Mark Rypien combined several things he loves – competition, golf in a gorgeous setting, and raising money and awareness for the Rypien Foundation – with one he wasn’t quite sure about – reality TV.
Rypien is one of six former NFL greats competing in the latest installment of Golf Channel’s Big Break series. This one is “Big Break NFL,” which was shot June 1-15 at scenic Dorado Beach Resort in Puerto Rico and premiers Tuesday, Oct. 8.
“Basically I was telling people I was on vacation in the Caribbean,” laughed the former Washington State Cougar quarterback and Super Bowl XXVI MVP. “It wasn’t a total lie. We had to keep everything pretty quiet.”
The reason? The cast was formally announced in July after the conclusion of “Big Break Mexico” because 12 Big Break alums were asked to join “Big Break NFL.” Six teams consisting of one male, one female and one ex-NFL player compete in a series of challenges that whittle down the field. The winners each receive $50,000 (in the case of the NFL player, it goes to a charity of their choice) and the Big Break alums earn a spot in a PGA/LPGA tour event. NFL players were guaranteed $10,000 for their favorite charity.
Rypien has played pressure golf in front of television cameras on the celebrity golf circuit. He’s a regular alongside Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Tony Romo annually at the American Century Championship in Tahoe and finished second in July.
“It was a lot more intense than I anticipated,” he said. “Tahoe gets nerve-wracking but this exceeded that by 10-fold, especially when you’re playing for someone else.”
Rypien was paired with James Lepp, the 2005 NCAA champion who played at the University of Washington and grew up in British Columbia; and Meghan Hardin, a California native who was eliminated on the first day of “Big Break Atlantis.”Lepp was runner-up at “Big Break Greenbrier.”
Organizers arranged it so team members had some common interests. Rypien and Lepp were born in Canada and chatted away about hockey.
Rypien’s NFL cohorts were Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Marc Bulger, Al Del Greco and Chris Doleman. All carry single-digit handicaps and zero hesitation to compete. Rypien played in Pro Bowls with Doleman and Rice. Del Greco, who won at Tahoe in 2000, coaches high school golf in Alabama.
There’s a funny promo in which Rice and Brown talk about weekly golf matches in the Bay Area for bragging rights and a championship trophy dubbed “The Cup.”
“That’s what drives us to this day. I bowl in a Thursday night league in Coeur d’Alene,” said Rypien, who also plays hockey when he gets the chance. “I just love the drive to compete, to challenge myself, my teammates and the opposition.”
Rypien played 18 holes the day before the Big Break alums arrived, but he didn’t actually play much golf during the two-week shoot. Competitors get up early for breakfast with the TV cameras rolling, then it’s off to a driving range for 90 minutes of practice. The challenge card reveals the skills test and after a brief practice session players gather for the daily competition. Then it’s off to a recording studio to recap their performance.
That routine was repeated every day.
“I stayed in a six-star resort, one of only three six-stars in the world, with one of the most beautiful views of the ocean and I didn’t get to see it that much,” he said without a hint of complaint. “You don’t really see the golf course, and all you want to do is go play golf. The good news is I got to practice a lot, hitting drives and iron shots, and it actually helped because I played pretty well in Tahoe.”
Rypien usually plays well when he tees it up. The 1-handicapper fell short recently in a one-day qualifier for the Champions Tour’s Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. Rypien, who turns 51 on Wednesday, will soon take another shot at Champions Tour qualifying school. He had three solid rounds but an opening-round 81 doomed him last year.
Rypien enjoyed the Big Break experience and his “wonderful” teammates.
“I’m not big on reality shows where people are in people’s faces but this one is kind of fun,” he said. “You’re doing something you love in a setting that isn’t quite as combative as other reality shows. For me, the breakfast side of it, I was entrenched listening to the characters that were there and I’d add my two cents just to stir it up a little bit.”