Don Shula, The Man, the Myth, the Legend, the Caddie?

By: Elisa Gaudet

The winningest coach in NFL history was once a caddie. This truly just goes to show that you never know who your caddie will grow up to be.

Don Shula, a self-professed lover of any sport that involves a ball, would eventually be bitten by the golf bug, but only after he became a football player. Growing up Shula looped at a municipal golf course in Grand River, Ohio, near Cleveland. His responsibilities included providing course knowledge to his players, the location of their ball, yardages, reading the greens, and telling the player what club to use or how to play a hole. One could deduce that caddying could have led Shula to his later career as a football coach.

Although his looping experience was his introduction to golf, it wasn’t until 1970, when Shula moved to Miami as coach of the Miami Dolphins, that he became a golfer. There, he became good friends with Raymond Floyd. In fact, Raymond’s wife, Maria, introduced Don to his future wife, Mary Anne (who’s the godmother of Raymond’s son, Robert).

With a day job leading a football team to the Super Bowl, Shula had little time for golf. Even when he could set aside a few hours to hit the links, he played only in charity tournaments, socially with Floyd or with other players from the PGA Tour.

Don’s "Dream Foursome" would be Raymond Floyd, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. He has played with all three on separate occasions, and professes enormous respect for their accomplishments.

The best golf advice he ever received was to have his swing videotaped. "I could not believe what I was seeing; all the faults." When asked if, after viewing his swing, he felt that it was better than Charles Barkley's, his response was, "I have problems – but not to that proportion!"

Shula credits Paul Brown and Blanton Collier as his role models for his coaching career. When asked who he admires outside the game, it is the late Pope John Paul II. When asked if his house were on fire and the safety of his family was assured, what three items he'd retrieve. His answer was his two Super Bowl trophies and family photos.

Shula has played many of the world's great courses, including Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. His favorite is Cypress Point. With a few carts in the garage, he enjoys golf course living and spends time between Linville Ridge, N.C., Spanish Bay in California, and Indian Creek and Old Palm in Florida.

It's no surprise that Shula regards his greatest achievement – from a team perspective – to be the "Perfect Season" of 1972. On the personal level, it's winning the most games – 347 in 33 years of coaching.

When asked how golf compares to football, Shula said, "Although there is the obvious difference of golf being an individual sport, where it is just you, the ball and the course, and football is a team endeavor, there is definitely some correlation. In both you need to possess poise, hit under pressure and make plays. Success is peace of mind – knowing you have done the absolute best you can with what you have been given. You must compete to the best of your abilities."

We can assume Shula sleeps extremely well with the piece of mind in knowing his success in football transcends not only his family and their own accomplishments, but to the business world. There are now 26 Shula's Steak Houses around the country. Although all are superb, the ones that have the winning combination, in this writer's opinion, are those paired with golf: the original in Miami Lakes and the one at PGA National in Palm Beach.

The Don Shula Golf Resort in Miami Lakes, Fla., is home to the original Shula's Steak House. This is where the annual Don Shula Celebrity Golf Classic is held – a tournament that brings together big-name NFL players, coaches and the media for a day of golf to benefit the Don Shula Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. The foundation was established as a tribute to his late wife Dorothy, who fought breast cancer for six years. Just before her passing, Shula formed the foundation to aid the fight against this insidious disease.

What he enjoys most about golf is the competitive nature of the game – and the ability to go out with a few friends, enjoy each other's company, and partake in friendly competition. It has also been a great way for him to spend time with his two sons, Dave and Mike. They both grew up playing, and although Shula was often busy coaching, he has fond memories of golfing with his sons as they grew up. He notes with pleasure, and a bit ruefully, "We still play today. However, they are both able to beat me now."

How would he like to be remembered? "As a person that did everything he could with integrity and concern." Consider it done, Coach.

Elisa Gaudet brings a wealth of entertainment and golf experience to Cybergolf. Elisa has spent the past several years in the golf industry in the U.S., Latin America and Spain. She worked for the PGA Tour and the Tour de las Americas before founding Executive Golf International, a golf marketing company that works with clients to develop strategies using golf as the medium. Often referred to as the Maria Bartiromo (a business analyst for CNBC) of golf, Elisa says: “Golf, as a marketing tool, has been around for years. It’s amazing how many new ways companies can align their brand with the golf market to reach their target audience. Our goal is to create alliances and establish cross-border relations.” Elisa also worked in the entertainment industry for over 10 years, including five in Los Angeles as a model and actress. She can be seen at many celebrity golf events and often gets the inside scoop from PGA Tour players. For more information about Elisa, visit her websites at or Executive Golf International