the cut at the 1995 South Carolina Classic, when it was the Nike Tour, is set to make his PGA Tour Champions debut at the Sanford International, playing on a sponsor invite into the 78-man field at Minnehaha Country Club in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Ford has stayed active in golf circles by competing in hit-and-giggle competitions such as the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in Orlando and the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe, which use Stableford scoring, and is a regular celebrity participant at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but concedes it’s been a while since he’s had to attest his score in a stroke-play competition.
“It’s one thing to play at the AT&T, where you have a partner and another when you have to put your score down no matter what in a box,” he said. “There ain’t no hiding out here.”
But Ford’s game may be stronger than ever. The coronavirus global pandemic has rocked the live music industry. Instead of performing an average of 125-140 concerts a year around the world as he has for the last decade, Ford expects to do less than 40 shows this year. He’s spent his downtime working on his game, including regular matches with John Daly at their club in Nashville.
“I probably wouldn’t have done this if it weren’t for COVID-19 and having the time to work at my game,” Ford said.
This isn’t the first time that Ford has been offered the opportunity to play against the pros, but the chance to play against the players he grew up competing against – Doug Barron and Dicky Pride, friends from junior golf; Jerry Kelly, who he traveled with on the mini-tours; and Chris DiMarco, Ken Duke and Jim Furyk, who beat him like a drum in his former life; was too tempting to pass up.
“I never wanted to take a spot from the Korn Ferry Tour guys. I’ve been on the side of losing a spot. I just couldn’t do it,” Ford said. “Those guys are playing for a living and having been in their shoes, I know it could be the week that guy plays great and wins or locks up his card. On the Champions Tour, it’s different. You’re either in or you’re not.
“I don’t have any delusions like I’m going to win or something but at the same time I’m hitting it really good and if I can get some more eyes looking at the Champions Tour that would be a good thing.”
Ford, who has lost more than 100 pounds in the last few years, said his ball striking, which always was the strength of his game, is as sharp as ever and there are times when his short game still resembles a Tour player.
“I’m hitting the ball good enough to break par every day. Whether that happens or not, we’ll see,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to finish last, I can tell you that.”
Ford summed up the biggest difference between the challenge of playing golf for a living back in his pro days and the challenge of playing the Sanford International quite succinctly, saying, “At least I don’t have to worry about making a cut.”
The no-cut life of the senior circuit is something he could get used to. Then again, life has been good to Ford who went from struggling golf professional to a platinum-selling musician. Even though his career went in a vastly different direction than the one he always imagined, Ford never lost his passion for the game. Asked to describe his golf game as a country song, he played along and authored a doozy: “I ain’t as good as I once was but I’m as good once as I ever was.”