HAYWARD, Calif. -- Jerry Rice used to wake up at 4 a.m. so he could get to the driving range and hit golf balls before he was due at work with the San Francisco 49ers for 8:30 a.m. meetings.
He'd return to the range after football practice.
"I got addicted to the game. I have so much passion for it," Rice said.
Now, the Hall of Fame wide receiver is taking a swing at professional golf, and insists he's serious.
Rice will make his pro debut Thursday in a Nationwide Tour event after receiving a sponsor's exemption into the field. He also will serve as host of the 156-player tournament, with his foundation receiving proceeds.
"This is an opportunity of a lifetime here," Rice said. "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."
The 47-year-old Rice will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. He has been golfing for more than 20 years and has been a regular in pro-ams. His best round is 68.
After Phil Mickelson's stirring win at the Masters on Sunday, Rice said he was so inspired he headed right to the range.
Rice would be eligible for prize money if he makes the 36-hole cut at the Fresh Express Classic at 7,188-yard, par-71 TPC Stonebrae. The Nationwide Tour works under the umbrella of the PGA Tour.
"These guys are really good golfers," Rice said. "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."
I've seen JR golf, he's got game but he's gonna have a hardtime out there. He plays in celeb tourneys which are competitive but no where near the level of the nationwide tour.
He's a helluva nice guy though and I wish him luck.