Panthers QB Derek Anderson is NFL's best? At golf, yes

Is Derek Anderson the best golfer in the NFL? (0:54)

Panthers QB Derek Anderson shares his love of golf and says he'd love to compete at the amateur level. (0:54)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson was struggling with his fundamentals and technique. He wasn't getting the results or consistency he wanted, and it was becoming a grind even though he still was playing at a high level.

His game was a mess.

So he got help from a coach.

Not Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey, who has been working much more than normal with Anderson this offseason as the backup takes Cam Newton’s first-team reps while the 2015 NFL MVP recovers from shoulder surgery.

There's no problem with Anderson's throwing motion or footwork.

This was all about his golf swing.

"Terrible. Awful," swing coach Mark Blackburn recalled of Anderson's motion when they were introduced a few years ago at the Blackburn Golf Academy in Birmingham, Alabama. "He used to swing way over the top, and he hit a lot of pulls and swipes and didn't drive it very well.

"Now he hits it a long way. It's just a question of trying to get him to play the overall game a little bit better."

Anderson may be the best golfer in the NFL now that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has retired. Anderson may have been the best even if Romo had not stepped away.

Anderson is a scratch golfer, which mean he averages a score of par -- in other words, he has a handicap of zero. His closest competition in the league appears to be Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. All three have a handicap under 2.

Yet until this year, Anderson never showed up on lists of the league's best golfers.

"'Cause they were just talking to name guys that are name players," Anderson said with a laugh. "I wouldn't consider myself someone that is interesting all the time."

Not like Newton, that is. But on the golf course, even Newton admits Anderson is the star.

"I'm not the best golf player," Newton once said when explaining why he has an annual kickball fundraiser instead of a golf tournament, as many players do.

That he said "golf player" instead of "golfer" is a giveaway that Newton isn't into the game.

Anderson is. He once shot a 65 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. He shot par at Donald Ross' famed Pinehurst No. 2, which has hosted the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and Ryder Cup.

He was only 4 over par through 11 holes at Augusta National before the fast Bermuda greens that he's not accustomed to and the reality of being on the hallowed grounds of the Masters got the better of him. He wound up with an 84.

His swing speed of 125 mph would put him in the top tier of the PGA Tour with Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson. The average swing speed on the tour, by the way, is 113 mph.

Anderson's goal after football is to win the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship and qualify for the Masters.

"That isn't off of the realm of possibility," said Blackburn, who counts PGA Tour member Kevin Chappell among his clients.

Chappell tied for third in the 2011 U.S. Open and tied for seventh in this year's Masters.

"If Derek continues to trend on the track he is now, he definitely could be a plus handicap," Blackburn said. "He hits it tee to green like a scratch or plus-handicap.

"I haven't seen a lot of other NFL players play golf, but Derek definitely has to be among the best of them."

Dressing the part

It was 4 a.m., more than eight hours before he would hit his first shot at Augusta National, and Anderson couldn't sleep.

So he got up and began ironing his clothes and packing his bag.

"Typical D.A.," Blackburn said with a laugh. "He likes to look the part ... clean."

Anderson was nervous, the kind of nervous you get before playing in the Super Bowl. He'd been thinking about the round since first learning he would get to play the course a week earlier.

He managed to keep his nerves in check through 11 holes, but then he hit his tee shot in the water on the par-3 12th at the center of Amen Corner and made double-bogey.

"I let the aura of the place get to me," Anderson said. "I started looking at tee boxes and trees and kind of got a little caught up in the golf course as opposed to playing golf."

It still was the thrill of a lifetime. Outside of the Super Bowl -- in which he dreams of one day being on the winning side, the Masters is his favorite event in all of sports.

Anderson prepped for his Augusta National round at Tuscawilla Country Club in Winter Springs, Florida. Like Augusta, the course is known for its fast Bermuda greens.

At Tuscawilla, on a drivable par 4 that was playing at about 306 yards, Anderson showed his brute strength off the tee and his need to improve his short game.

"I smashed a 3-wood pin high, but I'm, like, off in the chipping area," Anderson said. "I chip it within 3 or 4 feet, but I'm above the hole. Not growing up on Bermuda greens and [not] realizing how fast they are when they're down-green, I literally hit it like a regular putt.

"It hit the left lip and literally rolled farther than where my initial chip was from."

Anderson made a nice recovery but still wound up with a bogey. Blackburn drove short of the green, pitched up and made a birdie.

"He laughed for five holes," Anderson said of Blackburn. "He knew that if I didn't hit the hole in the middle, it was gone."

The mental part of the game, strategy, and the short game separate Anderson from most touring pros.

"His ballstriking is actually quite good," Blackburn said. "It's just a matter of coaching him on how to play strategy and stuff. He works really hard at it. Give him credit. He's very diligent with it."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera sees the same approach from Anderson on the football field.

"He's tremendous," he said. "Same demeanor. He's very competitive, very hard on himself. He looks to always do things the right way."

QBs are naturals

Anderson spent a couple of days playing golf with Ryan and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford at Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale earlier this year.

"D.A. won some money," Ryan said.

First, Anderson didn't try to get into Ryan's head by reminding him of the Falcons' Super Bowl collapse this year, which came a year after the Panthers lost Super Bowl 50.

"No football," Anderson said. "Strictly golf. Golf's my release. If I'm playing with business professionals, I don't get into what they do. I just want to enjoy playing golf and being out there."

Second, the fact that three quarterbacks were playing shouldn't come as a surprise. Most of the best golfers in the NFL, according to a report conducted by ESPN.com's NFL Nation, are quarterbacks.

Blackburn said the reason is simple: The motion and coordination quarterbacks use to throw a football is similar to what it takes to hit a golf ball.

It's the same for pitchers in baseball.

"Lots of disassociation between the upper and lower body is a real important part of golf," Blackburn said. "The schematic sequence is the same as is used in golf. So pitchers and NFL quarterbacks have a big advantage in being able to generate speed through the club."

Anderson understands.

"Turning with my shoulders in a golf swing, it's really just an extension of my throwing," he said. "Like if I turn to throw it, all I am doing is getting a band in my hips and really doing the same thing."

The mental aspect of playing quarterback also translates to the golf course for Anderson.

"Understanding not every drive needs to be a touchdown," he said. "Having patience. Understanding when it's third-and-10 and they're way off, throw it to the back and he might get the first down.

"Playing the game of golf has changed my mindset of when I'm on the field. When I was young, I literally thought I was going to score a touchdown on every drive. It was kind of like golf -- trying to make a birdie on every hole is not realistic."

That doesn't mean Anderson doesn't try to make a birdie as often as he can, particularly when he's playing with fellow quarterbacks.

"Derrick's solid, man," Ryan said. "He plays a lot and he plays really well."

Golf season

Anderson already was charting his golf plan for the next month before completing a three-day minicamp Thursday, his last real football before training camp begins July 26.

"Hopefully during the off time I'll have a solid three or four weeks of golf," Anderson said. "Then I'll shut it down until January or February ... whenever we're done."

By tossing in February, Anderson showed optimism for Carolina returning to the Super Bowl after missing the playoffs last season. Winning the title that slipped away in Super Bowl 50 is his ultimate goal.

But a close second is golf.

Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson, who picked up golf a few years ago, will attest to that after playing a few rounds with Anderson.

"D.A., if he bogies, he's going to f---ing lose it," Johnson said. "That's how he is."

Anderson has taken his golf game to the level Newton took his football game during his 2015 MVP season.

"He's got a little more swag on the golf course," Johnson said of Anderson, using the "swag" phrase often used to describe Newton. "Out here, his football style kind of stinks.

"But on the golf course, he's got a little style."

It's a style that has helped Anderson become one of the best golfers in the NFL, if not the best.

"I'm a little nuts about it, my wife will tell you that," Anderson said. "I'm going to keep getting better at it and see what happens."

ESPN NFL Nation reporter Vaughn McClure contributed to this story.