News & Opinion

Colt Ford plays familiar tune at Pebble

He still answers to “Jason” – when he’s in the right mindset. But Colt Ford knows he never can resemble the golfer who kicked around the minitours for years and had a cup of coffee on what’s now the Web.com Tour.

“I became famous as a fat guy,” said Ford, now 10 years into a late-blooming career as a country-music headliner. “When I played golf I weighed 210 pounds, and when I became famous I weighed 310 pounds.”

Nope, Ford is far from a flatbelly. But the affable guy known as Jason Brown when he was an aspiring tour pro still has a bit of game.

657b2662-8fe9-4392-902e-382b054417d9_600x400.jpg
Country singer Colt Ford, who played mini-tour golf under his given name of Jason Brown, returns to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week.

AVERAGE JOES ENTERTAINMENT/ERIC IRVIN
Country singer Colt Ford, who played mini-tour golf under his given name of Jason Brown, returns to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week.

The Athens, Ga., native placed 10th in the celebrity division of the LPGA’s inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions 2½ weeks ago, trailing only Jack Wagner for low musician and third among celebs not famous for athletic stardom.

This week, Ford will make his fifth start in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where his partnership with Brian Gay tied for 10th last year. He will be paired this time with Kevin Kisner, whom Ford briefly taught during his previous life.

Which career comes easier?

“I always say in music, I know what I’m making before I start,” said Ford, whose fourth album Declaration of Independence reached No. 1 on Billboard’s country chart in 2012. “That’s kind of a nice thing to know.”

What isn’t so clear-cut is whether anybody will like the finished product. A 66 on the scorecard plays well anywhere. Not necessarily so in music. Ford’s country rap didn’t find the charts until he was 39, and he sees other talents still waiting for their break.

“You’ve got to have some talent, no question, and God gave me some,” Ford said. “But there’s a lot of luck involved, too.

“I’ve had people open for me at little bars around the country,” he said, “and they’d be the best thing I’d ever heard. And you go back three years later and they’ll be sitting right there doing the same thing. That’s just kind of how it goes.”

For seven or eight years, Ford found himself on something of a similar path in golf. Though he showed promise as a junior – Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Charlie Rymer were among his contemporaries – Jason Brown never found traction after college.

“When I was on, I was as good as anybody else,” said Ford, who estimated that he won a dozen times on various minitours. “I was a great ball-striker; my short game probably wasn’t as good as it needed to be.”

He recalled his first professional start, teeing up in a Powerbilt Tour event in Florence, S.C. His first three approach shots all stopped within 10 feet of the flagstick.

“Three-putt, three-putt, three-putt,” Ford said. “I might as well have had a damn snake in my hands.”

On the fourth hole, Brown/Ford flew a 7-iron into the cup for eagle. He played the next 14 holes in 7 under.

“One swing and the light went on: Oh, I can play,” he said. “It’s such a great sport.”

His Web.com Tour portfolio consists of one start, the 1995 South Carolina Classic, when the PGA Tour’s top developmental circuit was known as the Nike Tour. He shot 71-75 and missed the cut.

“I was lucky enough to make a living at it for 10 years,” he said. “I didn’t make a ton of it, but I made enough to pay the bills and everything. It seems like you’re always a few putts away from the next level or making a bunch of money.”

At the time, it was going better than his musical aspirations. Brown/Ford gravitated into teaching, where he sometimes crossed paths with University of Georgia players. Among them was Kisner.

“Kiz was good,” Ford said of the two-time PGA Tour winner. “He ain’t scared, and I love that about him. He takes lessons now from John Tillery, and I taught JT some when he was in college.”

Ford still might be in the golf industry if not for the economic downturn a dozen years ago. A golf travel venture with Rymer never got off the ground, and Jason Brown found himself at a crossroads.

The teaching pro opted for one more plunge into country music.

“Probably 99.9 percent of the people said, ‘You must be out of your mind. It’ll never work. You’re too old. You’re too fat,’ ” said Ford, whose stage name was coined by his wife. “You know, I was just too damn hardheaded.”

This time, someone noticed. Ford’s debut album Ride Through the Country featured the song “Dirt Road Anthem,” which he co-wrote and recorded with Brantley Gilbert and was later covered by Jason Aldean.

Three more albums came in the next three years. Golf went on the backburner. “I was building the music career,” Ford said, “just so focused on it that I really didn’t have time.”

That changed when he went on tour with Toby Keith. An avid golfer, country’s “Big Dog Daddy” told Ford to bring his clubs because they were going to play every day.

“I was like, ‘Ehhh, OK,’ ” Ford said. “And we started playing, and I started having some fun and enjoyed being out there. I missed it.”

Ford still hears from a number of his former golf cohorts, plenty of whom still call him Jason or J.B. That’s fine, except for the times he’s in “Colt Ford mode” and not attuned to it.

He recalls one night when he inadvertently blew off Dicky Pride, another buddy from his junior days.

“I remember Dicky going, ‘I was calling your name and you ignored me. You think you’re big-time!’ ” Ford said. “I’m like, ‘If you were saying Jason, I’m here as Colt Ford. I don’t even hear that.’ He said he hadn’t thought about that.”

Dual identity aside, someone suggested that Ford has managed to reverse the usual process – walking away from golf to enjoy his other passion.

And now he's in a position to balance both. Ford tees it up in a handful of fundraisers – he prepped for the LPGA event with a stop at Morgan Pressel’s “Morgan & Friends” event in South Florida – and hasn’t missed Pebble Beach since he started coming in 2015.

“I’ve lived two dream jobs,” Ford said. “I don’t want to ever let go, if I can help it. I’ve done some real jobs, and I didn’t like them. I like this way better.”

Jeff Shain has been writing and podcasting about golf since 2000, including more than a dozen years at The Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel. Email: jeffshain@gmail.com. Twitter: @jeffshain